Soccer: Youth get chance against top team

By Terry Maddaford

Fenton made an immediate impact when promoted from the School of Excellence at the start of the season. Photo / Getty Images
Fenton made an immediate impact when promoted from the School of Excellence at the start of the season. Photo / Getty Images

The call to "give youth a chance" has been answered by Wellington Phoenix coach Ricki Herbert before today's Hyundai A-League game against leaders Central Coast Mariners.

While his hand might have been forced somewhat with the unavailability of regular striker Paul Ifill who faces up to six weeks on the sideline after ankle surgery, Herbert had hinted he was seriously contemplating giving starts to youngsters Louis Fenton and Tyler Boyd.

Fenton made an immediate impact when promoted from the School of Excellence at the start of the season, but Waikato product Boyd has played only off the bench in the opening 11 rounds.

It was always expected that the club's leading goalscorer, Jeremy Brockie, would come back in after missing the trip to Adelaide, but there remained the possibility he would be joined up front by Belgian Stein Huysegems and Fenton, with Boyd again a substitute.

Herbert sprang a surprise after Thursday training by giving Boyd a starting spot - a justified reward for the impact he and Fenton made in the second half at Hindmarsh Stadium where, with an ounce of luck, they would have claimed at least a point.

They were well supported by another substitute when Benjamin Totori entered the fray.

Determined that he should attack at every opportunity against a Central Coast defence which has been at its stingy best this season, Herbert will put out the youngsters either side of Brockie who will take the central role in front of Dani Sanchez, the midfield pivot alongside Vince Lia and Manny Muscat.

Elsewhere it will be business as usual in a game which promises plenty.

"They are solid at the back and hard to break down," said Herbert. "Because of that it is up to us to attack them and I'm confident we have the players to do that."

The Mariners will start as deserved favourites after losing only once this season, scoring a league-high 21 goals and conceding eight - a mark equalled only by West Sydney Wanderers who have climbed to fourth place despite scoring only eight goals in 11 outings.

In their last meeting, six weeks ago - also at Westpac Stadium - the visitors won 1-0, golden boot front-runner Daniel McBreen scoring the 67th-minute winner after the home side had dominated the first half without scoring.

The visitors heaped misery on the Phoenix who slumped to a third straight loss in that game.

With a draw and four straight wins in their last five outings and a six-from-six record over the Phoenix in their latest meetings, Graham Arnold's team will run out full of confidence and hope to maintain their league lead heading into Christmas.

The Phoenix have had some raw deals in recent outings, with officials acknowledging that they were on the wrong end of a couple of dubious calls in their loss to Adelaide.

While not reading too much into it, Herbert will probably welcome the appointment of Peter O'Leary, who flew the New Zealand and Oceania flag with aplomb at this month's Fifa Club World Cup in Japan, to a Phoenix game for the first time this season.


Game time

Wellington Phoenix v Central Coast Mariners
Where: Westpac Stadium
When: Today, 5pm (live SS3)
Referee: Peter O'Leary

- NZ Herald

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