Suspension, injury and illness mean Wellington Phoenix will have a new-look back four when they take on A-League leaders Central Coast.
Centre-back Ben Sigmund is suspended for Thursday’s match at Bluetongue Stadium after receiving his fifth yellow card of the season in the 1-0 win over Perth Glory in Auckland.
Right-back Leo Bertos is out with a groin injury that forced him from the field at Eden Park, while left-back Tony Lochhead is extremely doubtful for the match after becoming ill on Monday night.
He did not travel with the team on Tuesday, but could fly out on Wednesday if he has recovered.
However, coach Ricki Herbert revealed that recent signing Ian Hogg would have got the nod to retain the left-back role even if Lochhead had been fit.
Bertos’ groin problem is causing the most concern. “We didn’t think it would be quite so bad,” said Herbert.
“But he probably just needs a few more days’ recovery.”
Manny Muscat will return to right-back in Bertos’ absence.
“He had a great year playing there last year because we were short in that area,” said Herbert.
“He’s familiar to it. A big game like Central Coast away he’d probably sit in there pretty nicely.”
Michael Boxall, a like-for-like replacement for Sigmund, will partner captain Andrew Durante in midfield.
Boxall hasn’t played since the round five loss to Melbourne Victory.
Muscat’s shift to the back four means Vinnie Lia and Isaka Cernak are likely to be joined in midfield by Louis Fenton rather than Dani Sanchez, who offers very similar skills Cernak.
“I think at home it lends itself a little bit to different options but when you’re bottom and you’re chasing the points you have got to have that resilience in there as well,” said Herbert.
“I think we’ve got a few games on the road now which will be tough. But then we get a few a home which we’re going to have to throw all the energy into as well to try and have a chance of the final series.
“Those two (Cernak and Sanchez) could play together. You just need to get your timing right for it.”
Hogg, who is chasing a permanent contract with the club, is just happy to be getting another game after a solid debut against Glory.
“It’s vital that I keep my performances up,” the New Zealander said.
“I’ve made a reasonable start. I want to get that long-term contract so there’s a bit of added pressure there. But I’m sure I can handle it.”
The Mariners, who are three points clear at the top of the table and unbeaten at home this season, will be a different prospect to a Glory side that was without Shane Smeltz at the weekend.
“They are a hard-working team. They are well organised. It’s going to be a tough ask for us, especially away from home,” admitted Hogg.
“But we’ve got the ability to do it and if everyone sticks to their task we should put in a good performance.”
Herbert certainly believes his side is better equipped to challenge the Mariners now than they would have been a few weeks ago when they were in the middle of a five-game slump, low on confidence and under heavy scrutiny for their playing style.
“Four points from the last six is a lot better,” he said. “But we’re playing a good side in good form.
“It’s going to be a challenge but one I think we’re in a better space to attack now.”
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