Herbert praises huge steps

Wellington Phoenix may not be playing a part in the Hyundai A-League finals series, but coach Ricki Herbert has seen the club's second season as a huge step in the right direction.

Wellington Phoenix may not be playing a part in the Hyundai A-League finals series, but coach Ricki Herbert has seen the club's second season as a huge step in the right direction.

Wellington will finish either fifth or sixth at season's end, a significant improvement from last season when the Phoenix finished bottom. It took until the last round for the Phoenix's finals hopes to be extinguished with a 2-0 loss to Melbourne and Herbert said the club felt like it belonged in the Hyundai A-League.

"I'm very proud of the club. The club's made great strides. I think it looks completely different from what you've seen from across the Tasman before. We've jumped a minimum of two spots, maybe three," he said.

"We've clearly shown throughout the year that if we were in top four we would certainly hold our own and we're all very proud of what the club's achieved in such a short period of time."

Herbert has been a significant part of that success, overseeing a team which has played entertaining and attacking football and has still managed to record some impressive results. The Phoenix defeated finalist Central Coast twice, and also defeated Melbourne.

The key results came late in the year when the Phoenix gave up late goals against both Sydney and Queensland to lose games they could have won. Herbert said that while coming so close to the finals was hard to take, it was all about creating a team which will be able to compete at that level year in, year out.

"It's important from our point of view that we don't want to be champions one year and bottom the next. In what is a really tough competition. You've seen that this year with the Jets. Once we can make ourselves a semi-finalist, or a top six side if the format changes, we want to be their regularly," he said.

"I'm a Kiwi boy, and I'm very passionate about making us look good. But I'm a coach that wants success as well. I think it's easy to jump too quickly. I think we've progressed nicely. It's a hell of long way up when you're eighth all the time."

However, the biggest challenge in the off-season will be signing someone to replace Golden Boot winner Shane Smeltz, who scored 12 of the club's 23 goals for the season. Herbert said the club won't be rushing to sign a replacement.

"We've earmarked three positions up front. The club will take their time now. The last three weeks have been around maintaining a charge for the top four. Now we know that we have missed out, the recruitment process can take place. We've got feelers out, the owner's very keen to bring quality players in, and we'll take our time," he said.

The Phoenix have already signed Diego from Adelaide, who Herbert hopes will add some flair to a dour midfield set-up.

"We felt with Diego, he's an attacking player who can get forward and score goals. From a midfield point of view, we've been limited this season," he said.

The other important step, says Herbert, is getting a youth team so his entire squad can get regular game time.

"The missing link is to get a youth team. That's even more critical for us. We're bringing guys off the bench that haven't featured for eight or nine weeks. It's bloody tough. Hopefully we can work through that," he said.