All Whites midfielder Clayton Lewis is set to make a comeback for the Wellington Phoenix after six weeks recovering from a bad ankle injury.
The Phoenix say he is likely to feature in the Phoenix’s regular-season A-League finale against Melbourne City in Melbourne on Monday night.
Lewis has been sidelined for the past six weeks since suffering a sickening ankle injury against Perth Glory in late March. He has missed the Nix’s past nine A-League matches.
Talay: ‘It’s a massive boost’
“It’s a massive boost for the group,” Phoenix head coach Ufuk Talay told media on Sunday. “A massive boost for himself as well to be able to come back and be part of the group and play in very important games.
“I think all of the injured boys are targeting a return for the playoffs. These are big games and these are games that players want to be involved in.
“It’s nice to have players coming back at such an important part of the season.”
Lewis resumed training with the squad on Wednesday and took a full part in training on Saturday, but is likely to be named amongst the Phoenix substitutes on Monday.
“We still need to make sure we manage him,” Talay said.
“We don’t want to throw him in the deep end straight away but it’ll be good to see if he can get on the field and get some minutes in his legs.”
The Nix are also carefully managing veteran striker Gary Hooper, who has come off the bench in their past two matches after missing eight games with a calf injury.
“Hoops is one that we’re slowly building up. Very cautious at the same time with Hoops [as] we want him available for the finals series.
“We’ll make a decision on what fits best for him because for us he’s a very influential player. He’s one of the senior players within the group and he does score goals so we need him in the finals series.”
Jaushua Sotirio, who has missed the past two matches with a calf strain, has to “tick a few more boxes” and the Phoenix are hoping to get him ready for next weekend’s elimination final.
Ufuk Talay believes “all the pressure” will be on Melbourne City on Monday night as they need to win to claim the Premiers’ Plate.
“For us it’s about getting some minutes into the legs of some of the players. It’s also an opportunity to see what players can do leading into our finals game.
“All the pressure is on them and not on us, so I think it’s a great opportunity for all of the boys to go out there and express themselves.
“I think it’s a great opportunity to go out there and play with a lot of freedom as well. We’ve achieved what we wanted to achieve by making the top six.”
Talay also plans to give some of his players the night off.
“We don’t have a lot of players to mix and match at the moment so we’ll have to pick and choose the ones that we believe need the rest and the ones that need game time.
“We’ll still put out a good team, go out there and try and get a result against Melbourne City and play some good football at the same time.
“It’s one that we’ll manage and we’ll think what’s best for the team moving forward.”
The outcome of Sunday night’s match between Adelaide United and Western United could decide who the Nix play in week one of the finals.
If Adelaide win the Phoenix won’t be able to finish any higher than sixth and will visit Western United next weekend.
The Nix don’t have a preference as to who they would rather play.
“There’s no easy game in the finals series,” Talay said. “The first one is a one-off.
“We’ll be away from home [but] we’ve done that for two seasons so that’s no issue so just plan and prepare and try to win that game.
“We’ll just take it as it comes and whoever is our opponent we’ll try our best to prepare and get a result.”
The Isuzu UTE A-League match between the Wellington Phoenix and Melbourne City is scheduled to kick-off at AAMI Park in Melbourne at 7:05pm AEST (9:05pm NZT) and will be broadcast LIVE on Sky Sport 3 & 7 in New Zealand and on Paramount+ in Australia.
Most recent meeting: 2 April 2022 – Wellington Phoenix 0 Melbourne City 6
All-time head-to-head: Phoenix 11W, City 15W & 7D.
Wellington Phoenix squad
3. Matthew BOZINOVSKI, 4. Scott WOOTTON, 5. James MCGARRY, 6. Tim PAYNE, 7. Gael SANDOVAL, 8. Ben OLD, 9. David BALL, 10. Reno PISCOPO, 11. Jaushua SOTIRIO, 13. Nicholas PENNINGTON, 14. Alex RUFER (c), 16. Louis FENTON, 17. Callan ELLIOT, 18. Ben WAINE, 19. Sam SUTTON, 20. Oli SAIL (gk), 21. Joshua LAWS, 23. Clayton LEWIS, 30. Henry GRAY (gk), 31. Kurtis MOGG, 32. George OTT, 33. Finn SURMAN, 34. Jackson MANUEL, 36. Riley BIDOIS, 38. Luis TOOMEY, 40. Alex PAULSEN (gk), 43. Oskar VAN HATTUM, 88. Gary HOOPER
Unavailable: 11. Jaushua SOTIRIO (calf injury), 14. Alex RUFER (season-ending knee injury), 17. Callan ELLIOT (hamstring injury), 21. Joshua LAWS (knee injury)
This story is reproduced with the assistance of the Wellington Phoenix.