Preview: Wellington v Gold Coast United

Friday August 13, 7:30pm NZT (5.30pm AEST)

Date: Friday August 13
Kick-off: 7:30pm NZT (5.30pm AEST)
Venue: Westpac Stadium

Played 4: Wins: Wellington 2, Gold Coast United 0, Draws 1

Previous Meeting
Gold Coast United 0, Wellington Phoenix 1, Skilled Park, Round 26, February, 2010

In just three games there’s already plenty of history between these sides but unfortunately most of it’s bad for Gold Coast United. GCU may have snatched striker Shane Smeltz from the Phoenix for their inaugural year, but it was their defence that really needed helping when Wellington produced their most emphatic performance of the season in a 6-0 hammering of the new boys in Round 12 last year. It was the result that really kick-started the Phoenix towards their first finals appearance in the Hyundai A-League, while Ricki Herbert’s men proved it was no fluke in Round 26, when they beat Gold Coast 1-0 on the road. Paul Ifill scored a first-half penalty just before the break to secure a win that all-but ruined Gold Coast’s chances of making the top two.

Season so far:
Gold Coast United
Round 1: Gold Coast United 0, Brisbane Roar 0, Suncorp Stadium

Wellington: bye

Pre-season form:
Wellington Phoenix:
Wellington Phoenix 5, Wairarapa United 1, Hullena Park, Masterton
Wellington Phoenix 2, Boca Juniors 1, Westpac Stadium
Adelaide United 2, Wellington Phoenix 0, Hindmarsh Stadium
Wellington Phoenix 2, Brisbane Roar 1, Waikato Stadium, Hamilton
Wellington Phoenix 6, New Zealand U-20s 2, Porirua Park
Wellington Phoenix 6, Lower Hutt City 0, Porirua Park

Gold Coast United:
Gold Coast United 1, North Queensland Fury 0, Carrara Stadium
Gold Coast Select XI 1, Gold Coast United 5, Carrara Stadium
Rochedale Rovers 1, Gold Coast United 2, Underwood Park
Palm Beach Sharks 0, Gold Coast United 5, Mallawa Drive
Perth Glory 3, Gold Coast United 1, Boomerang Oval, Newman
New Caledonia 0, Gold Coast United 1, Numa Daly Stadium, Noumea
New Caledonia 3, Gold Coast United 2, Numa Daly Stadium, Noumea

Match Committee A nice and easy weekend for Wellington’s match committee as Ricki Herbert returns from World Cup duty with the All Whites. Only two Phoenix players in Diego (knee, four weeks) and Jade North (international duty) are unavailable for this encounter, with Herbert naming a team from which two players will be omitted. GCU coach Miron Bleiberg, meanwhile, has been able to add the experience of Brazilian danger man Anderson to his squad, while James Brown and John Curtis have also been included in a squad that will be trimmed by three for Friday night’s game.

Danger men
He was Wellington’s danger man all through last season, so we hardly expect things to change too much this year when Paul Ifill lines up for his second Hyundai A-League season. The English-born Barbadian was exceptional in his first campaign whether it be scoring goals or setting up ones for others and he seemed to take a real shine to playing Gold Coast, reserving one of his best games of the season for the 6-0 drubbing. With Eugene Dadi having left the club at the end of 2009-10, it will be interesting to see how Ifill goes in a somewhat new-look attack force consisting of himself, Chris Greenacre and former Mariner Dylan Maccalister.

For United, one of their more lively performers was second-half substitute Zenon Caravella, who had a great chance to score but his shot was well saved by Roar custodian Michael Theoklitos. However, the hottest and most over-worked United player in Sunday’s 0-0 draw with Brisbane was former Phoenix goalkeeper Glen Moss. With his position at Melbourne last season overtaken by Mitchell Langerak, many had forgotten just how good Moss can be when on song. With the Roar attacking at will, Moss had plenty of opportunities to show his wares, with a brilliant first-half tip-over already a save of the season contender.

Where the game will be won
Last week I may have suggested Brisbane was Gold Coast’s bunny team and that, that particular result could possibly turn nasty for the Roar. Well, shows how much I know, for Brisbane seemed to dominate goalscoring chances while GCU appeared somewhat subdued in an encounter that still finished 0-0.

With those sort of predictions still hanging over my head, it’s with some reluctance I bring up the fact Gold Coast was Wellington’s favourite side last season. The Phoenix may have drawn with them first up, but 6-0 and 1-0 away victories demonstrated that Wellington matches up particularly well against United and that Ricki Herbert’s defenders knew exactly what to do to nullify former team-mate Smeltz. With Herbert and numerous members of his side having the World Cup experience behind them, one imagines they’ll be even stronger this season, particularly at their Sardine Tin Fortress, Westpac Stadium where the crowds really flourished at the end of last term.

There are some questions hanging over the Phoenix defence for this encounter, though as Jon McKain has left and his replacement Jade North was playing for Australia against Slovenia and won’t be available in time. But there is still the versatile Manny Muscat to slot in there beside skipper Andrew Durante, while the rest of the side is very solid indeed, even if Mirjan Pavlovic is a somewhat unknown quantity.

For Gold Coast, their performance last week was surprisingly timid. Yes, it was Round 1, but this is a side that was virtually unchanged from last year, one that should have had no issues clicking together again. Smeltz and skipper Jason Culina’s absence for much of the pre-season hasn’t helped and it seemed that United’s structure wasn’t quite right, with Bleiberg opting for Smeltz to assist Joel Porter up front. One can expect them to revert to a more regular formation on Friday night.

But even if Smeltz fires, there are a lot of things going against United. Their defence looked shaky against Brisbane’s developing attack and with that in mind, what will happen when confronted with the Phoenix’s dangerous forwards. On top of that, without the use of owner Clive Palmer’s private jet to taxi them to the New Zealand capital, United have had a tough travelling schedule and very limited preparation time over there. All things point towards Wellington, but there’s still plenty of quality in that United side to cause the Phoenix some problems if their guard slips for a second.

Wellington Phoenix squad: 1. Mark PASTON (gk), 2. Manny MUSCAT, 3. Tony LOCHHEAD, 6. Tim BROWN, 7. Leo BERTOS, 8. Paul IFILL, 9. Chris GREENACRE, 10. Oscar Roberto CORNEJO, 11. DANIEL, 13. Troy HEARFIELD, 14. Mirjan PAVLOVIC, 17. Vince LIA, 18. Ben SIGMUND, 20. Reece CROWTHER (gk), 21. Marco ROJAS, 22. Andrew DURANTE (c), 23. Dylan MACALLISTER

*two to be omitted*

Unavailable: 5. Diego WALSH (knee – 4 weeks), 15. Jade NORTH (international duty)

Gold Coast United Squad: 1.Glen MOSS (gk), 2.Steve PANTELIDIS, 3.Michael THWAITE, 5.ROBSON, 6.Dino DJULBIC, 7.Zenon CARAVELLA, 8.ANDERSON, 9.Shane SMELTZ, 10.Jason CULINA (c), 13.Bas VAN DEN BRINK, 14.Joel PORTER, 15.Tahj MINNIECON, 16.Kristian REES, 18.James BROWN, 20.Scott HIGGINS (gk), 21.Golgol MEBRAHTU, 22.Adama TRAORE, 24.John CURTIS

*three to be omitted*

In: 8.ANDERSON, 18.James BROWN, 24.John CURTIS
Out: Nil
Unavailable: Daniel PIORKOWSKI (ankle injury – 4 weeks), Matt OSMAN (knee injury – indefinite)