Fans of the Wellington Phoenix will get the chance to support their team at Wellington’s Sky Stadium next Wednesday — as long as the team beats Western United this weekend.
The carrot of another game on home turf will no doubt lift Phoenix spirits as they play Western United in the Isuzu UTE A-League elimination play-off in Melbourne on Saturday (9.45pm NZT).
A win would see the Phoenix face premiers Melbourne City in a two-legged semi-final, with the first leg in Wellington on Wednesday May 18.
“The focus is to win and get the result and then the boys will know that we’re flying back to Wellington to play a game in front of our fans again,” says head coach Ufuk Talay.
Main photo: Ufuk Talay … eager to come back to New Zealand for a semi-final. Photo: Shane Wenzlick / Phototek.
Talay has reminded his players that “finals football is a different beast” ahead of their playoff against Western United.
The Phoenix have a great record against Saturday’s opponents. They have won six of their eight A-League meetings with Western United, with their only defeat coming in Talay’s first game in charge back in October 2019.
This season Wellington beat Western 1-0 in the FFA Cup round of 32 back in December, won 2-1 at WIN Stadium in January and then claimed a convincing 4-1 victory in Ballarat last month.
“We’ve had some positive results against Western United previously,” Talay told media on Friday. “We’ll take that confidence going into the game but finals football is a different beast altogether.
“The game can change very quickly in 90 minutes so we just need to be prepared for every circumstance, whatever happens that we’re able to deal with it.
“It’s not going to be an easy game. We have to travel there. They’re playing in Melbourne and they’re a very experienced side that have had a very good season as well and probably have more players that have played in these types of games previously, so it’s definitely going to be a challenge.”
It is the 10th finals game in the club’s history and sixth in Australia. The Phoenix are winless in their five previous playoff games across the ditch.
“It’s irrelevant at the moment. We’ve played so many games in Australia I think the boys have become accustomed to it now,” Talay said.
“I think this is our seventh or eighth trip down to Melbourne this season so the boys are used to it and we’ll just get on with the job.”
‘The boys want another game in Wellington’
Ufuk Talay guided the Nix to the finals in his first season in charge, but the team had to ‘host’ their elimination final in Sydney as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
This time around the players have the added incentive of bringing a finals game back to New Zealand. If the Phoenix beat Western United they will host premiers Melbourne City in a semi-final first leg at Sky Stadium on Wednesday, May 18.
“The boys will be pretty excited and pretty ecstatic to know that we’ll get another game in Wellington once we get through Western United.
“I think in the back of their heads they know that if we get through this game they have an opportunity to come back home and play in Wellington.
“But the focus is on getting the result done on Saturday. If we don’t get the result on Saturday all of that other stuff means nothing.
Joint top scorer Jaushua Sotirio is back for the elimination final. The pacy forward has missed the Phoenix’s past three matches with a calf strain.
“It’s good to get Sotirio back training with the group. It gives us more depth.
“We can’t expect him to play 90 minutes after coming back from injury. He’ll be limited with certain minutes but will still give us that depth that we need in this game.”
All White Lewis set to start
All Whites midfielder Clayton Lewis is in line to start the match after a promising 45 minutes off the bench against Melbourne City in his return from an ankle injury.
“I always believe that my squad is good enough to win every game and having these players back and having them involved doesn’t just give me the confidence, but also gives the group confidence.
“It’s great that they’re back and it gives us that extra boost and extra depth that we need in case the game does go to 120 minutes.”
Speedy wingers Lachlan Wales and Connor Pain and top goal scorer Aleksandar Prijovic are three of Western United’s major threats, as is the team’s strength from set pieces after the Nix conceded two goals from corners against City on Monday night
“That’s something that we’ll go through with Chiefy (assistant coach Giancarlo Italiano). We’ll make sure we’re solid defensively and try to create opportunities from our set pieces.
“For me set pieces are a concentration/focus thing and putting the personnel in the right areas to be able to deal with certain situations.
“We need to be sure we’re focussed in and switched on in those moments.”
Why scoring first is so important
Whoever scores first at AAMI Park will go a long way to securing a place in the semi-finals. The Phoenix are unbeaten in the 15 A-League matches in which they scored the opening goal this season, winning 12 and drawing three. They lost all 11 matches in which they conceded first.
Western United only lost one of the 18 A-League matches in which they scored first and won only once when they conceded the opening goal.
“[They] have won a lot of games 1-nil during the season, where they do score and they do shut shop very well and defend very well,” Talay said.
“For us it’s nice to have a few players back to give us that depth to make changes within the game.
“I’m hoping that we are the ones that score first and those stats still stay the way that they are.”
The Isuzu UTE A-League elimination final between the Wellington Phoenix and Western United is scheduled to kick-off at AAMI Park in Melbourne at 7:45pm AEST (9:45pm NZT) and will be broadcast LIVE on Sky Sport 7 in New Zealand and on Channel 10 and Paramount+ in Australia.
Most recent meeting: 9 April 2022 – Western United 1 Wellington Phoenix 4
All-time A-League head-to-head: Phoenix 6W, Western 1W & 1D.
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, 40. Alex PAULSEN (gk), 43. Oskar VAN HATTUM, 88. Gary HOOPER
Unavailable: 14. Alex RUFER (season-ending knee injury), 17. Callan ELLIOT (hamstring injury), 21. Joshua LAWS (knee injury).