Phoenix must plug gaps

Wellington’s defence has sprung a few leaks this season and it is an area Ben Sigmund knows they will need to fix if they are to challenge for the A-League title again.

Wellington’s defence has sprung a few leaks this season and it is an area Ben Sigmund knows they will need to fix if they are to challenge for the A-League title again.

In 10 games so far, the Phoenix have conceded 15 goals and managed just two clean sheets which is long way from the 10 they managed last season on their way to the preliminary final.

While they are not the worst in the league in 2010/11 – that honour lies with Sydney with 19 goals against – opponents have been able to score far too easily and regularly against the Phoenix for comfort.

Sunday’s 2-2 draw against Melbourne Heart was a case in point where Matt Thompson beat Sigmund and Troy Hearfield in the box to put his side 2-1 up just before the break.

“We’ve coughed up a few soft goals,” admitted Sigmund.

“All over the park we’re a little bit loose and if we can really focus on being a tight unit and compact and get back to not giving away such easy goals [we’ll be a difficult team to beat] because we can score goals.”

The first half on Sunday saw Ricki Herbert employ a back three of Sigmund, Andrew Durante and Jade North for the first time.

But after going behind, the coach reverted to the more familiar back four in the second half with Hearfield and Manny Muscat dropping back as North was hauled off, along with Nick Ward, for Vince Lia and Mirjan Pavlovic, respectively.

Sigmund though, felt three at the back was something that could be persevered with – although not necessarily for Friday’s match against table-topper’s Adelaide at Hindmarsh Stadium.

“I thought it actually worked quite well but I don’t know whether we’ll do it again this week,” the defender said.

“I think it’s important that you can play away or home with a back four or at home with a back three, just depending on the situation, where you are and what you’re trying to achieve.”

“The back three is a lot more attacking minded and sometimes we need to do that.”

“Perhaps later on in the season when we need to win a few more games it would certainly be a good option.”

Adelaide will certainly test Wellington’s defensive resolve. They have already scored 17 goals with Sergio Van Dijk and Mathew Leckie notching four apiece already.

“They’ve got a lot of speed in their game with quick ball movement and players who like to run with the ball and take on players, especially in wide open spaces,” Wellington assistant coach Luciana Trani said.

“We’ll be expecting them to look to exploit those spaces and we’ve got to look at how we can prevent that from happening.”

Van Dijk has been a player the Phoenix have found difficult to contain in previous encounters and Trani said preventing him getting a foothold in the match would be important.

“In the penalty box area and crosses coming in, he is a focal point for that,” Trani acknowledged.

“If we can prevent things getting to that point then we stand a chance of keeping him out of the game.”

“We need to be tighter in the box and make it a real strong contest, especially in the air.”

Ward and North will have plenty to prove to Herbert, who is not prone to making early substitutions unless it is due to injury.

But Trani said it wasn’t just that pair that were on notice.

“Everyone is on notice because we’ve got a level of expectation from our performances each week. If someone is below that level we’ve got players easily capable of doing jobs and they are waiting in the wings to be given that opportunity,” he said.

“Today [at training] there was an indication that they [Ward and North] were disappointed with their own performances and they want to make up for it. That should happen because if you’ve had a poor day you need to make sure you want to make amends.”