THE prospect of setting a new Australasian football record for the longest unbeaten run at the same venue has not put additional pressure on hosts Wellington Phoenix ahead of their Hyundai A-League 2010/11 clash with Melbourne Heart.
The Phoenix’s 2-1 win against North Queensland Fury in their last home game at Westpac Stadium last month saw the Wellington club equal the record of 23 undefeated matches at one venue, sharing the honour with Sydney United, which went 23 consecutive National Soccer League matches without defeat at Sydney United Sports Centre from 1996-99.
The last time Wellington lost at Westpac Stadium was against Brisbane Roar (0-1) on October 26, 2008.
A win or a draw against the Heart will allow the Phoenix to claim the record outright.
Phoenix coach Ricki Herbert said his players were not feeling any extra pressure on top of their own usual high expectations.
“It’s an incredible statistic and I’m not sure any other team in this league will ever beat it but I don’t think there’s any extra pressure on at all. It’s been sitting there for us for a while now and there has been a lot of attention around how long we can keep the run going. Hopefully we can do it.”
The Phoenix sit in fifth spot of the league ladder, ahead of Heart on goal difference. Getting points away from home has been a problem for the Phoenix but they have been able to bank on their stellar record at Westpac Stadium to stay in the hunt.
Herbert said his team was yet to achieve the consistency he was looking for home and away, though most other teams in the competition had also struggled on that front.
“It doesn’t matter who you are, in this league everyone is going to go through different cycles. Perth’s gone through it, Sydney’s going through it, Melbourne (Victory) went through it.
“It’s a matter of quickly you can come out the other side. Heart went through that at the start and that’s probably to be expected from a new club. Now they’ve found some good form and they’ll want to maintain that.
‘They’ll be tough but we haven’t hit the form we know we’re capable of yet and it’s another step towards that for us on Sunday.”
The creation of scoring opportunities had been a major focus for the Phoenix during the week.
“In shots on goal last season we were right up there but we’re probably not even featuring this season,” said Herbert. “That’s an area where we need to be better and we’ve encouraged players to take people on and create those chances.
“Paul (Ifill) was a big player for us in that regard last season but he’s been targeted more this year. So the responsibility falls to everybody to help boost that stat. It’s goals that we need.”
There could also be a shakeup at the back for the Phoenix, with Herbert hinting that he might employ a three-man defensive line against Heart. Herbert used three at the back with the All Whites at the World Cup and has previously indicated he wanted to take a similar approach with the Phoenix following the signing of Socceroo Jade North.
In goal, Herbert admitted it could come down to the “toss of a coin” to determine who would start on Sunday. Danny Vukovic has been preferred over New Zealand number one Mark Paston, though the big Kiwi stopper turned in two magnificent performances against Honduras and Paraguay recently.
“Certainly no one’s in the driving seat at the moment and it could go either way.”
Wellington Phoenix v Melbourne Heart
Sunday, 17 October 2010
Westpac Stadium, Wellington
Local kick-off: 5pm (3pm AEDT)
Referee: Matt Breeze
Live and exclusive broadcast on Fox Sports 1, FS1 HD & on Sky Sport 2 (NZ). Hyundai A-League club broadcast partner is The Radio Network (Wellington) 1035AM, 774 ABC (Melbourne), SEN Digital. To purchase tickets visit www.ticketek.co.nz
Wellington Phoenix squad: 1. Mark PASTON (gk), 2. Manny MUSCAT, 4. Nick WARD, 6. Tim BROWN, 7. Leo BERTOS, 8. Paul IFILL, 9. Chris GREENACRE, 10. Oscar Roberto CORNEJO, 11. DANIEL, 13. Troy HEARFIELD, 14. Mirjan PAVLOVIC, 15. Jade NORTH, 17. Vince LIA, 18. Ben SIGMUND, 19. Danny VUKOVIC (gk), 22. Andrew DURANTE (c), 23. Dylan MACALLISTER
*two to be omitted*
In: Vince LIA (return from suspension), Dylan MACALLISTER (promoted)
Unavailable: Tony LOCHHEAD (groin – 7 weeks)
Melbourne Heart squad: 1. Clint BOLTON (gk), 2. Michael MARRONE, 4. Simon COLOSIMO, 5. Michael BEAUCHAMP, 6. Matt THOMPSON, 7. Rutger WORM, 10. Wayne SRHOJ, 11. Alex TERRA, 12. Peter ZOIS (gk), 14. Kamal IBRAHIM, 15. John ALOISI, 17. Jason HOFFMAN, 18. Ante TOMIC, 20. Josip SKOKO, 21. Kliment TASESKI, 22. Nick KALMAR, 23. Dean HEFFERNAN, 25. Adrian ZAHRA
*three to be omitted*
In: Simon COLOSIMO (returns from injury), Ante TOMIC (promoted), Kliment TASESKI (promoted), Dean HEFFERNAN (returns from suspension)
Out: Gerald SIBON (Suspended), Aziz BEHICH (Suspended)
Unavailable: Kristian Sarkies, Brendan Hamill, Eli Babalj
Head-to-Head: All matches (played 1): Wellington Phoenix wins 0, Melbourne Heart wins 1 (0 draws)