DESPITE an impressive start to their A-League campaign, the Wellington Phoenix will be forced to make a number of changes to their team when they take on the Melbourne Heart on Sunday.
At least four players will make their A-League debut, as a number of regulars will be away with the All Whites in Tahiti and the Australian Football Federation has a policy of playing through international windows.
The Phoenix will be without seven of the squad who beat Sydney FC 2-0, including Benjamin Totori, who is with the Solomon Islands.
Both frontline goalkeepers Mark Paston and Glen Moss will be absent, as will defenders Ben Sigmund, Tony Lochhead and Leo Bertos.
Phoenix academy goalkeeper Scott Basalaj will start in goal, with Auckland City’s Jacob Spoonley set for a callup to the bench.
Luke Rowe, Michael Boxall and Cameron Lindsay will form the defensive line.
A number of academy players could be upgraded to one-match contracts to form bench cover, due to a number of players still on the injured list.
“We’re working through the process and finalising the details with New Zealand Football and their previous clubs,” Phoenix general manager David Dome told Fairfax NZ.
“It is messy and very time consuming. To be honest it’s a distraction that we didn’t really want to have. We’ve made a number of submissions to the FFA to try and get the game rescheduled. All of them were turned down but they’ve been across it and they know we have to bring these players up because otherwise we won’t have a team to field.”
Dome described the situation as “crazy” although new A-League boss Damien de Bohun had told him the policy would be reviewed for next season.
“But potentially it could happen again in March, depending on where the All Whites are at.
“This is a David versus Goliath battle now, going to Melbourne Heart. If they go over there and get a result, they’ll come back as heroes, and that’s the way we’re looking at it now.”
Coach Ricki Herbert is also away, so assistant coaches Chris Greenacre and Jonathan Gould will take the reins this week.
“It’s a huge impact to the side but we’ll be there, we’ll front up,” Herbert said.
“We’ve got three points to go and get against Melbourne Heart.”
The Heart posted an impressive 2-1 win over Melbourne Victory on Friday, with former Phoenix striker Dylan Macallister grabbing the winner.