PREVIEW: 10-goal Barbarouses ‘fit and firing’ for Melbourne City challenge

posted in: A-League (Men), News

Wellington Phoenix top scorer Kosta Barbarouses is “fit and firing” for Saturday’s match against Melbourne City, while midfielder Nicholas Pennington is available again after missing three games through injury.

Wellington Phoenix head coach Giancarlo Italiano has declared All White Barbarouses “fit and firing” after he came off the bench in the 3-1 home win against Adelaide United on Sunday, having sat out the scoreless draw in Perth the previous week.

“That week off was more about precaution and making sure he’ll be ready for the upcoming games.

“We could have risked him the week before, but we felt as though the best thing to do was just nurture him through and make sure he’ll be available for the back end [of the season].”

Main photo: Kosta Barbarouses (right) with in-form forward Ben Old. Photo credit: Natural Light Photography Company.

Barbarouses has scored 10 goals this season and is level with Melbourne Victory great Archie Thompson as the fifth-highest men’s goal scorer in A-League history with 90. He’s two shy of the New Zealand record of 92 held by Shane Smeltz.

Italiano will be without Polish striker Oskar Zawada for another week after he was a late withdrawal from the side that played Adelaide, but midfielder Pennington is back available for selection after recovering from a foot injury.

Italiano has brushed aside the team’s past results at AAMI Park on the eve of their second visit to the Melbourne stadium this season.

The competition leaders visit three-time premiers Melbourne City on Saturday night, having earned a valuable point against the ground’s other tenants Melbourne Victory in round four.

The Phoenix have not won at AAMI Park since April 2017 and last beat City at the venue in December 2013.

“We haven’t even spoken about that,” Italiano told media at Wellington Airport on Friday. “I’ve travelled there many times before and it’s a hard place to play.

“I always find the Victory games the hardest because of the atmosphere and they have a good fan base and are loud and vocal. Even the City fans, when they show up, it can be an intimidating place.

“But it’s still the same normal pitch for both teams and we’ll be going there and trying to get three points.”

He loves the atmosphere at AAMI Park, but has mixed feelings about the ground.

“The tough part is we’ve found it difficult to win there for so long. I’m not sure if it’s maybe a mental thing.

“I don’t think it’s the travel because we’ve played other teams at other parks, and we’ve won.

“I’m not really sure what it is and hopefully we can change it tomorrow.”

AAMI Park … ‘a hard place to play.’

The Phoenix can move six points clear at the top of the table with a long overdue win at AAMI Park, and Italiano is sticking to his game-by-game approach as the club edges closer to its first piece of silverware.

“I think simplicity is the key to most things in life. The simpler you keep things, the more effective I think you are.

“The more convoluted, the more complex you make things makes it hard.

“I like simple messaging, I like simple targets [and] simple goals all players can relate to.

“Even with my tactics, sometimes it can be a little bit bland my approach but it’s simple and it plays to everyone.”

Kick-off has been pushed back one and a half hours to 7pm AEDT (9pm NZT) because of forecast extreme heat in Melbourne.

“We’ve spoken about it. We really can’t train for it. We don’t have the capabilities of increasing the temperature at training, but we’re very mindful.

“It’ll be more of a strategic approach going into the game.

“I think it’ll be unreasonable to think the players can press at a certain intensity. It’ll be more about game management than anything.”

Melbourne City are unable to call on Celtic loanee Marco Tilio, who is carrying a hamstring injury, but have welcomed back fellow Socceroos forward Mathew Leckie.

Past meetings

Most recent meeting: 25 November 2023 – Wellington Phoenix 1 Melbourne City 0

All-time A-League head-to-head: Phoenix 12W, City 18W & 8D.

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 March 9, 2024

Melbourne City v Wellington Phoenix
AAMI Paark, Melbourne, 9pm (NZT)

READ MORE: Extreme heat warnings force Phoenix to delay kick-off of men’s A-League match >>>>


Table at 4am (NZT) on Saturday March 9.


Melbourne City (two to be omitted)

1. Jamie YOUNG (gk), 4. Nuno REIS, 6. Steven UGARKOVIC, 7. Mathew LECKIE, 8. James JEGGO, 9. Jamie MACLAREN (c), 10. Tolgay ARSLAN, 11. Leo NATEL, 14. Vicente FERNÁNDEZ, 15. Andrew NABBOUT, 17. Terry ANTONIS, 21. Alessandro LOPANE, 22. Curtis GOOD, 25. Callum TALBOT, 26. Samuel SOUPRAYEN, 33. Patrick BEACH (gk), 35. Zane SCHREIBER, 37. Max CAPUTO, 38. Harry POLITIDIS, 44. Marin JAKOLIS.

Unavailable: 2. Scott GALLOWAY (calf), 23. Marco TILIO (hamstring), 34. Arion SULEMANI (ACL), 46. Ben MAZZEO (ankle).

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, 17. Youstin SALAS, 18. Lukas KELLY-HEALD, 19. Sam SUTTON, 23. Luke SUPYK, 24. Oskar VAN HATTUM, 25. Jack DUNCAN (gk), 26. Isaac HUGHES, 40. Alex PAULSEN (gk), 51. Gabriel SLOANE-RODRIGUES.

Unavailable: 9. Oskar ZAWADA (injured).


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

Visit the Phoenix Kit Hub

Here’s where you can buy your Wellington Phoenix apparel:

More football stories