One loss hardly seems reason to ring the changes, but the
Wellington Phoenix's problems run much deeper than
yesterday's defeat by Sydney.
Though the Phoenix have collected seven points from four
matches and sit inside the A-League's top six, the points
only paper over the cracks that have emerged.
Much has been made of the Phoenix 'winning ugly', an approach
which has served them well at various points this season. But
it is hardly a viable long-term strategy, and Ricki Herbert
may need a change in tactics if the Phoenix are to keep pace
in a congested league.
It would be bold to make amendments to the game plan for
Sunday's encounter with Adelaide at Hindmarsh Stadium, a
venue in which the Phoenix have earned just seven points from
10 matches, but what do they have to lose?
Even a draw could see them fall into last place, and the
current style of football is unlikely to worry the
A change in style, of course, would have to be accompanied by
a change in personnel. The Phoenix have become staid and
lacking spark in the attacking third, a direct result of an
absence of creativity in the middle of the park and a couple
of misfiring big names.
Following consecutive losses to Melbourne Victory and Central
Coast in November, Herbert opted to reinforce the midfield
and added Vince Lia to the partnership of Alex Smith and
The move reaped immediate dividends with a 3-0 win in
Newcastle and Herbert, justifiably, stuck with the trio. But,
following that victory, the Phoenix's propensity to grind out
results rather than attempt any kind of flowing football has
come to the fore.
Lia, Smith and Muscat offer nowhere near enough quality
service to the attacking weapons around them - the central
responsibility of a midfield. Muscat has an eye for a
defence-splitting pass but is more the box-to-box type, while
Lia and Smith too often look to the side or behind when
receiving the ball.
The Phoenix need a player who will turn and start an attack,
a player who will draw defenders and slip a ball into the
vacant space created.
These players cannot simply be conjured, so it is lucky the
Phoenix already have one in their ranks. Dani Sanchez has
almost become the forgotten man of the club, hampered by a
knee injury which has kept him from the squad so far this
If he is finally 100 per cent fit, as Herbert asserted
following Sunday's loss, he must be recalled and tasked with
adding the creativity he showed for large parts of last
Herbert may be tempted to stop there but that would be
ignoring another problem further up field.
Paul Ifill has been a shadow of his usual self this season,
evidenced by his being substituted on several occasions when
the Phoenix are searching for goals, but a player of his
class should be persisted with.
Instead, it may be time to give Stein Huysegems a rest. The
Belgian has shown glimpses of promise and has three goals to
his name, but he too often goes through a game without making
It is telling that the Phoenix's biggest win this season (3-0
against Newcastle) came when he was injured and Herbert
plumped for a front three of Ifill, Jeremy Brockie and Louis
Brockie has been the sole bright light in the attacking third
and it might be time to make him the focal point, which would
allow a return to the side for Fenton, or perhaps a maiden
start for Tyler Boyd.