Wellington Phoenix coach Ricki Herbert has not ruled out giving new recruit Isaka Cernak a start in Sunday’s A-League clash with Newcastle Jets.
Cernak has joined the struggling Phoenix until the end of the season after being released by Melbourne Victory on Thursday and was due to arrive in the New Zealand capital on Friday afternoon.
Herbert’s side are planted at the foot of the A-League table after a run of four straight defeats, including last weekend’s 7-1 hammering at the hands of Sydney FC, and they are desperate for a win.
“He (Cernak) could start. I haven’t ruled that out. We’ll just get him here. Make sure he’s okay and safe and sound,” Herbert said.
“He arrives (Friday) afternoon. He’ll have a trot out with the team (on Saturday) in our final session. But I certainly haven’t ruled that out yet.
“We’ve brought him as an attacking midfield player. Hopefully he gets himself forward and into the box. He’s probably that little bit more creative and will provide opportunities for other players as well.”
Captain Andrew Durante is hoping the 23-year-old Australian can provide the spark that has been missing as the Phoenix players struggle to adjust to a more free-flowing style.
“He’ll add another dimension to midfield. He’s more of an attacking midfielder,” Durante said.
“I’m not saying he’s the answer to turning the season around but a fresh face around camp is always nice.
“Hopefully he can play a part on the weekend and help us get out of this (slump) as well.”
Wellington’s starting XI is also likely to be boosted by the return of star import Paul Ifill who made his comeback from ankle surgery with 30 minutes off the bench in Sydney.
“It’s really time on the pitch now that we need (for him),” Herbert said. “I wouldn’t say it’s 90 minutes (that he’ll get) but probably a little more than 30.”
Vince Lia is definitely ruled out through suspension after picking up his fifth yellow card of the season at Allianz Stadium but his absence is compensated for by the return of Manny Muscat following his three-match ban.
And despite conceding seven goals last weekend, and 13 in their past four matches, Herbert has vowed to stick with his back four of Leo Bertos, Ben Sigmund, Andrew Durante and Tony Lochhead.
“This has been a resilient back four. It’s been incredibly strong over the past years,” he said.
“It’s up to them to be better back there… but it wouldn’t hurt at the weekend to take a little bit of pressure off them if (the strikers) start putting them in the back of the net.”
The issue of Wellington’s mid-season change in style – and the corresponding slump in form – is one that simply will not go away and co-owner Gareth Morgan upped the ante this week when he branded the attitude of some of the fans as ‘pathetic’ for focusing on results rather than the club’s development.
Herbert refused to be drawn into the saga.
“It’s not for me to comment. I don’t read the comments. I’m not sure what he said. We’ve got a game on Sunday and that’s where our focus is,” he said.
But the coach was adamant the rest of the season was now not just about avoiding the wooden spoon.
“Absolutely not, no. The (top) six is right there for us. I think we’re only four points (actually five) behind with 30 (points) to go. In my calculations you’ve got a pretty good chance if you’re good enough,” he said.
“We want to win. We want to win at the weekend. We want to win against Perth up in Auckland.
“The clearest way to look at it is yes there will be a three-to-five year strategy at the football club.
“The second thing is that we’re not playing well enough. We need to win football games and the sooner we do that the better. Let’s just get cracking on with that. That’s where our focus is. The rest of the club will keep on evolving.”