Phoenix hit by Riera injury blow

Finals-chasing Wellington Phoenix have been dealt a blow ahead of Sunday’s crucial away clash against Newcastle Jets with key midfielder Albert Riera ruled out with injury.

After a shocking start to the season the Kiwi club could find itself in the top six with a win at Hunter Stadium.

But the club has been hit with long-term injuries to Paul Ifill and Louis Fenton, with Riera the latest to make his way to the treatment table.

The 30-year-old Spaniard, who will undergo scans on Monday for a groin injury, has been one of the surprise packets of the season since joining the A-League outfit from Auckland City.

"Deep groin muscles aren't good to deal with so it could be a little while before he's back . . . it doesn't look good,” coach Ernie Merrick told the club’s official website.

“Albert has been outstanding. It is sad because he's been playing very well and turned out to be one of the best midfielders in the league."

Wellington are also without injured Leo Bertos while Kenny Cunningham and Michael Boxall are suspended for the Jets clash.

The absence of Boxall is likely to provide an opening for young defender Josh Brindell-South at right back, while 17-year-old midfielder Matthew Ridenton is also in line for a start.

“We have a squad of players and when people are missing it gives others a chance to show what they are capable of,” Merrick said.

Versatile player Jason Hicks is also expected to start, with veteran Vince Lia bringing some much-needed leadership into Riera’s vacant role.

Merrick added: "Vince Lia and Carlos Hernandez have got to step up because we've lost Kenny who's an experienced international player as well.

“So it's leadership in the midfield and under pressure you soon discover who your leaders are and who are not."