Durante: EPL friendlies set benchmark

After good performances against West Ham and Newcastle United the key now for the Wellington Phoenix will be to translate that form into A-League success, says skipper Andrew Durante.

The Phoenix backed up their 2-1 victory over the Hammers in midweek with a 1-0 defeat to the Magpies on Saturday evening. 

But the A-League side matched their more illustrious opponents at Westpac Stadium and were unlucky not to come away with a draw. 

Striker Jeremy Brockie was denied twice by some smart goalkeeping from Rob Elliot, while All Whites keeper Glen Moss made a couple of crucial saves to keep the Phoenix in the hunt. 

In the end it was a 41st minute header from Newcastle forward Yoan Gouffran that eventually split the two teams. 

"We've set a benchmark now that we can compete against good teams and play really good football," Durante said. "It will be really disappointing if we left it all in these two pre-season games and started the season slowly. 

"We had a tough season last year and getting in training early, having these games and getting our squad together nice and early is going to reap rewards. 

"If we continue to play how we've played over the last two games it could be a very exciting season."

Phoenix coach Ernie Merrick believed his side's performance on Saturday had been better than in the win against West Ham. 

"We continually built from the back. We kept possession really well and we created goal-scoring chances up front," he enthused. 

"It was one of those nights the ball wouldn't go in the net. But our football today was a step up from (West Ham) against a very slick outfit. 

"Newcastle deserved to win but we pretty well matched them for most of the game." 

Few fans would have given the Phoenix, who finished ninth in the A-League last season, much chance against Premier League opposition and even Durante admitted the results had probably exceeded even the players' expectations. 

"Ernie said to us you'll be surprised how good you are when you come up against these teams," revealed the skipper. "The step up is obviously a big one and it (the results) probably did exceed our expectations. But we did believe we could put on a good show." 

The Phoenix next face Adelaide United in the FFA Cup early next month.

1 comment


Mr. Durante, I thought the Phoenix played extremely well, but Newcastle were playing with you. As for your assertion that you might have got a draw, that's certainly true, if you had a half decent striker. You had one chance on target all game, whereas Newcastle found Moss in exceptional form. Your defending was absolutely top draw, with 100% commitment and you should be proud of your team.

However, Newcastle was playing you with only 5 first team players and the remainder were reserves or youth players. Newcastle had their first choice keeper, first choice right and left back, and centre back missing. They had their first choice central midfielder and left winger missing and one first choice striker missing. All due to extended holidays due to World cup duty. Newcastle looked sharp and revitalised, with a team full of hope and I can honestly say they will be a match for any team this season. Keep an eye out for them, because they are a top 6 side. They created chance after chance against you and if they had Sissoko, Cabella or even Cissé playing it would have been a cricket score. That's not to denigrate the Phoenix, nor Sydney's achievements, simply to put things into perspective. 13 corners versus 4, tells it's own story.

So who will abdicate a top 6 place, you ask? Everton were lucky last season, and benefited from Newcastle's sale of Cabaye and the subsequent disquiet in the camp. However, they have no-one of the quality of Cabella, Sissoko, Riviere, De Jong, Gouffran or Ben Arfa (if Pardew gets a grip). They don't have any money, and I can't see Ross Barclay staying another season. Plus, he'll be found out this season, and won't be as effective. These are exciting times for Newcastle United.

As for Wellington Phoenix, they look an exceptional side and a side who can progress. However, it's easy when you are the underdog to put in amazing performances. This is something that the Phoenix has to do week in and week out. In the past, Newcastle, has outplayed the top 4 sides and beat them, like Chelsea, for the past two seasons. However, the caution comes when playing teams of a lower standing, games they should comfortably win. What I am saying is that the Phoenix has to take that same mentality and spirit they showed against WHU (perhaps it should be WHO?) and Newcastle and display it every single game. This is where NU fell down. Top sides are top sides because they treat each game like a cup final, and they have respect for every team they play, note, that's respect, not fear. If you approach a game with the attitude "these lot are sh*t, we can beat them easily" you'll lose. Newcastle displayed excellent qualities against two tough games in NZ. They emerged victorious, but the credit goes to Sydney and the Phoenix for their play against both PL teams. Well done, to both A-League teams. You deserved your wins over WHU and you played very well against NU.