Former Liverpool goalkeeper Tony Warner will make his Hyundai A-League debut for Wellington Phoenix at the Westpac Stadium on Sunday.
Warner, who spent five years at Anfield, takes over from Mark Paston who suffered a rib injury in the 1-1 opening round draw with Gold Coast United at Skilled Park last weekend.
Phoenix coach Ricki Herbert said Paston could possibly have played but had been left out of the squad as a precaution.
“I don’t think the injury is anything major,” Herbert said.
“But if he had played more damage could have been done and we have to look at the long term.
“It is a good chance for Tony. His form has been good in training and he got a taste of the A-League when he played against Melbourne Heart in a pre-season game.
“I think he will relish the challenge.”
The Phoenix’ injury strewn run-in to the season continued today when Jimmy Downey, who would have been on the bench, was ruled out with a ligament strain in his right knee.
With Lucas Pantelis already ruled out for the season with a knee injury, Mirjan Pavlovic (broken arm) missing for perhaps another eight weeks and Vince Lia on the injured list for a minimum of six weeks, Downey’s injury was the last thing Herbert needed.
“It has been an interesting start to the season,” Herbert said of the injury list.
“We only have a small squad and that isn’t likely to change in the near future. It isn’t ideal but we have to cope with the situation.”
Lia’s injury has opened the door for Nicky Ward to make the starting line up in midfield, while injury replacement Alex Smith gets a place on the bench alongside Team Wellington goalkeeper Phil Imray (short term replacement for Paston), Daniel and teenage defender Brent Griffiths.
It gives Herbert more attacking options, but while he wants the team to go forward whenever possible he is stressing the need to be careful with the ball.
Today the Phoenix players were in good spirits as they returned to Westpac Stadium for training eight months and two days since their last home game against North Queensland Fury.
“It is good to be back,” Herbert said as he watched his charges play a competitive small-sided game.
“It is ages since we have been here and it is important we get off to a good start.
“We have trained well since the Gold Coast game where we had some really good patches. Now we have to build on that.
“It is a new season with new challenges. Teams across the board have been strengthened, but from our point of view the players we have retained are the nucleus of a team that has reached the playoffs in the last two seasons.”
Wellington Phoenix: Tony Warner, Manny Muscat, Ben Sigmund, Andrew Durante (captain), Tony Lochhead, Nicky Ward, Tim Brown, Dani Sanchez, Paul Ifill, Leo Bertos, Chris Greenacre. Substitutes: Phil Imray, Daniel, Alex Smith, Brent Griffiths.