Football: Phoenix look to break four-game drought

Andrew Durante is set to become the first outfield player to appear 250 times in the A-League. Photo / Getty
Andrew Durante is set to become the first outfield player to appear 250 times in the A-League. Photo / Getty

Tough times require strong leadership.

Four straight defeats to start the new A-League season isn't the biggest crisis in the ten-year history of the Wellington Phoenix, but it's far from ideal.

In Andrew Durante though, the Phoenix have a steady hand on the wheel, to steer them through rough seas into calmer footballing waters.

On the eve of his side's home clash with Newcastle, during which he'll become the first outfield player to appear 250 times in the A-League, Durante set a steely gaze at the assembled media throng and promised his team would turn things around.

"We're done with excuses. We need to be better," he said.

"We've got a really strong culture. We've got some very good players. I look around and I think there's no way we should be in this situation with the players we have and we all know that. For patches of last season we were wondering how we were going to get out of it.

I don't feel like that (this time). I know we can get out of this."

"We're in a difficult position but we're going to work hard to get out of it. You'll see a much improved, very hungry team tomorrow night," said Durante.

Coach Ernie Merrick is set to shake things up with a selection bombshell, dropping influential midfielder Roly Bonevacia to the bench for the first time in the Dutchman's time at the club. Bonevacia has started all but one of the 59 games the Phoenix have played since he arrived in Wellington and that was through suspension. His relegation to the bench is a major statement from Merrick that no player is untouchable.

Centre-back Marco Rossi faces a fitness test on the morning of the match to prove he's over the thigh injury that kept him out of Monday's visit to Melbourne, but fullback Tom Doyle is set to miss the next three weeks of action with a hamstring strain, also ruling him out of the All Whites upcoming World Cup qualifiers against New Caledonia. Fill-in left-back Adam Parkhouse is also out after tweaking his hamstring against Melbourne Victory on Monday night, with Louis Fenton his likely replacement. Dylan Fox is suspended after his red card on Monday.

Phoenix Chairman Rob Morrison was at Friday's team meeting, but Durante insisted there was nothing sinister in his presence.

"He knows it's a difficult time. He's a busy man but to see his face and for him to come down to talk to us speaks volumes of what he thinks of us and the football club. He wants us to be successful and to stay positive and we'll get out of it. It was great to see him today."

Zero points from four games looks damning but it doesn't tell the full story of the season. The Phoenix have really only had one bad half of football in the first month, leaking four goals in 20 minutes against a rampant Melbourne Victory side on Monday evening to eventually lose 6-1. Before that, they dominated league-leaders Sydney FC at home and were at least the equal of Melbourne City and Perth Glory for large periods in their opening two matches. But the old adage rings true; the table doesn't lie and no matter which way you spin it, there's only one thing that really matters for the Wellington Phoenix now. They simply must get off the mark in the points column, preferably with all three against Newcastle.

The Jets appeal as an opponent against who the Phoenix might finally find their mojo. While they've lost only one of their first four matches, they lack genuine star power and don't feature heavily in playoff conversations. They also have defensive issues, with evergreen Ben Kantarovski joining Daniel Mullen, Daniel Alessi and Lachlan Jackson in the casualty ward after suffering a knee injury in the 2-0 loss to Sydney FC last weekend. That means Jets coach Mark Jones is likely to hand a starting debut to 18 year-old Johnny Koutroumbis alongside skipper Nigel Boogaard in central defence.

- NZ Herald

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