Competition for spots hots up

PHOENIX head coach Ricki Herbert is keeping his squad to face the Central Coast Mariners under wraps to ensure his players’ competitive juices are flowing right up till kickoff on Sunday.

PHOENIX head coach Ricki Herbert is keeping his squad to face the Central Coast Mariners under wraps to ensure his players- competitive juices are flowing right up till kickoff on Sunday.

Herbert on Thursday named an extended squad for the Hyundai A-League round four game at Westpac Stadium and will not whittle that down to his final match-day 15 till after training on Saturday.

The Phoenix-s nine New Zealand internationals rejoined their teammates on Friday fired up after the All Whites- two World Cup qualifying wins against New Caledonia and there was plenty of intensity and urgency at the team-s penultimate training session.

“We-ve laid it out that everyone is in the frame for this weekend,” Herbert said. “We-ll keep that level of intensity and hunger right there until we finish training on Saturday.”

Only Adam Kwasnik is unavailable for Sunday-s match, the striker missing his chance to take on his former teammates after straining his knee at training earlier in the week.

However, the loss of Kwasnik has been countered by the return of gun striker Shane Smeltz - the star of the All Whites- World Cup qualifying campaign to date.

Smeltz, who missed the Adelaide match with the flu, has been in prodigious scoring form for club and country and his nose for goal will be important against a Mariners lineup that, like the Phoenix, has shown some defensive frailties to date.

Skipper Andrew Durante said the All Whites- performances had been a fillip for the Phoenix.

“The All Whites boys have come back from camp on a real high and the guys that stayed in Wellington have gone about their business well at training. We-ve had some fun sessions but we-ve put the hard work in as well. It-s been a good week. There-s been some good banter, there-s good spirits and everyone is putting the effort in.”

Despite a disappointing start to the season, the confidence level within the Phoenix squad is clearly on the rise.

“While we haven-t won a game in three [starts], it was a really, really poor 90 minutes against Adelaide in round three. It certainly wasn-t that against Melbourne and Queensland but everything has got wrapped up into that 90 minutes away at Adelaide. We can-t hide from that. It lacked everything that this club is about and it-s not acceptable.

“At the end of the day it is about winning games. You won-t win them all but when you do lose it can-t be the result of a lack of intensity, desire and passion - choose any term you want, we lacked it against Adelaide.

“This club excels in having a passion and pride in the jersey and that-s the minimum expectation of everyone.”

Durante said the team-s focus had been on rediscovering the form that took the Phoenix to the 2008 Pre-Season Cup final, a campaign that included the Wellington club-s only success against the Mariners to date - a 1-0 win at Westpac Stadium.

“It-s about getting back to basics and playing the way we were in pre-season. It-s about keeping the ball and working as a unit. Against Adelaide there were too many individuals not doing enough.

“It-s got to be a group effort this weekend and if everyone pulls their weight then we-ll go a long way toward getting a win. It-s definitely not do-or-die but hopefully this will prove to be the turning point for our season.”

Sunday 14 September Wellington Phoenix v Central Coast Mariners Westpac Stadium Local kickoff 5pm (3pm AEST) Referee: Strebre Delovski

Wellington Phoenix squad: 1. Mark PASTON (gk), 2. Jeremy CHRISTIE, 3. Tony LOCHHEAD, 4. Jon McKAIN, 5. Karl DODD, 6. Tim BROWN, 7. Leo BERTOS, 8. Vaughan COVENY, 9. Shane SMELTZ, 10. Michael FERRANTE, 11. DANIEL, 12. Richard JOHNSON, 13. Troy HEARFIELD, 16. David MULLIGAN, 18. Ben SIGMUND, 20. Glen MOSS (gk), 21. Leilei GAO, 22. Andrew DURANTE (captain). * three to be omitted.

Central Coast Mariners squad: 4. Pedj BOJIC, 5. Bradley PORTER, 6. David D'APUZZO, 7. John HUTCHINSON, 10. Adrian CACERES, 11. Dylan MACALLISTER, 13. Paul O'GRADY, 15. Andrew CLARK, 16. Nigel BOOGAARD, 17. Matthew OSMAN, 18. Alex WILKINSON, 19. Matt SIMON, 22. Sasho PETROVSKI, 23. Mile JEDINAK, 30. Andrew REDMAYNE (gk), 40. Mark BOSNICH (gk) *one to be omitted.