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Mar 23, 2012

Fatigue unlikely to derail A-League leader

Neither Central Coast or Wellington Phoenix expect the league-leading Mariners' recent odyssey and packed program to be a big factor in Sunday's vital A-League clash at Westpac Stadium.

A hectic March schedule has taken the Mariners from the NSW Central Coast to China, then onto Perth and now New Zealand, as they juggle A-League and Asian Champions League commitments.

"It's obviously tough, but we've been planning this for a year now," Mariners' captain Alex Wilkinson told AAP.

"Our coaching staff and strength and conditioning coach have been planning for this for a couple of months, they are keeping us fresh."

The Mariners reported no major injury issues arising out of last Wednesday's 1-1 ACL draw with Nagoya Grampus in Gosford.

Phoenix coach Ricki Herbert isn't getting his hopes us about facing a fatigued Mariners side.

"I hope so, but they're playing well, they're playing regularly and they're a squad with good depth," Herbert said.

The Mariners head into this weekend's final round with a two-point lead over second-placed Brisbane.

The Roar, who have a superior goal difference, can go past Central Coast if the Mariners lose or draw against Wellington and Brisbane win at bottom of the table Gold Coast later on Sunday afternoon

Sunday's game is also significant for Phoenix, who enter the final round in fourth spot.

They are level on points with third-placed Perth, who have the same goal difference, but have scored more goals than Phoenix.

Wellington will go into their game knowing what they need to do to secure third, as Perth host Melbourne Victory the previous evening.

"It's a big game for the Phoenix as well, they want to shore up third spot, we've got to win over there," Wilkinson said.

"We're not going to just rely on Brisbane to beat Gold Coast, we want to have it wrapped up before that game starts.

"Obviously Wellington is a tough place to go, their home record is very very good, but we're looking forward to the challenge.

The Phoenix line-up has a couple of question marks for Sunday, with talismanic striker Paul Ifill still recovering from the flu and midfielder Vince Lia in doubt with a groin injury.

Central defender Wilkinson is well aware of the threat posed by English-born Barbados international striker Ifill.

"When he gets the ball he needs to be shut down quickly, he's been on fire lately and he creates and scores a lot of goals for them," Wilkinson said.

"They are a tough team to score goals against at home, with Andrew Durante and Benny Sigmund in the centre of defence.

"They've struck up a good partnership. It's definitely going to be a very very tough game for us."

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