Jason Pine is Radio Sport's former football commentator

Football: Pivotal week looms for the Wellington Phoenix

Roly Bonevacia of the Phoenix. Photo / Getty
Roly Bonevacia of the Phoenix. Photo / Getty

Important. Crucial. Massive.

While stopping short of describing the A-League eight-day stretch they're about to enter as "season-defining", these are the adjectives which best describe the week ahead for the Wellington Phoenix.

After hosting bottom-placed Central Coast at Westpac Stadium tomorrow, the Phoenix play their rescheduled home game against high-flying Melbourne Victory on Tuesday evening, before meeting Brisbane Roar in a third straight home match next Saturday.

While the season won't be over if maximum points aren't gained, or even if just a couple are collected, the next eight days are being taken very seriously by the players and coaching staff.

"It's a crucial week for us," said captain Andrew Durante.

"It won't determine the season, but it'll play a big part, without doubt. They're big games. We've got to make the most of being (at home)."

"We had two chances over the last two weeks to jump teams and go into fifth spot but we didn't take them. But now we have to take them. If we're serious about playing in the finals, we need to take them and we won't hide away from that," he said.

The Phoenix have beaten the Mariners in both of their previous clashes this season, winning 2-0 in Canberra in round six, before a comfortable 3-0 victory in Hamilton last month.

Central Coast are without a win in their last six games and have leaked a league-high 31 goals this season, but have shown signs of life in recent weeks, running glamour sides Sydney FC and Melbourne City close in their last two matches.

Having suffered their first loss since taking charge from Ernie Merrick a month ago, newly installed Phoenix coaches Des Buckingham and Chris Greenacre have been plotting the side's path to playoff football.

"We're not where we want to be and definitely not where we set out to be at the start of the season," said Buckingham.

"We know (how many) points we need to get to fourth or sixth. We're very aware of what we need to do, starting (tomorrow)."

Buckingham and Greenacre have the luxury of an almost fully-fit squad to choose from.

The only absentee is a key man though, with leading scorer Roy Krishna serving a one-game suspension after being sent off against Perth Glory last weekend.

His absence will be balanced by the welcome return to the match-day squad of All Whites midfielder Michael McGlinchey, who hasn't played since Guy Fawkes night with a knee injury. Gui Finkler has also returned from a trip home to Brazil for personal reasons.

Shane Smeltz will lead the Phoenix line in Krishna's absence, his first home game since re-signing for the club. Smeltz needs just one goal to equal the now retired Archie Thompson's 90 A-League goals, which would leave just Victory marksman Besart Berisha (92) ahead of him on the all-time list.

- NZ Herald

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