Football: Phoenix season hangs in balance

Andrew Durante
Andrew Durante
Toss out your calculator if you're a Wellington Phoenix fan. Don't even bother trying to work out all the playoff permutations because it has reached the point where it's pretty simple: The Phoenix have to win.

If the struggling franchise want to qualify for the uber-generous finals series that the A-League offers up, the next eight days will decide their fate.

They have three home games during the next week-and-a-bit, and if they lose one of them their season is all but cooked. Frankly, so it should be.

The Wellingtonians start their busy stretch with an outing against Adelaide United at Westpac Stadium on Sunday - a venue the South Australians haven't played at since 2009 or won at since 2007.

The Phoenix follow that up with a midweek showdown at the Cake Tin with the Newcastle Jets on Wednesday before they host the eighth-placed Melbourne Heart in Dunedin next weekend.

Wellington trail Newcastle, who occupy sixth place on the A-League ladder, by six points, and Phoenix skipper Andrew Durante said it was about time the team showed some fight, starting against Adelaide on Sunday.

"I think the players realise as a group it's almost the do-or-die stage," he said.

"There's always the talk of 'must-win situations' and there's only six games left so we're kind of getting to that stage and I think we realise that. Back home now and it's just got to be a good performance and three points."

It almost doesn't seem fair that Wellington can make the top six given the season they've had, a sentiment that wasn't lost on Durante.

"It's kind of funny isn't it that we've still got a chance to be in the playoffs considering how poor we've been at times this season," he said.

"But that's the way the league's set up; six-team finals in a 10-team comp and the finals system's even better this year. It gives the lower-ranked team probably even more of a chance to take out the trophy, so I guess that's what we hang on - that there's always a chance - and I guess that's the beauty of the league. So it's good if you're at the bottom."

Aside from the pressure of trying to salvage something from their season, certain Phoenix players are also playing for their future at the club with a host of squad members off contract at season's end.

"They want to be here, there's no question about it," Durante said.

"All the players that are off contract really want to be here, which is a good thing and I guess they're playing for their futures. A lot of them have families and wives and stuff and it's a tough time. Contract time's a difficult time and the sooner they get sorted probably the better for everyone."

Phoenix coach Ricki Herbert is likely to be without midfielder Isaka Cernak for Sunday's game against Adelaide due to a hip flexor injury.

In his typically-evasive fashion surrounding player selection, Herbert wouldn't indicate the make-up of the side if Cernak was to be scratched.

Leading goal-scorer Jeremy Brockie returns to the fold for the Phoenix after missing last weekend's 2-0 loss to the Brisbane Roar due to suspension and would be a logical replacement for Cernak, although that could create a reshuffle of the midfield and strikers.

Goalkeeper Mark Paston, who was dropped to the bench for last week's game, didn't train today (Fri) due to the flu but was expected to take his place on the pine on Sunday.