Central Coast a must-win for Phoenix

Wellington Phoenix skipper Andrew Durante says last weekend’s 1-0 away win against Perth will count for little if his side fail to take the points at home against Central Coast on Saturday.

Wellington Phoenix skipper Andrew Durante says last weekend’s 1-0 away win against Perth will count for little if his side fail to take the points at home against Central Coast on Saturday.

Tim Brown’s screamer inside the opening 40-odd seconds, some dogged defending and a couple of outstanding saves from Mark Paston in Sunday’s match at nib Stadium earned the Phoenix their first away victory of the season.

It was also a much-needed fillip after their 24-game unbeaten streak at Westpac Stadium was brought to a shuddering halt by Brisbane Roar four days earlier.

“There is no point going to Perth and getting a win then losing back at home,” said Durante, who will play his 100th A-League game on Saturday.

“We’ve got a tough task. Central Coast are flying at the moment. They’ve got a very good team and are very well organised.

“It’s going to be a tough test for us but we’re back at home and we want to make up for what happened against Brisbane.”

The Phoenix found themselves in a similar situation last season where a string of draws had them sitting outside the play-off places before a win away against Central Coast on New Year’s Eve sparked their late season charge.

A win against the third-placed Mariners this weekend would not only restore some home pride but also put the Phoenix firmly in the play-off hunt after a stuttering start to the current campaign that has produced four wins, three draws and six losses.

“I think you get two or three wins on the trot and you’re up the other [end] of the table,” Durante said.

“If we can pick up three points against Central Coast we’ll be right in the mix.

“We’ve started slowly but if we can pick up two wins in a row our confidence is going to be sky high and I think that could be the kickstart we need to keep going up the table.”

A win at Westpac Stadium would also be a fitting result for the Wellington skipper on his 100th appearance.

“In football everyone sets little milestones – 50 games, 100 games, 200 games – and to reach a hundred is a fantastic achievement for me,” the 28-year-old Australian said.

“I’ve been through a few injuries in my career and to come back from them and still be here, I’m pretty proud of that.”

Durante played 40 games for Newcastle Jets and won the Joe Marston Medal in their Grand Final win in 2008 – not unsurprisingly a massive highlight of his A-League career to-date.

But he says making the switch to Wellington, who had again finished bottom that season and were struggling to shake off the spectre of former failed New Zealand teams in the competition, was not the risk many others perceived it to be.

“I thought about it long and hard,” Durante admitted. “I’d spoken to Ricki [coach Ricki Herbert] and [owner] Terry [Serepisos] and [then chief executive] Tony Pignata on several occasions throughout the year and it was a club that wanted to achieve things.

“They were signing players like Leo Bertos and Jon McKain and I thought they had a good season that first season but were just shipping in too many goals. That’s where me and Jon came in to shore that up.

“I didn’t see it as too much of a risk. I saw it as a new adventure. Winning the championship with Newcastle I felt I’d done everything I wanted to do with Newcastle and it was time for a change.”

Durante’s arrival certainly sparked change for the better at the Phoenix, who finished sixth in the 2008/09 season before riding a wave of football fever in New Zealand to reach the preliminary final earlier this year.

“Coming to the Phoenix and being given the captaincy was a massive honour for me,” said Durante whose leadership skills and no-nonsense approach in the heart of defence have been a key ingredient in the team’s success.

“I guess the semi-final run with the Phoenix last season was very, very exciting and really showed what this team is all about. It got the Wellington community on board and all of New Zealand on board.”

The skipper will be hoping the same can happen in the coming weeks.