Wellington Phoenix head coach Ufuk Talay wants a fast start to the 2022-23 Isuzu UTE A-League season.
The Phoenix are winless in three previous season openers under Talay, with a round one draw against Macarthur FC last November their best result.
“We want to start the season on a high and hopefully get three points tomorrow against Adelaide,” Talay told media ahead of their final training session of the week.
“We haven’t always had a great start. Obviously my first season we brought in a lot of players and then we were a little bit disjointed in pre-season with us being based in Australia the last two seasons.
“I think we’ve had a decent pre-season this year and we want to get off on a good run. We’ve got two very important home games and we want to maximise that as much as we can.”
Beyond the opening fortnight, the Nix are targeting the first half a dozen fixtures, before the A-League breaks for FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022™.
“I think the first six games are very important to put us in a good place,” Talay said.
“With the break coming in also it’s going to help us bring players back like Bally (David Ball) and Rufs (Alex Rufer). The first six games are very important to maximise the amount of points we can get from them.”
Ufuk Talay has guided the Phoenix to the finals in two of his three seasons and the top six is again the men’s aim in 2023.
“If we get into the top six, we give ourselves a chance to play finals football.
“Obviously if we can push even further and finish in the top four even better, but the aim is always to make the top six and play finals football.”
‘We fly under the radar …’
Few across the Tasman are picking the Nix to make the finals this season.
“People write us off every year regardless and I don’t mind that. We fly under the radar, we do our jobs and we still end up making the top six.
“I think we’ve got some talented players. I think we’ve got players that can actually hurt opponents and we’ve created a good balance in the squad.
“I’ll push the boys as hard as we can to get the outcome that we want, which is to play finals football.”
Talay guided the men to third on the table, the Phoenix’s highest-ever finish, in his first season, before the COVID-19 pandemic forced the team to move across the Tasman.
‘It’s good to play home games’
“Fingers crossed we get to play a normal full season in Wellington. It’s been a long three months to get to this point and I’m very excited for the game tomorrow and I’m sure the players are as well.
“It’s good to play home games. I think it does create an advantage. Teams have to travel to Wellington and we get to play in front of our home fans, which obviously helps the team during the season.
“We had a good first season, but that was a long time ago and we’ve got a core group of players that we’ve kept within the squad. We’ve brought in some exciting visa players as well so hopefully we can achieve what we did in the first season and do it better.”
All Whites forward Kosta Barbarouses, highly-regarded Australian midfielder Steven Ugarkovic, Bulgarian international Bozhidar Kraev, Brazilian playmaker Yan Sasse, Polish striker Oskar Zawada and exciting Australian defender Lucas Mauragis have joined the Phoenix for the new season and all are in line to feature against Adelaide United.
Zawada was the men’s latest signing and has had a relatively limited build-up to the season, but is likely to start against the Reds.
“The reality is Oskar came late into pre-season so we have to build him up with games and matches. The only way we can get him fit is by playing a game so we’ll play him tomorrow against Adelaide and we’ll push him as far as he can go.
“When he blows a gasket, we’ll take him off and we’ve got enough players and depth to make those changes.”
All Whites midfielder Clayton Lewis is also available for selection again, after recovering from a hamstring injury.
Sunday’s opponents have a good record in Wellington. Adelaide United are unbeaten in their last five A-League matches against the Phoenix in the capital, with their last defeat in November 2015.
But the Nix have won seven of their last nine games at Sky Stadium, with their only defeat coming in their most recent match against the Central Coast Mariners in April.
Most recent meeting: 12 February 2022 – Wellington Phoenix 2 Adelaide United 2
All-time A-League head-to-head: Phoenix 10W, Adelaide 20W & 13D.
Wellington Phoenix v Adelaide United
Sky Stadium, Wellington, 3pm
Gates open 11.45am.
Curtain-raiser: Wellington Phoenix Reserves v Auckland United (Men’s National League), 1pm
How to watch
The game will be broadcast LIVE and free-to-air on Prime Television and on Sky Sport 2 & 7 and Paramount+.
Wellington Phoenix squad
3. Finn SURMAN, 4. Scott WOOTTON, 5. Steven UGARKOVIC, 6. Tim PAYNE, 7. Kosta BARBAROUSES, 8. Ben OLD, 9. Oskar ZAWADA, 11. Bozhidar KRAEV, 12. Lucas MAURAGIS, 13. Nicholas PENNINGTON, 17. Callan ELLIOT, 18. Ben WAINE, 19. Sam SUTTON, 20. Oli SAIL (gk), 21. Joshua LAWS, 23. Clayton LEWIS, 24. Oskar VAN HATTUM, 31. Yan SASSE, 40. Alex PAULSEN (gk)
10. David Ball (injured), 14. Alex RUFER (injured)