Saturday, September 01, 2007


Wingless Phoenix

Although the new team in the A-League went down 3-0 in Gosford last night, I think they have shown enough to indicate that they will be competitive this season. Some changes are clearly needed, however.

Felipe's cameo against the Mariners, coming on the back of his lively first appearance in the competition against Melbourne, was easily the most influential performance we have seen from a substitute in the competition so far. Three times, late in the second half, he made a monkey of a tiring Mile Jedinak, who had been dealing quite capably with the likes of Daniel and Michael Ferrante. Felipe needs to start against Newcastle next week, without question.

One of the main problems which I felt Ricki Herbert's side faced last night was the lack of real enterprise and penetration from the central midfield duo of Ferrante and Ross Aloisi. I have regularly expounded on Aloisi's limitations in the past, and Ferrante, although he did manage to get himself into good positions now and then, consistently wasted either the eventual shot or the final ball. Tim Brown, one feels, can't come back from injury quickly enough.

What ultimately lost them the game, of course, was the inexperience of poor Steven O'Dor, playing out of position at right-back (it should be noted that he fared much better once he shifted to the centre, following Cleberson's substitution). My learned Kiwi colleague, in his preview of the Phoenix's chances, noted that they lack a specialist right-back; Steven Old showed little inclination to get forward against Melbourne last week (he, too, is a central defender by choice), and Vince Lia's unsuitability for the right-back role was made glaringly apparent last season, when he filled in there for Melbourne. All in all, quite a problem for Ricki Herbert.

There are some good signs for the Wellington team, however. One is that Shane Smeltz has looked lively up front; even with Cleberson and Karl Dodd favouring the straightforward long balls last night, Smeltz managed to trouble the ponderous Central Coast defence at times, frequently forcing them into hurried, wasted clearances.

And on the topic of Cleberson and Dodd, they look a good partnership. Obviously Wellington suffered from some defensive lapses last night, but they were often due to either the full-backs being caught out of position, or the midfielders not marking up at set-pieces.

The jury is still out on Daniel, I feel. Mobile and inventive, he has nevertheless experienced some difficulty in getting past "the first man", and has a disturbing tendency to go down like the proverbial sack of potatoes when legitimately tackled. Not the way to make yourself popular in a new league.

Herbert seems to be counting on Daniel to provide the width on either side, with a little help on the left from Tony Lochhead (who has done well thus far). The Wellington side's lack of wide options might, however, come back to haunt them in the final analysis, unless Daniel can really hit his straps.

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