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By ESPN Staff

Key duo back to spark Phoenix

Coach Ricki Herbert is hoping the return of two pivotal players will help turn around back-to-back A-League losses when Wellington Phoenix travel to meet Sydney FC on Saturday.

Losses to Brisbane Roar in Wellington and Central Coast Mariners in Gosford have dropped the Phoenix from second to fourth on the ladder in the past two weeks.

Sydney are sixth, three points astray of the Phoenix, and the Wellington team desperately need a win to avoid plummeting further down the table.

Wellington missed captain Andrew Durante and vice-captain Tim Brown in the 2-0 loss to the Mariners, both players sitting out a match after picking up their fifth yellow card of the season a week earlier.

Herbert says it's always difficult with regular first-choice players out, but being without his captain and vice-captain made it more so.

"They are so important to the team with their leadership qualities and we definitely missed them against the Mariners," Herbert said.

"It's good to have them back and I'm sure you'll see a much-improved performance against Sydney."

Brown said it had been frustrating watching last week's loss from the sideline, and he was looking forward to tackling Sydney on Saturday.

"We've worked so hard to get where we are and things are so tight in this competition that you can't afford to drop your standards," he said.

With the return of Brown and Durante, Manny Muscat reverts to right back with Vince Lia moving into midfield at the expense of Alex Smith who will be on the bench.

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