Wellington Phoenix caretaker coach Chris Greenacre says playing negative football in a desperate attempt to come away with a point won’t be an option despite the extraordinary position the club finds itself in this week.
Phoenix is without seven players – both goalkeepers, Glen Moss and Mark Paston, plus Ben Sigmund, Leo Bertos, Tony Lochhead, Jeremy Brockie and Benjamin Totori – as well as coach Ricky Herbert for the game against Melbourne Heart at AAMI Park on Sunday.
Phoenix will also be without injured Vince Lia, Lucas Pantelis, Jimmy Downey, Dani Sanchez and Mirjan Pavlovic who, the club announced, has a medical condition which has ruled him out indefinitely.
The New Zealand club had an application to have the match postponed rejected by Football Federation Australia.
Moss, Paston, Sigmund, Bertos, Lochhead and Brockie are all in the New Zealand team being prepared by Herbert for World Cup qualifiers against Tahiti in Papeeti on Saturday and Wellington on Tuesday.
Totori is also on World Cup duty, for Solomon Islands.
Heart was a solid 2-1 winner over Melbourne Victory in round one, and while Wellington was also impressive in beating Sydney FC 2-0 at home, an away game against any team minus so many key players is a daunting assignment.
But, when asked whether he would “park the bus” in defence and hope to hold the opposition out for 90 minutes, Greenacre, Herbert’s assistant who is taking charge for his first A-League game as coach, replied: “No, I think parking the bus is overrated as a tactic.
“If you go in with a plan like that and the other team scores early, you get your players looking around at each other and saying: ‘Well, what do we do now?’ We’re not going to do anything crazy out there, but we’re not going to be negative, either.
“As soon as you become negative, you shoot yourself in the foot. We’ll be going out to give ourselves the best possible chance, and although it’s going to be difficult for us, stranger things have happened than a team winning in a situation like this.
“If we apply ourselves and grab the game by the scruff of the neck, we could get something out of it.”
Greenacre said that while it was obviously a huge blow to lose so many experienced players, Phoenix at least has its captain, Andrew Durante, among those still on deck.
Greenacre said he, Durante and the rest of the coaching staff and established team members still available had concentrated on creating a positive atmosphere for the less-experienced players coming in.
“I’ve learnt a lot about myself this week,” Greenacre said. “I’m like the debutants we’ve got coming in, with it being my first game in charge. But I’m excited, and I think they’re excited. It’s a great opportunity for a young player.
“You don’t get many tasks bigger than this, with so many players unavailable, but we would have been a lot worse off had something like this happened last season.
"We would have had to bring some amateur players in then, to complete the team, but we’ve got a lot more depth now.
“We’ve got genuine cover in a number of positions, which is a good indication of how far this club has come, but we’re obviously looking heavily to the older players that we still have here this week to lead the way.
“We couldn’t hope for a better leader than Andrew, under the circumstances. He’s the perfect candidate to lead our team through a situation like this.”
One of the biggest challenges Phoenix faces for the game will be in goal, with its top two men away. Phoenix Academy ‘keeper Scott Basalaj is tipped to get the starting spot, with Jacob Spoonley on the bench.
Herbert investigated trying to get to Melbourne for the game between the two World Cup qualifiers, but difficulties in obtaining flights at the necessary times thwarted that bid, and he will be forced to watch the game on television in Christchurch.
Newcastle Jets have been crowned Champions of the Singapore Soccer Sixes after defeating Chonburi FC of Thailand 4-1 in Sunday’s grand final.