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Phoenix face crucial W-League week

NZ Newswire logoNZ Newswire 13/01/2017 Cathy Walshe

Skipper Andrew Durante says the next week will be crucial for the Wellington Phoenix's A-League play-off hopes as they hunt maximum points from three home games.

Wellington host Central Coast Mariners, Melbourne Victory and Brisbane Roar in rapid succession, and desperately need a run of wins if they are improve their current eighth place on the ladder.

Saturday's match against the 10th-placed Mariners, who have picked up a solitary point from their last six games, is first on the agenda.

"It's a crucial week for us - we've got to make the most of it," Durante said.

"It won't determine the season but it'll play a big part, without doubt."

Wellington currently sit eighth on the ladder, four points astray of the sixth-placed Newcastle Jets, and only two ahead of the Mariners.

They've had a solid run under new coaches Des Buckingham and Chris Greenacre since Ernie Merrick's resignation last month, with two draws and two wins offset by last week's disappointing 2-1 loss away to Perth Glory.

The Phoenix will face Central Coast without leading goal-scorer Roy Krishna, serving a one-match suspension after being red-carded last week against Perth.

But Durante expects his senior players to step up, led by returning striker Shane Smeltz (90 goals), who is duelling with Melbourne Victory's Besart Berisha (92) to become the first A-League player to score 100 goals.

"His experience is crucial for us," Durante said.

"I think once he gets one, he'll go on a bit of a run. He's come back with a lot of hunger and a lot of fire in the belly to chase that hundred goals down."

Wellington are boosted by the return of Vince Lia back from suspension, and midfielder Michael McGlinchey from injury.

Playmaker Gui Finkler, who missed the Perth game due to family reasons, is also back.

Wellington will be looking to shut down the Mariners' pace out wide, and will also be wary of striker Roy O'Donovan, who has seven goals to his credit this season.

"I think if we're on the front foot and we're closing down from high up, it makes it very difficult for them to get their passing game going," Durante said.

"You'll probably see a really attack-minded game by us tomorrow, really pressing high and putting them under a lot of pressure."

STATS THAT MATTER

* The Phoenix have won their last two games against the Mariners, keeping a clean sheet each time

* Central Coast have won just two of their last 22 A-League away games outside New South Wales

* Wellington enjoy a shooting accuracy of 51.9 per cent so far this season, better than any other team, and are the only club to be on target with more than half their attempts

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