Head coach Ufuk Talay believes the Wellington Phoenix are a top four team and he wants his side to show it against Western United on Friday night.
The Phoenix have slipped to sixth on the ladder after their first back-to-back defeats of the season.
Those defeats have come against sides in the bottom half of the table and Western United are sitting in 11th place heading into the round 17 match at University of Tasmania Stadium in Launceston.
“This season, I think every time the team is expected to do well or win, especially against teams below us, we’ve struggled,” Talay told media.
“It’s not that we’ve played bad football. I think we’re still playing some good football. We’ve taken the lead and then we’ve allowed the opponent to come back into the game.
“That’s something we definitely need to rectify and fix.”
The coaching staff have spoken to the players about but how to handle the greater expectations when they’re playing teams below them on the ladder.
“I think it’s just the mentality and we need to understand that we need to play our game, regardless of the opposition.
“The main thing is we go out there with the mentality to try to win the game and, if we do play well and we do go up, it’s how we dominate the game with the ball and not allow the opponent to get back into the game.
“I still believe we are a top four team. I think we’ve got the talent to do that and the qualities to do that, it’s just we’ve got to do it on game day.”
The men failed to convert two penalties against Macarthur FC on Sunday and have yet to score from their four spot kicks this season.
“It’s very costly,” Talay said. “We’ve dropped 20 points this season from a leading spot. If we had half of those points currently we’d be sitting on 31 points so we’d be sitting a lot further up the table.
“But look that’s in the past. That’s something we have to learn from and that’s something we definitely need to improve on and make sure it doesn’t happen in these next games.”
Macarthur equalised on Sunday from a rare Oli Sail mistake, but Ufuk Talay isn’t considering making a change in goal.
“I believe in consistency with the squad and I think when we do get consistency we get the results when players are playing with each other and having that familiarity with each other.
“Oli’s had some good moments and obviously he’s been a little bit up and down, a little bit inconsistent. But look he’s still a great goalkeeper.
“All players make mistakes the only difference with a goalkeeper is it tends to be a goal. Players make a hundred mistakes on the park, and they don’t get punished for it.
“He’s very important [and] a very integral part of our team moving forward.”
Talay is also reluctant to make significant changes to the rest of the starting XI.
“We’ll probably tinker in the way that we set up, more than likely.
“We have the current players that we have with us so the reality is we might try to find solutions on how to win the game against Western United.
“Try to keep that consistency, try to keep those players on the park and try to get those guys to win us games.”
Wootton travels with squad after missing five games
He may be able to call on experienced defender Scott Wootton for the first time in six weeks.
The English centre back travelled to Launceston with the squad on Thursday afternoon after being side-lined for five matches with a calf injury.
Western United have won their last two matches against the Phoenix and are undefeated in the six games they have played in Tasmania.
Game to be played on Friday February 17, 2023
Western United v Wellington Phoenix
University of Tasmania Stadium, Tasmania, 9.45pm (NZT)
How to watch
The game will be broadcast LIVE on Sky Sport 1 & 7 in New Zealand and on Paramount+ in Australia.
Most recent A-League meeting: 13 November 2022 – Wellington Phoenix 2 Western United 3
All-time A-League head-to-head: Phoenix 6W, Western 2W & 1D.
3. Finn SURMAN, 4. Scott WOOTTON, 5. Steven UGARKOVIC, 6. Tim PAYNE, 7 Ben OLD, 9. Oskar ZAWADA, 10. David BALL, 11. Bozhidar KRAEV, 12. Lucas MAURAGIS, 13. Nicholas PENNINGTON, 14. Alex RUFER, 15. Nikko BOXALL, 17. Callan ELLIOT, 19. Sam SUTTON, 20. Oli SAIL (gk), 21. Joshua LAWS, 24. Oskar VAN HATTUM, 31. Yan SASSE, 35. Noah KARUNARATNE, 40. Alex PAULSEN (gk).
Unavailable: 7. Kosta BARBAROUSES (injured), 23. Clayton LEWIS (injured).