Soccer: We have edge on Sydney - Phoenix skipper

By Daniel Richardson

Andrew Durante of the Phoenix. Photo / Getty Images
Andrew Durante of the Phoenix. Photo / Getty Images

Despite defying pundits on both sides of the Tasman by making the playoffs, Wellington Phoenix aren't happy just to be part of the post-season, they want to win, says skipper Andrew Durante.

Wellington navigated their way to fourth on the A-League ladder during a tumultuous campaign that was marred by the ownership crisis before the season got underway, while they carried a paper-thin squad throughout the year.

Some weeks coach Ricki Herbert had only 16 fit players to choose from but the squad he did have performed consistently and played a brand of football that may not have produced many highlights but registered results.

The Phoenix, as in most years, were early favourites for the wooden spoon in Australia after struggling at the beginning of the season.

But the squad rallied and although they suffered through a period when they were hit hard by injuries and suspension, they overcame their detractors to seemingly cure their inability win in Australia when they pieced three consecutive victories together across the Tasman in January and February.

"It's been a long year, it's been a testing year," Durante said.

"But there's no excuses, it's finals football now and if we were to get knocked out on Friday it would be hugely disappointing. Although everyone's saying 'what a great year it's been considering what's happened', I'd still consider it extremely disappointing to go out this week. So I think the boys realise that and we really need to put in a big performance."

Sydney confirmed their place in the playoffs with a 3-2 win over the Newcastle Jets on Sunday.

The Sky Blues travelled to Wellington's Westpac Stadium twice during the campaign and were beaten 2-1 and 4-2 and the Phoenix even managed to topple the Sydneysiders 1-0 across the Tasman in February.

One constant from all three of those games was Paul Ifill, who found the back of the net for the Phoenix during each encounter, and Durante said getting the Barbados international involved tomorrow night would be vital.

"There's no secret he's our key man and hopefully he's fired up."

Sydney have an impressive roster including the likes of Nicky Carle and former Blackburn Rovers midfielder Brett Emerton, while young striker Joel Chianese bagged a double in last week's win over Newcastle.

Durante, who played his 100th game for the club in last Sunday's 2-1 loss to the Central Coast Mariners, believes his side have the edge this week.

"I'd like to think so, especially being at home. We are always confident at home."

Phoenix left back Tony Lochhead is expected to be fit for selection despite taking a knock to his knee in the loss to Central Coast, while Daniel has recovered from an ankle injury and could be picked as an impact player off the bench.

- APNZ

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