Kalezic eases pressure on young Nix keeper

Dec 1, 2017 - 5:14 AM Phoenix coach Darije Kalezic is playing the long game when it comes to teenage goalkeeper Keegan Smith.

The 18-year-old stopper will warm the bench for Sunday's round nine A-League clash against Melbourne Victory in Wellington, with Lewis Italiano earning his second successive start of the season.

Smith played the full 90 minutes for Wellington's first six games but sat on the sidelines last weekend as they were outplayed 4-1 by Central Coast Mariners.

Kalezic said Smith was "a little bit unwell" last week but believes the time is right to give the youngster a rest.

"I think this is a good moment for me as a coach to keep Keegan a little bit out of the pressure," Kalezic said on Friday.

"This is my opinion, not the opinion of Keegan. If you ask Keegan, he will start the game, he wants to play.

"Me as a coach, I think it's the time to protect him from a little bit from pressure."

Kalezic says he sees a glowing long-term future for Smith, who recently signed a new three-year contract.

He's confident the youngster will develop well under goalkeeping coach Fernando vaz Alves and says the Phoenix will work out a schedule which will mix A-League games with matches for the club's reserve team in the national premiership.

"That's one thing I know for sure - I think he has big possibilities to be the best goalkeeper New Zealand will have in the next couple of years."

Wellington, sitting 10th and last on the A-League ladder, are desperate to get their season on track against eighth-placed Melbourne.

Kevin Muscat's Victory also have just one win this season and have struggled to find the net, scoring just nine goals in eight games.

With left back Scott Galloway returning from injury to boost Wellington's defence, Kalezic is hopeful the Nix will be able to shut down the flood of goals they've conceded - a league-high 17 in seven games.

Source: AAP

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