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The growing appeal of Wellington Phoenix FC was clear at QEII Stadium in Christchurch today (Sunday) when almost 6500 fans watched the visitors beat a Mainland Selection XI 2-0 to conclude their buildup to the start of the 2008 Pre-Season Cup.
Punters packed the main stand at QEII as Ricki Herbert’s men took on an invitational side stacked with both experience and rising southern talent.
And the Mainland side put up a brave fight in gorgeous conditions, holding the classy visitors goalless in the first half before Phoenix strike ace Shane Smeltz sealed the result with two second half goals.
With the Phoenix to take on the Central Coast Mariners in Wellington on Sunday in their 2008 Pre-Season Cup opener at Westpac Stadium, Herbert was thrilled with where his team was at heading into what promises to be a blockbuster Hyundai A-League 2008/09 season for the capital club.
“We controlled possession for long periods, which was very pleasing. This game ended the physiological component of our pre-season buildup and now we’re into the business end of things – working out combinations and making decisions on how things are going to look against the Mariners on Sunday.”
Herbert said the Mainland XI had given his side the sort of gritty and uncompromising challenge he had been hoping for.
“It was a decent workout. The guys at the back didn’t have too much to do and generally we were comfortable on the ball. We probably could have done better in the front third, but again that’s more about combinations than anything else.
“Overall, it was just what we needed.”
Herbert’s key focus in the match against the Mainland outfit was to give his full squad a run.
“In that respect I couldn’t be happier. They all got out on the pitch and it was good to involve everyone.”
Now the Phoenix boss’ attention turns to this weekend’s clash with the Mariners.
“The pre-season has gone well for us and the guys have worked hard to achieve impressive fitness levels. We’ve had decent matches leading up to this and it’s given me a clearer focus heading into this weekend.
“Best of all, there’s a real buzz around the team and genuine competition for spots. It’s not going to be easy to select a team to play the Mariners and there’ll be some interesting conversations in the coming days – competition is close in a number of areas.
“But that’s a nice problem to have – to be forced to make some hard calls. It’s indicative of the depth we have in our squad.”
Christchurch’s welcome of the Wellington-based Phoenix and the big turnout at QEII Stadium had staggered Herbert.
“Everything about our visit has been brilliant, first-class. I’d like to extend the club’s thanks to Mainland Football for putting this together and to the Christchurch supporters who came out to the game – you’ve played a very big part in everything we’ve achieved to date and in what we hope to achieve this season.”
The Phoenix’s 2008 Pre-Season Cup match against the Mariners kicks off at 4pm this Sunday at Westpac Stadium. Tickets are available for pre-purchase exclusively at the Wellington Phoenix club store on the corner of Cuba and Dixon streets in Wellington City. Tickets cost $15 for adults and $5 for children.
Phoenix 2 (Shane Smeltz 52’, 68’)
Mainland XI 0
Crowd: 6438 at QEII Stadium, Christchurch
Phoenix squad: 20. Glen MOSS (gk), 18. Ben SIGMUND, 4. Jon McKAIN, 24. Andrew DURANTE, 17. Vince LIA, 5. Karl DODD, 2. Jeremy CHRISTIE, 21. Leilei GAO, 7. Leo BERTOS, 11. DANIEL, 9. Shane SMELTZ. Substitutes: 1. Mark PASTON (gk), 6. Tim BROWN, 8, Vaughan COVENY, 12. Richard JOHNSON, 13. Troy HEARFIELD, 19. Greg DRAPER, 27. Adam KWASNIK.