Wellington Phoenix head coach Ricki Herbert believes his side has turned an important corner in its Hyundai A-League 2008/09 campaign and the onus now is to push on with continued improvement, starting with Sunday’s match against Perth Glory in the Western Australian capital.
After some serious soul-searching in the wake of a disappointing away loss to Adelaide late last month, the Phoenix went back to basics at Westpac Stadium on Sunday to deliver a gusty effort against the Central Coast Mariners – the goalless draw earning the Phoenix their first ever competition point against the Gosford-based outfit.
Taught a lesson in Adelaide, it was a vastly more determined Phoenix side that took the field on Sunday, matching up well to the physical Mariners lineup.
It was the grit displayed by the players that most impressed Herbert and he was satisfied to see the fighting spirit back in his side.
“It was about getting back to doing the basics again and being competitive. Now we’ve got a platform to start from again and that’s important for us.”
Herbert said he had asked more of everyone in his squad and had made some tough selection calls to get the Phoenix’s house in order.
“I said in the media throughout the week leading up to the game against the Central Coast that everyone was on an equal standing. We picked an XI to go out and get the season back on track. We got a point and we’ve got some momentum now. This was about putting a stake in the ground and showing that there’s passion and heart in the shirt.
“It’s about performances now for players and from a selection point of view that’s how players will be judged.”
Phoenix skipper Andrew Durante said his teammates weren’t “over the moon” with the draw against the Mariners but everyone involved was pleased to have exorcised the ghosts of Adelaide.
“A couple of weeks ago we didn’t show any heart, any ticker. Against the Mariners there was loads of commitment, loads of discipline. We wanted to keep a clean sheet and show everyone that we have heart in this team and we’re proud to wear the Phoenix shirt.”
Durante said the result would certainly boost the team’s confidence heading into the away match against the Glory, with the Phoenix chasing their first win of the season.
“It’s a stepping stone. You’ve got to have the commitment first, then those other things come from that.”
The Phoenix depart Wellington on Thursday afternoon to begin the world’s third longest road trip in professional club football. At 5258km, the Phoenix’s trip to Perth is a gruelling one and topped in distance only by two fixtures in Russia – Zenit St Petersburg to Luch-Energia Vladivostok (6531km) and Baltika Kaliningrad to SKA-Energia Khabarovsk (7026km).
Sunday’s match at Members Equity Stadium kicks off at 3pm AWST (7pm NZT).