After Ernie Merrick finished speaking to the media at Wellington Phoenix training at Newtown Park today he joked that he was off to go and shed a few tears.

You couldn't begrudge him if he did following the news that crucial midfielder Albert Riera suffered a suspected groin muscle tear at the end of practice.

Riera, who has established himself as one of the league's most influential midfielders with his calm play, has nursed a tight groin throughout the season but things finally caught up on him today.

He will be sent for a scan tomorrow before the Phoenix head to Newcastle to meet the Jets on Sunday and if he is ruled out, youngster Alex Rufer will take his place in the squad.


A likely Riera withdrawal is a cruel blow to Merrick and the Phoenix, who are without Paul Ifill (Achilles tendon) and Louis Fenton (shoulder) for the season, while Leo Bertos is also out for two to three weeks with a groin issue.

This weekend, Merrick will have to juggle his backline given Michael Boxall is suspended, while midfielder Kenny Cunningham will also sit out on Sunday after both players picked up their fifth yellow cards of the season during last Saturday's 2-1 win over Adelaide United at Eden Park.

Merrick said with Riera out, a revitalised Vince Lia may drop further back in the midfield.

"It is sad because he has been playing really well,'' Merrick said of Riera. ``He's been running the show. He's turned out to be one of the best middle midfielders in the league. Having said that, we've got other options.''

Merrick said he was loathe to change his backline too much, which could mean Josh Brindell-South will make his debut for the club at right back in place of Boxall.

One option could have been to move Manny Muscat from left back to the midfield but then Merrick would have to inject two new defenders to a backline, which has been fairly resolute in recent weeks.

Jason Hicks and Matthew Ridenton appear the likely players to take the vacant midfield spots on Sunday.

The Phoenix are in eighth on the A-League ladder, while the Jets sit one spot below them.