PREVIEW: Phoenix coach Italiano – ‘I don’t like this idea of top v bottom’

posted in: A-League (Men), News

Head coach Giancarlo Italiano is wary of pre-match expectations that his A-League-leading Wellington Phoenix will find it easy against bottom-placed Western United in Saturday’s match at Sky Stadium.

“I don’t like this idea of top vs bottom,” Italiano told media before training on Friday morning. “Because at the end of the day, the 90 minutes don’t lie, and you can’t win the game before kick-off.

“We’ve maybe made that mistake previously in a game. It was a good lesson then, so it won’t be making it again.”

Main photo: Giancarlo Italiano … ‘we go into the match with our eyes wide open.’

Italiano is full of respect for Western United and has disregarded their position on the Isuzu UTE A-League ladder ahead of Saturday evening’s round 16 match.

Western are seven points adrift at the bottom of the table, with just two wins and two draws from their opening 14 matches.

The Phoenix are 22 points better off and are two clear at the top of the ladder.

The Nix were stunned 3-0 at home by Newcastle Jets in December, and the players have been warned against underestimating Western United.

“Because they’re last, it doesn’t make it easier. It makes it harder because they’re still playing for something in their season.

“We found them quite difficult when we played them in Ballarat, so we go into the match with our eyes wide open and respecting the opponent.

“They have some good players. We’re a big fan of [Daniel] Penha, he’s a very influential 10. And even young players like [Noah] Botic probably haven’t been as effective this year as they were last year but are still dangerous players.

“For us, we have to go into it with the mindset that it’s like a semi-final.”

In-form Kosta Barbarouses will look for more goals at Sky Stadium. Photo credit: Natural Light Photography Company.

Wellington are also looking to impose themselves on their final home match of the month, something Central Coast didn’t allow them to do on Waitangi Day.

“I’ve always said being the home team you have to take the game to the away team.

“They travel, which is a big factor, and you’ll see we usually take a more conservative approach on the road because of that.

“We’ll take the game to them, like we have every home opponent. I don’t think there’s a game where we’ve sat back at home.

“We’ll try and play an attacking brand [of football] at home.”

The Phoenix are unbeaten in their six games in 2024, while Western are winless so far this year, with two draws and two defeats.

Giancarlo Italiano says momentum can shift very, very quickly.

“Momentum works from week to week, but it also works within the game.

“For example, when Newcastle came here we were flying as well. Newcastle scored in the first five minutes, and they built belief.

“Seasons, unfortunately, are more about grinding than they are about momentum.

“If you look at all the teams, it doesn’t matter what league, the teams that usually are at the top, they win consistently…but it’s not always pretty.

“It’s not always to the gameplan, sometimes…they can play terribly, and they get a goal last minute.

“Hopefully, we fall into that groove and get the results.”

Nicholas Pennington … back from suspension.

Al-Taay and Pennington available again

Italiano has a near full-strength squad to pick from, with midfielders Mo Al-Taay and Nicholas Pennington available for selection after missing Tuesday’s match through injury and suspension respectively.

He has to decide whether creative midfielder Ben Old starts again, or comes off the bench, having managed an ankle injury since Christmas.

“It’s more about making sure that we don’t put him at risk after not training for long periods of time.

“He just played 90 minutes…probably longer than what we expected him to play. So, we have to make the assessment for tomorrow whether he starts or not.

“We have to be cautious and put his long-term health as a priority. We have to take those things into consideration.”

Fullback Sam Sutton and striker Oskar Zawada remain sidelined with injuries, but Sutton is “better than expected” and should be able to return to training next week.

Past meetings

Most recent meeting: December 2, 2023 – Western United 0 Wellington Phoenix 1

All-time A-League head-to-head: Phoenix 8W, Western 3W & 1D.

How to watch

The game will be broadcast LIVE on Sky Sport 2 in New Zealand and on Paramount+ in Australia.


Game to be played on Saturday February 10, 2024

Wellington Phoenix v Western United
Sky Stadium, Wellington, 5.30pm (NZT)


Table at 8am (NZT) on Saturday February 10.


Wellington Phoenix (two to be omitted)

3. Finn SURMAN, 4. Scott WOOTTON, 5. Fin CONCHIE, 6. Tim PAYNE, 7. Kosta BARBAROUSES, 8. Ben OLD, 10. David BALL, 11. Bozhidar KRAEV, 12. Mo AL-TAAY, 14. Alex RUFER (c), 15. Nicholas PENNINGTON, 18. Lukas KELLY-HEALD, 23. Luke SUPYK, 24. Oskar VAN HATTUM, 25. Jack DUNCAN (gk), 26. Isaac HUGHES, 40. Alex PAULSEN (gk), 42. Fergus GILLION, 43. Matt SHERIDAN, 51. Gabriel SLOANE-RODRIGUES.

Unavailable: 9. Oskar ZAWADA (injured), 19. Sam SUTTON (injured).

Western United (two to be omitted)

1. Tom HEWARD-BELLE (gk), 4. James DONACHIE, 6. Tomoki IMAI, 7. Ramy NAJJARINE, 8. Lachie WALES, 9. Michael RUHS, 11. Daniel PENHA, 13. Nikita RUKAVYTSYA, 17. Ben GARUCCIO, 19. Josh RISDON, 21. Sebastian PASQUALI, 22. Kane VIDMAR, 29. Charbel SHAMOON, 32. Angus THURGATE, 33. Matt SUTTON (gk), 36. Zach LISOLAJSKI, 38. Noah BOTIC, 39. Matthew GRIMALDI, 42. Rhys BOZINOVSKI, 44. Jordan LAUTON.

Unavailable: 10. Steven LUSTICA (injured), 24. Connor O’TOOLE (injured), 77. Riku DANZAKI (injured)


This story is published with the help of the Wellington Phoenix.

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