PREVIEW: Injuries and in-form opponents will test A-League leaders Phoenix

posted in: A-League (Men), News

The Wellington Phoenix will be missing four frontline players from their line-up to play Macarthur in Sunday’s men’s A-League clash.

In-form midfielders Nicholas Pennington and Bozhidar Kraev have joined fullbacks Tim Payne and Sam Sutton in the injury treatment room and have not travelled to Sydney for the match.

Main photo: Bozhidar Kraev … will miss the Macarthur game. Photo credit: Natural Light Photography Company.

“There are a couple of knocks at the moment,” head coach Giancarlo Italiano said.

“It’s a consequence of the fact that we played those three games in a short amount of time, the travel and being away. It’s kind of caught up [with us].

“And the fact that we’ve played a lot of these players for a lot of games consecutively it’s probably getting to that stage of the season where niggles can become a little bit more than what they are.”

The injuries, and the form of their opposition, will put the Wellington Phoenix’s unbeaten start to 2024 to the test.

Like the league leading Phoenix, Macarthur are unbeaten in their past seven matches.

Former Phoenx midfielder Clayton Lewis … now with Macarthur.

Macarthur have moved into premiership contention. They started the round in third, level on points with second-placed Central Coast Mariners.

“In terms of personnel, they have one of the best squads in the league,” Italiano told media.

“Uli (Ulises Davila) I’m a big fan of. I think he’s one of the best 10s in the league. A Johnny Warren Medallist and we respect him.

“[Valère] Germain up top, he’s a very good player. Obviously, Clayton [Lewis], a quality six. A lot of those players get them through their games and get the results.

“They’re a tough team to play, like all the other A-League teams so we’ll make sure we give them respect like we do all other teams.”

The Phoenix won 3-0 at Campbelltown Sports Ground the week before Christmas, but Italiano believes it will be a completely different contest this time around.

“It’ll be a match where it won’t be decided early. It’ll be a bit of a grind from both teams. I think they’ll respect us as well.

“The last game, the dynamic was a little bit different in terms of we played more of a counter-attacking game where we felt they had some weakness.

“I think they’ve evolved so we’re going to try something a little bit different this time to curb what we think their weakness is at the moment.”

Options on the bench

New signing Youstin Salas has travelled with the squad but isn’t ready to start.

“His last game was on the 21st of January in Costa Rica and he had a strain in his quad.

“We monitored him from that date and his expected return to play is actually sooner than what we had thought, which is positive, but to put him through 90 at the moment would be too much to expect from him.

“And in terms of acclimatising to the group and so on it’s unrealistic. But I’m hoping we get some minutes off the bench from him.

“For me it’s more about phasing him in nice and easy, not to expose him too quickly. Because foreigners coming into the league it does take a bit of time and adjustment before they get used to the pace of the A-League.”

Striker Oskar Zawada is also likely to feature off the bench, having missed Wellington’s two recent home matches with a groin strain.

With only a limited number of fully fit players to call upon, Italiano may have to change tactics.

“We have some injuries, so it’s about placing those players in those situations that we think can hurt them.

“If we don’t feel like we don’t have the right personnel then we have to change the tactics to modify what players we do have.

“That’s actually the fun part …. arguing in the office about what the best option is and then making sure we’ve covered all bases and then when we get to the game it’s like we’ve covered everything mentally and every possible scenario, and we see how it goes.”

Past meetings

Most recent meeting: 18 December 2023 – Macarthur FC 0 Wellington Phoenix 3

All-time A-League head-to-head: Phoenix 5W, Macarthur 2W & 2D.

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 Sunday February 18, 2024

Macarthur v Wellington Phoenix
Campbelltown Sports Stadium, Sydney 7pm (NZT)


Macarthur FC (two to be omitted)

1. Danijel NIZIC (gk), 3. Tommy SMITH, 4. Matthew JURMAN, 6. Tomi USKOK, 8. Jake HOLLMAN, 10. Ulises DAVILA (c), 12. Filip KURTO (gk), 13. Ivan VUJICA, 14. Kristian POPOVIC, 17. RAPHAEL, 18. Walter SCOTT, 20. Kealey ADAMSON, 21. BERNARDO Oliveira, 22. Yianni NICOLAOU, 23. Clayton LEWIS, 24. Charles M’MOMBWA, 31. Lachlan ROSE, 37. Jed DREW, 53. Ariath PIOL, 98. Valere GERMAIN.

Unavailable: 2. Jake McGING, 7. Danny DE SILVA, 15. Kearyn BACCUS, 19. Jesper WEBBER, 44. Matt MILLAR.

Wellington Phoenix

3. Finn SURMAN, 4. Scott WOOTTON, 5. Fin CONCHIE, 7. Kosta BARBAROUSES, 8. Ben OLD, 9. Oskar ZAWADA, 10. David BALL, 12. Mo AL-TAAY, 14. Alex RUFER (c), 17. Youstin SALAS, 18. Lukas KELLY-HEALD, 23. Luke SUPYK, 24. Oskar VAN HATTUM, 25. Jack DUNCAN (gk), 26. Isaac HUGHES, 40. Alex PAULSEN (gk), 43. Matt SHERIDAN, 51. Gabriel SLOANE-RODRIGUES.

Unavailable: 6. Tim PAYNE (injured), 11. Bozhidar KRAEV (injured), 15. Nicholas PENNINGTON (injured), 19. Sam SUTTON (injured).


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

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