Home final on the line for Phoenix
THE Wellington Phoenix will have to snap this season's two-match losing streak against Melbourne Victory at AAMI Park tonight if they are to keep alive their chances of a home tie in the Hyundai A-League play-offs.
The Phoenix go into the match equal on points and goal difference with third-placed Perth Glory but trail the West Australians on the count of goals scored - 36 to 33.
It promises to be a difficult game for the Victory, who had their slim play-off hopes extinguished with their 1-0 loss in Sydney last Saturday. With nothing to play for - realistically they will finish eighth no matter what the results are in their last two games - it will be a big ask to motivate the star-studded line-up which has been the disappointment of the season.
They have won only five of 25 games this season but with two of those, one at home and one away, against the Phoenix.
There will be some interest in Marco Rojas, who quit the Phoenix last season to join the Victory.
This will be his last game of the domestic season before he joins the New Zealand under-23 team in Taupo for Tuesday's Olympic qualifier against Tonga.
Coach Ricki Herbert is unlikely to make any changes to the team who battled back from a drab first half to draw 1-1 with Melbourne Heart at the same ground six days ago.
American midfielder Alex Smith is likely to come in for Nick Ward, who will go to the bench where he will join Mirjan Pavlovic, Tony Warner and Leo Bertos, who missed the game against the Heart after having seven stitches inserted after a training ground accident in Wellington which also left him with a bruised knee.
Bertos will almost certainly see some game time tonight as his delivery from wide areas is a key part of the Phoenix attacking mantra.
The Phoenix players are well aware that a team with nothing to play for can be a very dangerous animal.
It is the chance to relax and enjoy their football with Archie Thompson in particular up for a big game.
He has not scored in his last 10 outings but has always done well against the Phoenix and sees the game as the opportunity to add to that already impressive record.
A win tonight would take the Phoenix to 43 points - the same as second-placed Brisbane Roar, who face a difficult away game against the Newcastle Jets.
The Phoenix can win but they need to play much better than their limp first half-effort against the Heart if they are to seriously challenge a Victory side still hurting from what has been a disappointing campaign.