Andrew Durante knows he will have to shoulder a greater burden than usual in the Wellington Phoenix defence this weekend.
Durante, 30, will be surrounded by players making their A-League debuts against Melbourne Heart at AAMI Park on Sunday afternoon with regular starters Mark Paston, Leo Bertos, Ben Sigmund and Tony Lochhead away on international duty with New Zealand.
The Phoenix skipper acknowledges it will be a challenge for all concerned but is backing Luke Rowe, Michael Boxall, Cameron Lindsay and either Scott Basalaj or Jacob Spoonley in goal to succeed.
Rowe and Basalaj are part of the Phoenix school of excellence, Boxall and Lindsay have so far been on the fringes of selection while Spoonley has been brought in from Auckland City for the round two match.
“It’s different,” Durante said with a wry smile. “There’s going to be some debuts for I think four or five boys which doesn’t generally happen in one game.
“It’s going to be a big challenge for them. It’s going to be a big challenge for the senior players to make sure that the standard is high.
“We’re definitely not going over there and conceding defeat. We want to go there and win the game. I think we’ll give it a good crack.”
The central defender said communication would be the most important thing, given the lack of experience and time together the defensive group had.
“With Lochie (Tony Lochhead), myself and Siggy (Ben Sigmund) we’ve got a really good understanding and sometimes we don’t even need to talk and things happen for us,” Durante said.
“It’s going to be difficult. There is going to be a lot of talking and a lot on my back to make sure it’s organised.
“But I’ve got a lot of confidence (in them). Boxall is a fantastic centre-half anyway. Rowe is a young boy who’s come through the Birmingham system and is a very good young talent as well and probably unlucky not to be one of the boys to be called up into the senior squad.
“Cam has been around for a long time as well. So although they are going to make their debuts they are definitely good enough to play at this level.”
Rowe, who was born in England and grabbed the attention of Birmingham City at the age of 13 then rose through the junior ranks to reserve grade until he was released last year, said his focus would be on doing the basics right on Sunday.
“I’ve got to try and get on top of them (Heart wingers David Williams and Mate Dugandzic) early and stop them from running at me really,” the 21-year-old left-back said.
“When I start to do them (the basics) right I’ll gain a bit of confidence and try and go forward from there.”
Assistant coach Chris Greenacre, who retired from playing at the end of last season, said his message to the young players was ‘go and enjoy it’.
“You’re playing in the A-League. Everyone will remember your debut. It’s the best time of your career. I wish I could have my time again and be out there with them,” he said.
“It’s a great opportunity, playing against a good side at a great stadium with great fans. What an occasion to go and show New Zealand and the rest of Australia what you’re capable of.
“It will be a great opportunity for them and I’m sure they’ll do very well.”
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