Phoenix on the up and up

WELLINGTON Phoenix captain Andrew Durante reckons his side is hitting its straps at the right time and that New Zealand’s qualification for next year’s World Cup finals in South Africa has been another big boost.

WELLINGTON Phoenix captain Andrew Durante reckons his side is hitting its straps at the right time and that New Zealand-s qualification for next year-s World Cup finals in South Africa has been another big boost.

The Phoenix tackle the Newcastle Jets at EnergyAustralia Stadium in a Hyundai A-League 2009/10 round 15 match bolstered by the heroics of the club-s All Whites contingent and in the midst of a good run of form - including a 3-0 defeat of the Jets in a round 10 catch-up match in Wellington at the start of the month.

“Everything around the club has been very positive,” said Durante. “The six All Whites boys have come back with a great attitude following the 1-0 win against Bahrain and we-re all over the moon with the result. We-ve all been given a huge lift and everyone-s full of energy.

“For the rest of us, being so close to the Kiwi internationals, we we-re rapt for them. It was special for us at the Phoenix to have been part of it. There-s a real euphoria around the club at the moment.”

Durante said the Phoenix had been playing good football and the focus would be on more of the same against the Jets.

“We-re looking good. We-re doing it at the right time after starting a bit slowly this season and we haven-t played too many poor games. We-ve been pretty consistent this year and we-ll need to continue our good form in Newcastle this weekend.

“It-s a big game for us. The Jets are only a point behind us, so it-s very important for us to keep climbing the ladder (the Phoenix are currently sixth) and we need to be getting maximum points against teams below us.”

Coach Ricki Herbert has made just a couple of changes from the squad that drew 1-1 with Perth Glory last up, with World Cup hero Mark Paston returning in goal and Diego Walsh replacing the suspended Vince Lia in midfield.

Durante said the 15-man squad had an attacking bent.

“Ricki wants to go over there to win and that-s a great attitude. We-ve got the quality in the squad to go at anyone, be it at home or away, and play an attacking brand of football. We-ve got guys like Adrian Caceres and Costa Barbarouses who can make a real impact with their pace and skill, while Chris Greenacre and Paul Ifill are in terrific form up front. We-ve got a lot of depth in this squad and especially a lot of attacking depth.”

Herbert said the loss of Lia was significant but that another player now had the opportunity to step up against the Jets.

“It-s a tough one because Vinnie-s probably been our best player consistently. But we-ve had a look at Diego and we-ve been quite upfront with him that if he does play his performance needs to be up there and that if he gets the nod he needs to step up and play well.”

Alongside Paston, Leo Bertos was another hero for the All Whites and has clearly shaken off a dip in form. Herbert used Bertos off the bench in the Phoenix-s past two matches but the Kiwi flier is set to start in Newcastle on Sunday.

“I think Leo appreciated the chance to freshen up mentally and physically. I-m not sure he agreed with my thinking 100 per cent at the time, but he certainly does now.”

The All Whites- World Cup qualification also represents a massive opportunity for talented young striker Barbarouses. Impressive in his two starts, especially against the Jets at Westpac Stadium, the 20-year-old now has the chance to be in the mix for South Africa.

“The most important thing for Costa now is that he features around the squad every week,” said New Zealand international boss Herbert. “He-s a great little talent and we-ll keep using him.”

Sunday-s match kicks off at 7pm (NZDST).

Wellington Phoenix squad: 1. Mark PASTON (gk), 2. Manny MUSCAT, 3. Tony LOCHHEAD, 5. DIEGO, 6. Tim BROWN, 7. Leo BERTOS, 8. Paul IFILL, 9. Chris GREENACRE, 11. DANIEL, 13. Troy HEARFIELD, 14. Adrian CACERES, 18. Ben SIGMUND, 20. Reece CROWTHER (gk), 22. Andrew DURANTE (c), 23. Costa BARBAROUSES

In: Mark PASTON (gk) (returns from injury), DIEGO (promoted)

Out: Vince LIA (suspended - 1 week), Jonathan GOULD (gk) (short-term injury cover)

Unavailable: Jon McKAIN (quad - 2 weeks), Michael FERRANTE (ankle - 2 weeks)