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Jan 26, 2010

Phoenix still aiming for top four

Wellington Phoenix coach Ricki Herbert has set his sights on a home A-League final for his side, and denies his side will just be making up the numbers if they reach the playoffs.

The Phoenix were given a lesson in the gulf they face to be competitive should they make their first-ever finals series - torched by Melbourne Victory on Tuesday night in a 4-0 away hammering.

While the Phoenix more than matched the defending champions in the first 45 minutes, they fell off the pace in the second and were punished accordingly.

Victory's attacking weapons repeatedly punctured the Phoenix in a finals-like performance, and the home side could have finished with more goals.

The result leaves the Phoenix four points clear in sixth place with three matches remaining.

They are not yet guaranteed a first finals berth for a New Zealand club side in Australia's top-flight soccer competition.

Yet Herbert is eyeing a possible fourth-placed finish for his side rather than just scraping over the line into the top six - a result which would give the Phoenix a home final.

"I think it's been 10 years and a (New Zealand) team hasn't even come close and I think it'll be great for us," Herbert said.

"Depending on where we finish, and we still haven't ruled out finishing fourth, I wouldn't want to travel across to Wellington given the form we've got at home.

"If we finish fifth or sixth we'll come with no fear - it's uncharted territory."

Looming as the pivotal match in Wellington's run home is a clash with Central Coast in the last fixture before the finals - a match which may well decide sixth place unless the Phoenix can shore up their place in two matches prior.

Central Coast (7th), Brisbane Roar (8th) and even ninth-placed North Queensland can theoretically catch Wellington.

But the congested nature of the league means should fourth-placed Newcastle and fifth-placed Perth start to skid, the Phoenix could also zip past them with a series of wins.

Herbert, who also coaches the World Cup-bound New Zealand national side, is mindful of how important a finals berth - especially a home final - could be for the round ball code in rugby-mad New Zealand.

"It just carries on that momentum, doesn't it? It's opportunity, it's (for the national team players) another week or even a few weeks of football down the track to the World Cup," Herbert said.

"If we were at home, I think we'd pull a really good crowd, and it gets the momentum going in a big year."

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