Wellington Phoenix coach Ricki Herbert says his side have proven that they’re one of the best sides in the Hyundai A-League, and that have nothing to fear playing away from home.
Ahead of the minor semi-final against Perth Glory, Wellington Phoenix coach Ricki Herbert says his side have proven that they-re one of the best sides in the Hyundai A-League, and that the work done off the field means they no longer fear playing away from home.
Phoenix have long been brought down by their difficulty in maintain their impressive home form in fixtures within Australia, but season 2011/12 has been the club-s best on the road form yet, with four wins and three draws, a consistent improvement on previous seasons.
An arduous trip to Perth from Wellington - the longest in any domestic football competition - would previously have put Phoenix at a huge disadvantage, but Herbert put the improvement down to increased time spent in Australia between games, as well as tapping into the experiences of Super Rugby side the Crusaders.
“We-ve searched long and hard for the answers,” Herbert said as his team prepared in Sydney ahead of the game against Glory.
“Our most recent away games have been back to back and we-ve tried to manage that a bit differently by staying in Australia a bit longer and avoiding that backwards and forwards. And out of that we-ve picked up 10 points from 18, which looking across the league is pretty good.
"We still need to keep working on that, but we-re sharing information with the Crusaders and we-ll tap into some of their thoughts as well. We-re learning but this year-s been a big step forward.
“It-s a real opportunity for us to be part of the series and do well. We feel that his has been one of, if not, the best season for us.”
Geography has also contributed somewhat to Phoenix often being cast as outsiders in the competition, but after three successive finals appearances, Herbert says the club have done more than enough to be seen as an important part of the A-League.
“We have every right to feel a strong part of this competition now; we-ve been in the finals consecutively for the past three years and I don-t think any other team-s done that.
“In the finals series when it-s a one-off and you-re in or you-re out of the end of the game we know what we-ve got to do. We-re away and it will be a difficult task but our form has given us lots of confidence and we-ll be very positive going into the game.
“It-s not points we-re chasing, it-s an outright victory. We understand what the outcome is and we-re delighted to be part of the finals and to be in the top four left in the competition.”
Herbert was also quick to praise the form of his All Whites striker, Shane Smeltz, but was confident that his own defenders- familiarity with their former teammate would be enough to keep the red-hot goalscorer in check.
“I-ve spent a lot of time with Shane from a national team point of view and in his time with us as well; he-s come into form at the right time and he-s incredibly influential for [Perth Glory]. It-s all been about Shane lately.
"Across the park if we can stop the service that-s coming into him that it will obviously make it a lot more difficult for him. But Ben Sigmund and Andrew Durante have had great seasons too, and it-ll be their responsibility to contain Shane and they-ve done that already a couple of times this season.”