Football: Road gets tougher for the Phoenix

Ricki Herbert
Ricki Herbert
As Wellington Phoenix coach Ricki Herbert tries to put last night's loss to the Melbourne Victory behind him, he will see the fixture list doesn't provide any comfort in the short term.

The scoreboard might have read 3-2 last night but that wasn't a fair indication of how much the Phoenix were outplayed - particularly in the opening hour - when only two late Jeremy Brockie goals restored some sort of respectability.

Central Coast are next on the agenda, which poses two threats for Wellington despite the fact they have home advantage.

Firstly, Central Coast are in red-hot form after they hammered Sydney 7-2 in Gosford on Saturday night and, secondly, the Mariners are one of the rare teams in the A-League who don't lose their minds when they play at Westpac Stadium.

In fact, the Mariners completed the double last summer when they recorded a pair of 2-1 victories against the Phoenix at the Cake Tin.

After that match, the Phoenix then have a tough road trip to take on the over-achieving Newcastle Jets, who are led by former Liverpool striker Emile Heskey, before travelling to Western Australia to meet Perth.

The title isn't won early in the season but the Phoenix won't want to lose too much ground on the opposition.

Herbert said he was disappointed with his side's slow start against the Victory when they conceded three goals in the first 48 minutes, including two to former Phoenix attacker Marco Rojas who celebrated his 21st birthday in style.

"I was disappointed with some hesitant defending in the first half and you can't give teams a three-goal start on their home ground," Herbert said.

"It's a tough period for us with four out of five games away from home but we have to just get on with it and perform better than we did in those first 60 minutes."

It's unlikely Herbert will want to make any immediate changes to his starting XI, despite his side having lost two games on the bounce after they were also toppled 3-1 by Adelaide United.

He will welcome back the suspended Ben Sigmund with open arms. The central defender missed the loss to the Victory after copping a controversial red card against Adelaide.

While Sigmund's replacement Michael Boxall didn't look out of place against Melbourne, the long-running partnership between Sigmund and Andrew Durante at the heart of defence has been one of the major keys to the club's success in recent seasons.

Another pleasing sight for Herbert would be seeing Brockie's name on the score sheet. The All White netted 18 times in pre-season but couldn't buy a goal in the opening four games of the campaign.

His first strike - with his left foot from outside the box - was a stunner and his neat free-kick off his right boot in the 90th minute was also impressive.

"I guess if we take anything out of tonight, [it's] a couple of good goals by Brocks who struggled to get on the score sheet for the first four games," Herbert said.

Phoenix striker Stein Huysegems was substituted in the 55th minute with a sore ankle last night after being involved in a heavy challenge in the opening stages, and it will be hoped it's not serious.