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UNTIL he scored his stunning winner against Melbourne Victory last Friday, Shane Smeltz’s most satisfying Hyundai A-League goal came against Adelaide United last season.
Phoenix striker Smeltz scored early in that match at Hindmarsh Stadium, drilling the ball past Daniel Beltrame to give his side the lead after just three minutes. It was a special goal for Smeltz, scored against his old team and in front of friends and family in the city he called home for a number of years.
What hurt, however, was that his side went on to lose that match 4-1 at what has since become a “graveyard” venue for the Wellingtonians. The Phoenix’s most recent Hindmarsh horror came in round three this season, when Adelaide won 3-0 in what was the Phoenix’s worst performance to date in 2008/09.
But how things have changed. Spurred by three consecutive wins, the sensational 2-1 defeat of Melbourne Victory the most recent, the Phoenix head to Hindmarsh on a high this time.
Smeltz will be hoping to score another special goal at Hindmarsh on Friday night – and more importantly secure three competition points – but it’ll take some effort to beat his strike against the Victory at Westpac Stadium.
“That one against Melbourne definitely takes the cake for me,” Smeltz said of his Westpac wonder strike. Taking the ball in midfield, Smeltz turned Victory defender Michael Thwaite inside out and surged toward the Victory goal. With a deft touch he wrong-footed two more Victory defenders, putting the ball on his right foot 20m out before blasting an unstoppable shot into the top left corner of Michael Theoklitos’ net.
“As a striker it’s your job to score goals, but that one is definitely the best of my career so far.”
Having won three on the trot, Smeltz and the Phoenix hope to continue their winning ways against on Friday night against Adelaide. For Smeltz it’s another opportunity to turn on a good performance at his old stomping ground.
“It’s a match that I always look forward to. It’s not really going home but I used to live there, I’ve got a house there, and whenever you go back somewhere and play against your old team it’s always exciting.”
But, given past performances in the South Australian capital, the Phoenix know it will another tough mission.
“It hasn’t been a happy hunting ground for us and I think that’s actually fired the boys up for this one because we want to change that,” said Smeltz. “We feel it’s the perfect time to get at them because we’re on a bit of a run and they’ve probably fallen away a wee bit. We just want to get over there and put it to them on Friday night.”
Phoenix coach Ricki Herbert has named an unchanged squad to travel to Adelaide, though he has added defender Karl Dodd – suspended for last weekend’s win against the Victory – as a precaution.
With the Phoenix now on a roll, Herbert said it would be important for his men to put past performances at Hindmarsh Stadium out of their minds.
“We’ve got to put previous performances and results [in Adelaide] behind us and get across there with the confidence and belief that we have at the moment. On any given day we’re more than competitive and I think we’ve shown that and proven that. Now it’s a matter of going across and approaching this as we would any game. It’ll be a big ask, but that’s what we expect in any game.”
Wellington Phoenix squad: 1. Mark PASTON (gk), 2. Jeremy CHRISTIE, 3. Tony LOCHHEAD, 4. Jon McKAIN, 5. Karl DODD, 6. Tim BROWN, 7. Leo BERTOS, 9. Shane SMELTZ, 10. Michael FERRANTE, 11. DANIEL, 13. Troy HEARFIELD, 18. Ben SIGMUND, 20. Glen MOSS (gk), 22. Andrew DURANTE (captain), 25. Manny MUSCAT, 27. FRED. * one to be omitted
In: 5. Karl DODD (return from suspension)
Unavailable: 17. Vince LIA (knee – season)