For the first time in their history, Wellington Phoenix are heading into an A-League match without Ricki Herbert at the helm.
Date: Wednesday 27 February, 2013 Kick-off: 5.00pm AEDT, 7.00pm local Venue: Westpac Stadium
Head-to-head Played: 18 Wins: Wellington 12, Newcastle 4, Draws: 2
Previous encounter Wellington 1, Newcastle 1, 27 January 2013
Form: Past five matches: Wellington: DLLWD Newcastle: DWLDD
The Game For the first time in their history, Wellington Phoenix are heading into an A-League match without Ricki Herbert at the helm. While the Phoenix have been without Herbert on match-days before, due to the 51-year-old's role as New Zealand head coach, Wednesday's clash against Newcastle Jets is a new frontier for the club from across the Tasman.
Herbert's resignation on Tuesday means he leaves a club he moulded from day one. Wellington have been created in Herbert's own image and caretaker manager Chris Greenacre will have to work quickly to ensure the Phoenix players are ready to play Newcastle at Westpac Stadium. The match, which was rescheduled from March 23, is, realistically, Wellington's final chance to kick-start their season if they are to qualify for the A-League finals.
Newcastle have also had a shock departure this week with Ryan Griffiths having left the club to join Chinese second-tier club Beijing Baxy, having requested an early release from his contract with the Jets. Newcastle manager Gary van Egmond has decided to take a 16-man squad to New Zealand with Craig Goodwin and Marko Jesic having been promoted to the team, which drew 0-0 with Brisbane Roar on Friday. Wellington also enter the match on the back of a draw - a 2-2 stalemate with Adelaide United on Sunday.
The big issue (One per club)
Phoenix - Can the departure of Herbert immediately galvanise Wellington? The Phoenix are the fifth A-League club to change coaches midway through this season but Perth Glory's Alistair Edwards is the only caretaker manager to have won his opening game. If Wellington are to bridge the six-point gap to the A-League's top-six, they need to hope promoted assistant coach Greenacre can do something special.
Jets - The departure of Griffiths will leave a big hole in Van Egmond's line-up with only Emile Heskey having matched the Chinese-bound striker's scoring exploits this season. Newcastle are the equal third-worst attacking team in the A-League this season with just 1.18 goals per game. Where will the goals come from for the Jets? Heskey will obviously need to shoulder even more responsibility but Van Egmond will also need the likes of Michael Bridges and Adam Taggart to chip in more often.
Gamebreaker Jeremy Brockie. The 25-year-old Wellington forward remains equal second on the A-League goal-scorers charts this season (with 12 goals) despite having only scored twice in his past seven matches. Brockie scored Wellington's first goal against Adelaide and will be key to the Phoenix's chances of success against Newcastle.
Prediction: Wellington 1-1 Newcastle.
The Jets have a disgraceful record at Westpac Stadium having not won there in their past nine attempts. Newcastle did manage a draw in Wellington last month but had to come from behind.
Phoenix captain Andrew Durante has conceded Herbert's departure has shocked Wellington's players and it will be interesting to see how they react. Herbert effectively built the Phoenix in his own image, the former Wolverhampton Wanderers and New Zealand international defender having built a team that worked hard and were tough to break down.
But with Phoenix sitting bottom of the A-League with five rounds remaining this season and Wellington co-owner Gareth Morgan leading a crusade for more attractive football, Herbert's tenure was threatened and it seemed inevitable he would depart, even if his resignation seems to have come at a strange time.
Newcastle desperately need points to maintain their hold on sixth spot in the A-League and taking on the competition's last-placed club would seem to point to a victory for the Jets. But Van Egmond's team have not won in eight away games, while Wellington have picked up two victories and three draws in their past six fixtures at Westpac Stadium. A draw seems likely.