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'Sigmund injury hurt us' - Herbert

Published: 3:34PM Monday April 09, 2012 Source: Fairfax

There were 120 minutes of rollercoaster football to chew over but the Phoenix post-mortem concluded that Ben Sigmund's ill-timed injury was probably the main reason their season ended in Perth on Saturday night.

Superb goals to Chris Greenacre and Manny Muscat after the halftime break had given the plucky visitors a come-from-behind 2-1 lead after 55 minutes of the A-League minor semifinal at nib Stadium.

With Shane Smeltz off his game, the Glory were rocked and suddenly the cries of "Oh Wellington" could be heard from a tiny pocket of Phoenix fans bolstered by Sonny Bill Williams and his fellow Chiefs.

But the pendulum would swing again in what will go down as one of the more entertaining, if not high quality, finals games in league history.

If Ricki Herbert could have picked one player he wouldn't have wanted to see limping off, then it would probably have been Sigmund.

The heart and soul of the Phoenix, Sigmund had entered the game nursing a groin niggle but was instead forced from the field with a hamstring injury in the 63rd minute.

It forced Herbert into a defensive reshuffle as the Phoenix fought bravely to cling on to the one-goal advantage.

Muscat went to centre back, Vince Lia to right back, while Alex Smith entered the fray as a holding midfielder.

None of them should be blamed for what happened next but Sigmund was sorely missed as Smeltz fortuitously hooked a ball over his head in the penalty box and into the path of strike partner Billy Mehmet.

Mehmet, who the Phoenix didn't want after his pre-season trial with the club, showed great composure to place the ball past Mark Paston and at 2-2 the favourites had regained the momentum.

Herbert reacted by putting Daniel on for Dani Sanchez but it was Perth coach Ian Ferguson who found inspiration sitting on his bench.

Substitutes Steven McGarry, Todd Howarth and Scott Neville all sparked things, with Neville laying on the pass for Howarth's extra-time winner.

A cramping Lia was unable to keep up with Howarth's pace, and Mirjan Pavlovic was inserted to no avail in Herbert's last throw of the dice.

Of course it is easy in hindsight, but Nick Ward's creative talents could have been utilised rather than trying to hold on for penalties.

"[Sigmund] was a big loss for us," Herbert said. "Manny dropping in the middle there is probably not familiar to him, that's for sure. But he dealt with it in the best way that he could. I just felt that we had the edge, I thought the second half was tracking on course for us. Vinnie was the one that probably cramped up a little bit at right back and for the final goal, probably got caught a little bit short there.

"But I'm really proud, we've gone the journey and we're probably minutes away from going to a penalty shootout. So we'll cop that one on the chin. It's tough and for me it could have gone either way."

Lia said it was "gut-wrenching" as a 2-1 lead evaporated into a 3-2 loss.

"We were going OK until Siggy came off," he said.

"We had to shuffle it a little bit and we lost our balance because they're a good team, they kept coming right till the end. We weren't strong enough to hold on but I think the feeling is very proud among the boys, what we've done this year."

Herbert also felt Paul Ifill should have been awarded a penalty in the 69th minute when he went to ground after a clumsy challenge from Perth defender Dean Heffernan.

Ifill didn't heavily protest Peter Green's non-decision at the time, and yesterday said that was because he knew it wasn't going to be given. Said Herbert: "I think given a penalty tonight [Saturday], which looked like a pretty clear penalty, maybe the result could have been a bit different."

After such a blur of emotions, Greenacre said yesterday that he could barely remember his own goal. The Englishman was clinical in finishing a sweeping team movement, with Leo Bertos providing the cross and Tim Brown the clever chest pass.

"We were in the driving seat so there's a lot of disappointment in what may have been," Greenacre said.

"We wanted to be away for three weeks, we wanted to just be staying in Sydney and playing Central Coast or Brisbane next week. So a lot of hurt at what may have been but we've given it our best shot this year."