Wellington Phoenix coach Mark Rudan says Roy Krishna has become a target of rough play early in A-League games and has called for referee protection.

Rudan is incensed by the mounting foul count against his star striker, who shook off the heavy-handed attention of the Western Sydney Wanderers to score two late goals in the 3-2 win on Tuesday.

Krishna now sits third on the goal-scorers chart this season with seven but Rudan fears the speedy Fijian international will become increasingly targeted by over-zealous defences.

Saturday’s opponents are the Central Coast Mariners, who fouled Krishna six times when they visited Wellington last month.

“I think there should be a duty of care. As far as I’m concerned, I’ve got to protect all my players but Roy’s one that has been targeted quite often in the early stages of a game over the last 5-6 weeks in particular,” Rudan said.

“A lot of teams have now seen what Roy’s capable of doing.

“He’s doing it on a week-to-week basis. I’d expect a level of protection there, particularly when someone continues to get targeted.”

While the Phoenix are the second most-fouled team overall behind the Melbourne Victory, they are also close to being the most foul-heavy side, pipped by the Brisbane Roar.

Rudan has a chance to freshen his attack at Westpac Stadium by introducing Cillian Sheridan alongside Krishna, after the Irish striker made a sparkling debut off the bench against the Wanderers.

It’s the sort of option Central Coast coach Mike Mulvey would love given the injuries that have plagued his last-placed team this season.

With just two points from 11 games, Mulvey has been the subject of media reports that he is losing the support of disheartened players.

He rubbished the suggestion, pointing to last week’s 5-2 loss to Sydney FC in which they led early but succumbed after Kalifa Cisse was shown a 26th-minute red card.

“As far as team morale, you only have to look at the first half to know the players are playing for each other and for the club,” he said.

Mulvey has whistled up 17-year-old midfielder Josh Nisbet for a potential A-League debut and has welcomed the return to fitness of former Wanderers defender Jonathan Aspropotamitis, who could make his Mariners debut after a lengthy recuperation from knee damage.

-AAP

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