Phoenix look for early A-League strike

December 25, 2012
By Cathy Walshe

Wellington Phoenix will be hunting an early goal as they look to get their up-and-down A-League season back on an even keel against Melbourne Heart at Westpac Stadium on Thursday.

Both teams have just three wins from 12 matches, with the seventh-placed Phoenix one point and one place ahead of the Heart.

But while Melbourne are backing up from a heart-breaking 93rd-minute 2-1 loss to cross-town rivals the Victory, Ricki Herbert's Phoenix have more positive memories from their 1-1 draw against competition leaders Central Coast last Saturday.

Herbert will run with the same 11 who started against the Mariners, when pacy young strikers Tyler Boyd and Louis Fenton combined with experienced frontman Jeremy Brockie to create plenty of chances.

In the absence of Paul Ifill, out for at least four weeks after ankle surgery, Solomon Islander Benjamin Totori also impressed with a cameo off the bench and the cross which led to Dani Sanchez's equaliser late in the match.

Herbert says the Phoenix will be looking to maintain focus after conceding late first-half goals in their past three matches, but have also targeted an early strike to put them on the front foot against Melbourne.

"I think the stats tell you if we take a lead in the game, I don't think we've lost. Let's hope we score early on Thursday."

The Phoenix were missing six players away on international duty, as well as All Whites' coach Herbert, when the two teams last met in round two for a 1-1 draw.

On Thursday, the Heart will be without two key defenders in suspended pair Patrick Gerhardt and Simon Colosimo.

They have been replaced by Steven Gray and teenager David Vrankovic, and the Heart also have the services of the tireless Aziz Behich at left back, who hasn't missed a minute's play this season.

Melbourne Heart have never won in Wellington and have picked up just four points from a possible 18 on the road.

However, Herbert expects the John Aloisi-coached side to pose a real danger, particularly with a creative midfield now including Jonatan Germano, who played 62 minutes against the Victory in his first game back from a calf injury.

"I think they're probably desperate as well, coming off the back of an undeserved result against Melbourne Victory where I thought they played very well," Herbert said.

"They're a good side and we're going to have to play well to match them."