Reds look to burn Phoenix

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Wellington Phoenix host Adelaide United on Sunday afternoon in a game that United coach Josep Gombau has labelled a final. The Spaniard believes his side are far from secure in their top six position, and also wants them to push on and finish higher up the table. The Phoenix go into the game with different motivation, needing the points to keep their season alive.

The background

The home side has prevailed on both occasions in clashes between the two this season, with the Phoenix triumphing 2-1 in round 17, and the Reds delivering a 5-1 trouncing in round 21.

The Phoenix are licking their wounds after being thumped 5-0 by Newcastle Jets last weekend. It was the second time they’ve been beaten by that scoreline this season, and the defeat ended any realistic hopes of making the finals as the Nix are four points outside the top six although still mathematically posible.

The defensive frailties shown against the Jets will need to be addressed by Phoenix coach Ernie Merrick before they face the Reds’ potent attack. Wellington have failed to keep a clean sheet in their last nine games and will be desperate to break that streak.

United showed some great attacking play, but also spirit and determination in their 3-1 win over Sydney FC at home last Friday night. The Reds survived a late scare when the Sky Blues came within a goal before Bruce Djite’s strike secured the points.

Adelaide sit 5th on the ladder but they are just two points away from 3rd position which would bring a home final, as well as qualification for the Asian Champions League. There is no doubt that United are aiming for 3rd place but they will need to improve their away form to do so. The Reds have scored 27 goals at Coopers Stadium and just 15 away from home, picking up only two wins on the road all season.

The ins & outs

The Phoenix welcome back Ben Sigmund from suspension but their biggest news is the return of attacking midfielder Carlos Hernandez, who will give the side greater creativity, as well as providing a threat from range with his powerful shooting ability.

Wellington have a crippling injury list that includes the likes of Leo Bertos, Paul Ifill and Albert Riera. Merrick has done well to patch up some major holes as the season has gone on, but the sheer number of players in the treatment room has affected the Phoenix, as it would affect any A-League side.

United will be without Jon McKain for a couple of games after he picked up an injury in the win over Sydney last Friday, with the vocal defender hoping to be back for the final round match against Newcastle. Osama Malik returns to the lineup after missing last week with a groin niggle, bringing composure and versatility.

The 90 minutes

Wellington are likely to take an attacking approach to the game in a bid to keep their slim finals hopes alive, with the returning Hernandez acting as the creative linchpin. Kenny Cunningham and leading scorer Stein Huysegems will need to be wearing their shooting boots if the Phoenix are to claim all three points.

Michael Boxall was caught out at centre back against the Jets but he has put in some admirable performances at right back this season. It will be interesting to see if Merrick moves him back out wide or keeps him in the heart of the Phoenix’s defence.

The Reds are likely to lineup in Gombau’s preferred 4-3-3, with Marcelo Carrusca supplying the dangerous front three of Fabio Ferreira, Sergio Cirio and Bruce Djite. The big decision for Gombau this week is whether Osama Malik will return to midfield, or move to centre back in McKain’s absence.

If Malik is deployed in midfield, options in central defence include shifting full back Michael Marrone who replaced McKain against Sydney, or the younger Jordan Elsey. Cameron Watson’s place in the Adelaide midfield also hinges on this call.

The mind games

Merrick was unhappy with the performance against the Jets at his post match press conference, but believed the string of injuries had contributed.

“We’ve struggled week in week out, particularly these last few weeks to turn out a stable starting eleven,” he said.

“I’m continually changing the backline and midfield. Michael Boxall has hardly played centre back all year, Manny (Muscat) has gone from midfield to fullback and Shaun Timmins, who has hardly played or trained for five months has been thrown in at left back.

 “We couldn’t keep the ball in midfield which again has been constantly changing.”

Merrick also admitted that a place in the finals may be beyond his side, adding: “We would need to play consistently well for three games and win them all and I don’t see that happening with the line-up we have at the moment.”

Adelaide winger Awer Mabil was wary of how the Phoenix would bounce back following their heavy defeat last round, when speaking to

“Wellington is a good team and we know it’s not a good place to go to try and get a result,” Mabil said.

“It’s always hard playing against a team that has lost the week before but they will be extra motivated after the way they lost.”

Mabil also expressed his confidence that United could make an impact in the finals.

“We’ve got an unbelievable squad with some amazing players and with the system the coach is playing I think if we get into the finals we can really hurt teams.”

The squads

Sunday, 30 March 2014
Wellington Phoenix v Adelaide United
Westpac Stadium, Wellington
 3:00pm local (1:00pm AEDT)
 Peter Green
Assistant Referee 1: Glen Lochrie
Assistant Referee 2: Anton Shchetinin
Fourth Official: Shaun Evans

Wellington Phoenix squad: 1.Glen MOSS (GK), 2.Manny MUSCAT, 5.Michael BOXALL, 9.Kenny CUNNINGHAM, 10.Stein HUYSEGEMS, 11.Jeremy BROCKIE, 12.Tyler BOYD, 14.Alex RUFER, 15.Jason HICKS, 17.Vince LIA, 18.Ben SIGMUND, 19.Hamish WATSON, 20.Lewis ITALIANO (GK), 21.Carlos HERNANDEZ, 22.Andrew DURANTE (c), 23.Matthew RIDENTON, 24.Roy KRISHNA, 25.Shaun TIMMINS
**Two to be omitted**

Ins: 14.Alex RUFER (promoted), 18.Ben SIGMUND (returns from suspension), 21.Carlos HERNANDEZ (returns from injury)…

Outs: Luke ADAMS (omitted).

Unavailable: 3.Reece CAIRA (fractured cheekbone 6-8 weeks), 6.Josh BRINDELL-SOUTH (ankle injury 4-6 weeks), 7.Leo BERTOS (groin injury (2 to 3 weeks), 8.Paul IFILL (ruptured Achilles, season), 13.Albert RIERA (groin injury, season), 6.Louis FENTON (shoulder injury, season).

Adelaide United squad: 1.Eugene GALEKOVIC (gk) (c), 2.Michael MARRONE, 3.Nigel BOOGAARD, 5.Osama MALIK, 7.JERONIMO, 8.ISAIAS, 9.Sergio CIRIO, 10.Marcelo CARRUSCA, 11.Bruce DJITE, 14.Cameron WATSON, 17.Awer MABIL, 18.Michael ZULLO, 20.Paul IZZO (gk), 21.Tarek ELRICH, 22.Fabio FERREIRA, 23.Jordan ELSEY, 25.Ryan KITTO (promoted), 32.Nathan KONSTANDOPOULOS
**Two to be omitted**

Ins: 25.Ryan KITTO (promoted), 32.Nathan KONSTANDOPOULOS (promoted)

Outs: 4.Jon McKAIN (quad 1 – 2 weeks)

Unavailable: 6.CASSIO (hamstring tendon – indefinite)

Andrew Cussen

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