Soccer: Phoenix's problems run deep

By Kris Shannon

Jeremy Brockie has been the sole bright light in Wellington's attacking third. Photo / Getty Images
Jeremy Brockie has been the sole bright light in Wellington's attacking third. Photo / Getty Images

One loss hardly seems reason to ring the changes, but the Wellington Phoenix's problems run much deeper than Sunday's defeat by Sydney.

Though the Phoenix have collected seven points from four matches and sit inside the A-League's top six, the points only paper over the cracks that have emerged.

Much has been made of the Phoenix 'winning ugly', an approach which has served them well at various points this season. But it is hardly a viable long-term strategy, and Ricki Herbert may need a change in tactics if the Phoenix are to keep pace in a congested league.

It would be bold to make amendments to the game plan for Sunday's encounter with Adelaide at Hindmarsh Stadium, a venue in which the Phoenix have earned just seven points from 10 matches, but what do they have to lose?

Even a draw could see them fall into last place, and the current style of football is unlikely to worry the second-placed Reds.

A change in style, of course, would have to be accompanied by a change in personnel. The Phoenix have become staid and lacking spark in the attacking third, a direct result of an absence of creativity in the middle of the park and a couple of misfiring big names.

Following consecutive losses to Melbourne Victory and Central Coast in November, Herbert opted to reinforce the midfield and added Vince Lia to the partnership of Alex Smith and Manny Muscat.

The move reaped immediate dividends with a 3-0 win in Newcastle and Herbert, justifiably, stuck with the trio. But, following that victory, the Phoenix's propensity to grind out results rather than attempt any kind of flowing football has come to the fore.

Lia, Smith and Muscat offer nowhere near enough quality service to the attacking weapons around them - the central responsibility of a midfield. Muscat has an eye for a defence-splitting pass but is more the box-to-box type, while Lia and Smith too often look to the side or behind when receiving the ball.

The Phoenix need a player who will turn and start an attack, a player who will draw defenders and slip a ball into the vacant space created.

These players cannot simply be conjured, so it is lucky the Phoenix already have one in their ranks. Dani Sanchez has almost become the forgotten man of the club, hampered by a knee injury which has kept him from the squad so far this season.

If he is finally 100 per cent fit, as Herbert asserted following Sunday's loss, he must be recalled and tasked with adding the creativity he showed for large parts of last season.

Herbert may be tempted to stop there but that would be ignoring another problem further up field.

Paul Ifill has been a shadow of his usual self this season, evidenced by his being substituted on several occasions when the Phoenix are searching for goals, but a player of his class should be persisted with.

Instead, it may be time to give Stein Huysegems a rest. The Belgian has shown glimpses of promise and has three goals to his name, but he too often goes through a game without making an impact.

It is telling that the Phoenix's biggest win this season (3-0 against Newcastle) came when he was injured and Herbert plumped for a front three of Ifill, Jeremy Brockie and Louis Fenton.

Brockie has been the sole bright light in the attacking third and it might be time to make him the focal point, which would allow a return to the side for Fenton, or perhaps a maiden start for Tyler Boyd.

- APNZ

© Copyright 2014, APN New Zealand Limited

Assembled by: (static) on red akl_a2 at 23 Jul 2014 20:41:40 Processing Time: 669ms