The Phoenix return to Hunter Stadium tomorrow with their pre-season trip to play the Jets at the same ground a reminder of all things bad about football.

In that sometimes nasty encounter, emotions spilled over and when the dust had settled after Manny Muscat's ill-timed challenge on Tiago Calvano, Muscat and defender Ben Sigmund, who got himself needlessly involved in the melee, copped red cards and subsequent bans as did captain Andrew Durante for another senseless act later in the game.

Both camps insist that that game is behind them and look forward to another crucial match between two close rivals tomorrow.

Ironically, Sigmund and Durante have been key to the many good results against the Jets. In the last five games between the transtasman rivals, the Phoenix defence has conceded only two goals.


It is the attacking game that will concern coach Ricki Herbert. While they have produced enough chances their conversion rate is poor, scoring just seven goals in six outings. This inability to find the back of the net has the Phoenix on the bottom rung on the points ladder.

Herbert and his Phoenix All Whites, Sigmund, Mark Paston, Glen Moss, Leo Bertos, Jeremy Brockie and Tony Lochhead flew into Sydney yesterday and joined the rest of the squad for the trip to Newcastle. They will be back in Sydney on Monday and then in Perth to prepare for the game against the Glory next Saturday night.

Assistant coach Chris Greenacre and the rest of the squad flew out of Wellington yesterday expecting to field an unchanged line-up after going down 1-0 to leaders Central Coast Mariners a week ago.

The only slight concern surrounds striker Stein Huysegems who was badly kicked in Melbourne two weeks ago and was still feeling his sore ankle in the game with the Mariners.

If he is ruled out, young Tyler Boyd is likely to get a start. Ricardo Clark has been added to the squad anyway because the Phoenix will likely take an extra player to Perth.

While the spectre of Emile Heskey looms large in a Newcastle Jets shirt, particularly when playing in front of the Hunter Stadium faithful, coach Gary van Egmond counts on a real team effort as they tot up an impressive record.

After the first-up 2-0 loss to early pace-setters Adelaide, the next five games have been odd goal affairs for the Jets who have won four - three 2-1 and the other 3-2 (over Sydney FC in the battle of the marquee players) - and lost one - 3-2 in Perth.

While the Phoenix are at full strength but facing the harrowing prospect of equalling their worst losing run - four matches - van Egmond has lost five players to the Young Socceroos, has two suspended and Ben Kennedy and Ben Kantarovski sidelined with knee injuries.

It promises to be another close tussle without, hopefully, any carryover from the spiteful scenes witnessed pre-season when football definitely was not the winner.

Newcastle Jets v Wellington Phoenix

Hunter Stadium
Tomorrow 5pm (live SS)
Referee: Chris Beath