Phoenix face double challenge

January 14, 2012
By Cathy Walshe

Playing in an eerily empty Skilled Park could prove as big a challenge as beating Gold Coast in Sunday's A-League soccer clash, key Wellington Phoenix defender Ben Sigmund says.

Despite sitting at the bottom of the table, Gold Coast have shown steady recent improvement, with just one loss in their last six starts.

But last week's 1-1 draw with third-placed Melbourne Heart attracted just 2081 spectators, and things were scarcely better in October when the Phoenix travelled across the ditch for a 1-1 first-round draw in front of 4113.

Unsurprisingly, Sigmund isn't optimistic of a big crowd on Sunday.

"It's one of the ones I don't think their players enjoy, because there's just no atmosphere," he said.

"There's no noise, the only people you can hear are yourselves. It's a frustrating, especially when you're trying to get up for it and there's nothing there."

The Phoenix are hurting after a drab 1-0 loss to Perth Glory in Wellington last Sunday, but Sigmund says they're not expecting an easy match against Gold Coast.

"The last four or five games, they've definitely found some form. I think they'll be good - no-one wants be at the bottom of the table.

"They'll be working extra hard, and we're going to have to match them."

Sigmund is expecting a little extra edge in the game: Gold Coast striker Maceo Rigters trialled early in the season with the Phoenix before signing with United, while Phoenix utility Alex Smith was picked up by Wellington after proving surplus to Gold Coast requirements.

Striker Dylan Macallister, who spent a season at the Phoenix last year, returns from injury to boost Gold Coast up front and provide a challenge in the air for Wellington's solid back four.

With Vince Lia's knee injury keeping him sidelined, Smith is expected to start in the midfield.

Striker Mirjan Pavlovic is out, also with a knee problem, but Paul Ifill and Nick Ward continue their returns from injury and should feature in the starting line-up.

Wellington coach Ricki Herbert is demanding more backbone from his team, who have yet to win this season away from home and back up against Newcastle Jets five days after Sunday's Gold Coast match.

"We've got to go over there resilient, absolutely fear nothing, and try to get something from these games," he said.

"Gold Coast will be desperate, they want to get points and we're desperate, we want to win win away."