World Cup hero returns for Phoenix

THE return of New Zealand World Cup hero Mark Paston is a massive boost to Wellington Phoenix on the eve of their game against competition leaders Melbourne Victory on Friday night.

THE return of New Zealand World Cup hero Mark Paston is a massive boost to Wellington Phoenix on the eve of their game against competition leaders Melbourne Victory on Friday night.

Paston was inspirational for the All Whites in last month-s World Cup qualifier against Bahrain, pulling off a stunning penalty save to book his country a spot at the world-s biggest sporting event next year.

The 32-year-old has also been excellent for the Phoenix this season, his experience and organisational skills helping make the Wellington defence one of the toughest in the Hyundai A-League.

Paston missed last weekend-s 4-1 loss to the Brisbane Roar at Suncorp Stadium after badly corking a thigh following a collision with skipper Andrew Durante at training in the lead-up to that match. Young keeper Reece Crowther was in the firing line as the Phoenix-s usually rock-solid defence wilted in the Brisbane heat.

Paston admitted the Brisbane match was a tough one to watch.

“It was difficult. As a player you want to be out there contributing on the field and watching it on TV isn-t good. We didn-t defend to our usual high standards against the Roar.

“This season we haven-t let too many teams have a good look at goal and the Brisbane game was certainly one where we didn-t play all that well. The good thing is that everyone involved put their hands up and admitted that.”

With the Victory stretching away at the top of the table and enjoying a purple-patch of form, Paston said Friday night-s match would be a litmus test for the Phoenix.

“We simply need to get back to where we have been,” he said, referring to the Phoenix-s own superb run at form at home - going 13 matches undefeated at Westpac Stadium in a streak dating back to October last year. “We haven-t been letting in many goals and as a unit we have to recapture that drive to limit the teams on attack and their shots on goal, naturally that will limit the number of goals they get - if any.

“It-s pretty simple really - if I keep the ball out of the back of the net we don-t lose.”

While Paston is looking forward to starting between the sticks back at the scene of his World Cup heroics, there-s another reason the Phoenix custodian is excited about Friday night-s match.

Former Phoenix number one Glen Moss has returned to Wellington, this time in Melbourne colours.

“Mossy was a real favourite of the fans here and he was one of the stars for us in the first two seasons,” Paston said. “I-m sure he-ll be champing at the bit to play back at Westpac Stadium for the first time since he left and I-d love to see him at the other end of the pitch on Friday night.”

Phoenix coach Ricki Herbert has named a 16-man squad, which will be reduced by one on gameday. Troy Hearfield is a shot to start at right back in place of the suspended Manny Muscat, while midfielders Jon McKain and Diego Walsh return from injury.

Friday night-s match kicks off at 7.30pm (NZDST) at Westpac Stadium.

Friday, December 4, 2009 Wellington Phoenix v Melbourne Victory Westpac Stadium, Wellington Local kickoff: 7.30pm (5.30pm AEDT) Referee: Michael Hester

Live and exclusive broadcast on Sky Sport 1 and Fox Sports 2. Hyundai A-League club broadcast partner is The Radio Network 1035 AM (Wellington).

Wellington Phoenix squad: 1. Mark PASTON, 3. Tony LOCHHEAD, 4. Jon McKAIN, 5. DIEGO, 6. Tim BROWN, 7. Leo BERTOS, 8. Paul IFILL, 9. Chris GREENACRE, 11. DANIEL, 13. Troy HEARFIELD, 14. Adrian CACERES, 17. Vince LIA, 18. Ben SIGMUND, 20. Reece CROWTHER (gk), 22. Andrew DURANTE (c), 23. Costa BARBAROUSES *one to be omitted*

In: Mark PASTON (return from injury), Jon McKAIN (return from injury), DIEGO (return from injury) Out: Manny MUSCAT (suspended - 3 weeks), Jonathan GOULD (gk) (short-term contract expired) Unavailable: Nil

Melbourne Victory squad: 1. Mitchell LANGERAK (gk), 2. Kevin MUSCAT (c), 5. Surat SUKHA, 6. Leigh BROXHAM, 7. Matthew KEMP, 10. Archie THOMPSON, 12. Rodrigo VARGAS, 15. Tom PONDELJAK, 16. Carlos HERNANDEZ, 17. Matthew FOSCHINI, 20. Glen MOSS (gk), 21. Robbie KRUSE, 22. Nick WARD, 23. Adrian LEIJER, 27. Sutee SUKSOMKIT

In: Matthew FOSCHINI (promoted), Tom PONDELJAK (return from injury), Surat SUKHA (return from injury) Out: Evan BERGER (hamstring, 4-6 weeks), Grant BREBNER (ankle, 6 weeks), Mate DUGANDZIC (omitted) Unavailable: Marvin ANGULO (pending registration), Billy CELESKI (knee, season), Steven PACE (abdomen, indefinite)

*Head-to-Head: Played 7: Wellington Phoenix wins 1, Melbourne Victory wins 3 (3 draws)