The Wellington Phoenix are reaching for new heights early in Giancarlo Italiano’s first year as head coach.
The Phoenix are traditionally slow starters in the Isuzu UTE A-League but, after a draw and a win to start the 2023-24 season, the men are one win away from their best points haul from their first three matches of a campaign.
Even a draw against Brisbane Roar at Sky Stadium on Saturday night will give the Nix their second-best points tally to start a season.
But Italiano has been focused on performances rather than results in the team’s opening matches of the season.
“The big thing with us is the idea of command and it’s not just command with the ball, it’s command in all phases of the game,” he told media.
“If you saw us against Wanderers I was actually quite pleased with that performance because a lot of the things that we worked on were executed quite well and I felt defensively we were in command of that game. Irrespective of us drawing the game, I was actually happy with that performance.
“The game against Perth I was happy for about half an hour and then I felt like certain players could have increased the intensity and how they held the ball and I think that allowed Perth to get back into the game.
“I wasn’t happy with that, but what I was happy with was that at the 70th minute we were still running, still countering and that’s what led to the goal.
“I was stoked about that, and I was also stoked about the reaction when Alex saved the penalty. For me they showed a lot of team spirit and high morale among the group.
“Those are the sort of gauges I’m looking at. If we perform in terms of all of those metrics then the results will come, but I can’t guarantee a win or a loss.”
Young goalkeeper Alex Paulsen has been one of the Phoenix’s stand-out performers in the opening two rounds and this week re-signed with the club till the end of the 2026-27 season.
Italiano expects Paulsen’s standards will remain high, despite now having the security of a long-term contract.
“I can’t speak for Alex, but from what you’ve seen he’s very level-headed. He’s grounded in good values as he’s got good parents and a good family.
“The thing is there’s natural and healthy competition within the team. If one goalkeeper drops off, the other one is ready to take their spot.
“I think that’s what’s actually keeping Alex in a good place at the moment. If you take that away from him we don’t know how he’ll react, but I think he’s professional enough.
“He’s got that hunger, he really wants this and he really wants to take that next step when it presents itself in the future.”
Left Sam Sutton is a chance of making his first appearance of the season, after missing the opening two matches with a knee injury.
“We’ll make that determination tomorrow (Friday) so he might be able to get time off the bench.
“If he’s not available for the game then he’ll definitely be next week, I think.”
Giancarlo Italiano is also unsure if David Ball will be able to feature against Brisbane, having been an unused substitute against Perth Glory last weekend because of soreness in his hip.
“Bally is still where he was last week. It’s ongoing. We won’t know until matchday whether he’ll be available or not.
“We’re hoping that he’ll be alright. We could have used him last week, but I felt it was more important just to make sure we didn’t aggravate it.”
Luke Supyk and Fin Conchie unavailable
Fellow forward Luke Supyk and midfielder Fin Conchie remain unavailable for selection. Supyk is in Indonesia preparing for the FIFA U-17 Men’s World Cup, after missing the opening two rounds with injury, while Conchie is sidelined with a hamstring strain.
The Wellington Phoenix are unbeaten in their last five A-League matches against the Brisbane Roar in New Zealand and the Roar have won only one of their last 10 league games on the road.
Most recent meeting: 16 April 2023 – Wellington Phoenix 2 Brisbane Roar 2
All-time A-League head-to-head: Phoenix 11W, Roar 21W & 14D.
How to watch
The game will be broadcast LIVE on Sky Sport 7 in New Zealand and on Paramount+ in Australia.
Game to be played on Saturday November 4, 2023
Wellington Phoenix v Brisbane Roar
Sky Stadium, Wellington, 5.30pm (NZT)
Wellington Phoenix (two to be omitted)
3. Finn SURMAN, 4. Scott WOOTTON, 6. Tim PAYNE, 7. Kosta BARBAROUSES, 8. Ben OLD, 9. Oskar ZAWADA, 10. David BALL, 11. Bozhidar KRAEV, 12. Mo AL-TAAY, 14. Alex RUFER (c), 15. Nicholas PENNINGTON, 18. Lukas KELLY-HEALD, 19. Sam SUTTON, 24. Oskar VAN HATTUM 25. Jack DUNCAN (gk), 26. Isaac HUGHES, 34. Josh RUDLAND, 40. Alex PAULSEN (gk), 42. Fergus GILLION, 52. Jackson MANUEL.
Unavailable: 5. Fin CONCHIE (injured), 23. Luke SUPYK (U-17 World Cup).
Brisbane Roar (two to be omitted)
1. Macklin FREKE (gk), 2. Scott NEVILLE, 3. Corey BROWN, 5. Thomas ALDRED (c), 6. Joe CALETTI, 7. Florin BERENGUER, 8. Jonas MARKOVSKI, 10. Nikola MILEUSNIC, 12. Taras GOMULKA, 13. Henry HORE, 14. Rylan BROWNLIE, 16. Thomas WADDINGHAM, 17. Carlo ARMIENTO, 22. Alex PARSONS, 23. Aaron REARDON, 26. Jay O’SHEA, 27. Kai TREWIN, 29. Matt ACTON (gk), 32. James NIKOLOVKSI, 35. Louis ZABALA.
Unavailable: 19. Jack HINGERT (injured).