Wellington Phoenix come into this match on the back of another heavy defeat, this time at the hands of Adelaide United. Life has not been easy without Albert Riera for the boys from across the ditch. Excluding the victory over a struggling Central Coast Mariners side, the Phoenix have conceded 12 goals in 270 minutes of action without the Spaniard. Wellington last kept a clean sheet in round 15 against Aloisi’s Melbourne Heart. If Wellington have hit a bump in the road of their mid-season revival, Perth have taken a wrong turn, hit a dead end and run of petrol. Perhaps they’ve even picked up the wrong hitchhiker along the way. Since Jacob Burns TKOed Alistair Edwards in the 10th round, Perth have struggled to gain points and put together any form of footballing performance, claiming just 8 points from a possible 33 under Kenny Lowe.
Lowe must be sweating like a gypsy with a mortgage this week. Perth have an extremely poor record in New Zealand, claiming just 1 win in one of the furthest away trips in the world of football. Lowe’s men haven’t won a game since Aloisi’s Melbourne Heart headed west early in January. They’ve only won a single away game all season, a 1-0 victory over the Jets. All signs point to an uphill battle for Perth across the ditch.
Things aren’t all bad for the Phoenix, despite some recent heavy losses. If their current run of form is anything to go by, they are due to score a bucket load of goals this weekend. Cunningham, Hernandez and Huysegems have been involved in everything good Wellington have been doing over the past month and should prove to be too much for Perth to handle. Phoenix’s home form has also been solid, other than the 5-0 hammering at the hands of Melbourne Heart, Wellington have not lost a game at the Cake Tin since hosting Brisbane in January.
Wellington’s attacking flair will be a real test for Perth on Sunday afternoon. There are injury clouds over Cunningham and Hernandez, but if they are even close to fitness, expect them to start in this crucial encounter. Glory’s defence has been better than their position on the ladder reflects, but the immediate loss of Danny Vukovic to Graham Arnold’s Vegalta Sendai can’t be overlooked. Vukovic has been a spiritual leader at the back for Perth all season and he leaves large shoes to fill, with Jack Duncan the man expected to fill the void. Duncan is an unknown entity in the A-league, his career totalling 38 minutes off the bench for the Jets in 2011. Duncan has a few weeks to show the league whether or not he is capable at this level, an uphill battle for someone between the sticks for the cellar dwellers.
The one positive heading into this game for Perth is that they may just find the correct temperature to serve William Gallas at, with Wellington expected to be a cool 14°C and over cast by kick off Sunday.
Played: 22. Wellington Phoenix: 10. Draws: 4. Perth Glory: 8.
Last Meeting: 06/12/13 at NIB Stadium. Perth Glory 4-2 Wellington Phoenix.
Recent form: Phoenix: WWLWL Glory: DLLLL
Wellington: Manny Muscat (suspensed), Reece Caira (injured), Albert Riera (injured), Paul Ifill (injured), Louis Fenton (injured)
Perth: Danny Vukovic (loan), Travis Dodd (injured), Scott Jamieson (injured)
Wellington (4-4-2 Rhombus / 4-3-1-2): Moss; Boxall, Sigmund, Durante, Brindell-South; Ridenton, Lia, Cunningham, Hernandez; Boyd, Huysegems.
Perth (4-3-3 / 4-5-1): Duncan; Risdon, Gallas, Thwaite, Clisby; Burns, Griffiths, Marinkovic; Harold, Smeltz, Sidnei.
Stein Huysegems, if for nothing more than the hope of another celebratory dance. The Belgian has been in scintillating form in front of goal and I fully expect him to cause headaches for Gallas et al. When the Phoenix win, Stein generally scores, scoring in 4 of their last 5 wins whilst racking up 5 goals in the process. Look for Stein to bang in at least one goal from his deadly left boot in this encounter.
The trip to New Zealand will be too much for Perth. I don’t think the mid week international friendly will affect Wellington as much as previous affairs. Expect Wellington to bounce back and win convincingly. Wellington have been struggling to keep clean sheets and Gallas has been struggling for Perth, expect goals in this one.
Predicted Score: WEL 3:1 PER (HT 1:0)
Stein Huysegems has scored the first goal in 5 matches this season, half of his total tally.
Carlos Hernandez is leading the league with 8 assists.
Smeltz has 19 goals in 24 games at Westpac stadium.