Wellington Phoenix defender Tim Payne has shrugged off a controversial penalty award against him and insists the struggling club can turn around a four-game losing streak in Wednesday night’s FFA Cup quarterfinal.
Payne – who took over the captain’s armband when Alex Rufer was dragged at halftime – has already put behind him the match officials’ decision to ping him for a foul on Adelaide United forward George Blackwood in the Phoenix’s 4-0 defeat last Saturday.
It initially looked like a case of slight contact and referee Daniel Elder waved played on, but video assistant referee Shaun Evans encouraged Elder to review his call, leading the referee to ultimately signal to the spot.
Craig Goodwin slotted the first of two Adelaide penalties to send the Phoenix reeling to a fourth consecutive A-League defeat.
* Subbing Wellington Phoenix captain Alex Rufer off at halftime a ‘tactical’ move
* Wellington Phoenix lose 4-0 to previously winless Adelaide United in A-League Men
* Chase silverware or blood new signings? Wellington Phoenix will try both in FFA Cup
The first award proved a turning point, but Payne refused to point the finger at the match officials.
“We were still in the game at 1-0 [down] at the weekend, it’s disappointing for me, I’m a senior player, to give away the penalty early in the second half, and it put us more on the back foot,” he said on Monday.
“Like anything in life, you have to deal with that adversity. Whether it was a pen or not, it was given, so those are the things you just put in the back of your mind and focus on your next job …
“These things happen, you’re always going to make mistakes in games.” Payne said the key was “limiting those mistakes’’ and hoping “they’re not as bad … going forward’’.
The FFA Cup tie against Melbourne City at the Bentleigh Greens’ Kingston Heath home ground in Melbourne’s south-east is the second of three games within a week for the Phoenix.
But Payne sees the hectic schedule as an ideal way for the Kiwi side to get back on the horse, metaphorically speaking, in Melbourne Cup territory.
“One of the beauties of football, we haven’t had the best of results lately, but the best thing about that is we get another chance to turn that around in the Cup on Wednesday, and obviously again on Saturday [against the Newcastle Jets],’’ he said.
“It’s a great challenge for us, we’ve been struggling a bit, but what better way to turn it around than to knock off the reigning champions in the Cup.”
The Phoenix have never advanced as far as the quarterfinals before and Payne said it would be “massive” to go and win their first trophy.
“We obviously want to go all the way to the final, and hopefully win the final, it would be a fantastic achievement for the club. We’re all geared up for Wednesday, and hopefully making the semifinals.”
While it was a sombre trip from Adelaide on Sunday to their Wollongong training base, Payne said snapping out of their losing spiral isn’t insurmountable.
“The one benefit from the last couple of seasons, and it’s not something we want to get used to, but we’ve been in this position before where we haven’t had the greatest of starts to the season.
“But we can use that experience of the last couple of seasons, hopefully and turn the results around…
Payne didn’t think there was “one or two things” behind the Phoenix’s dramatic decline in form, it was more the “collective whole effort”.
“We’re not winning our individual battles. There are lots of different things on the pitch that aren’t coming to the fore for us, but the positive thing is we’ve got players still to come back in.”
He said it was vital that the Phoenix – “especially us older players because we do have a younger squad” – keep things “as positive as possible”.
It was a matter for the team leaders to keep “just reminding people that we’ve got another game and we can turn it around because we’ve been in this position before.
Payne, who has 21 All Whites caps, was unfazed at taking over the skipper’s role for the second half and believed Rufer’s replacement was more of “a tactical tweak” as “the boss [coach Ufuk Taylay) “just wanted to change things up a little bit [in central midfield].”
While Payne played in midfield earlier in his career, he didn’t expect to get pushed forward, saying fellow centreback Joshua Laws was the obvious candidate because he “played a little bit there in pre-season and he’s done well in there”.