Melbourne stalemate sets up biggest game ever for Wellington Phoenix

posted in: A-League (Men), News

The stage is set for the biggest game in Wellington Phoenix club history.

Honours are even heading into the second leg of the Isuzu UTE A-League semi-final between the Wellington Phoenix and Melbourne Victory at Sky Stadium on Saturday night.

The first leg finished 0-0 at AAMI Park in Melbourne, with neither side able to break down the opposing defence.

Main photo: Defender Scott Wootton and goalkeeper Alex Paulsen … a valuable clean sheet in Melbourne.

“The most important thing is we have our own fate and destiny in our own hands,” Phoenix head coach Giancarlo Italiano told media post-match.

“I didn’t want to be like one or two goals down, and then we’re chasing our tails.

“I wanted to go home with just a simple victory at home being enough to get us through, so we’ve done that.”

Italiano is “pumped” for the home leg and is calling on the club’s fans to pack out Sky Stadium.

“I think the crowd is going to be the decisive factor.

“I want everyone to come out to the game, even if you have a faint interest.

“I’d love to have 34.000 to the game, that’d be unbelievable. Anything above 25,000 is going to give us an advantage, especially when those moments get tough.

“I’d love for our fans to come, sing for the whole 90 and just get us over the line.”

Giancarlo Italiano … ‘I’d love 34,000 to come to the game.’

No changes to starting line-up

Giancarlo Italiano named the same XI which started the Phoenix’s final round win over Macarthur FC. He made one change to his bench with fit-again centre back Isaac Hughes replacing fullback Matt Sheridan.

The Nix settled the quicker of the two sides and were threatening in the first 10 minutes, with their positive approach surprising onlookers.

Nicholas Pennington got in behind Victory left back Adama Traore in the fourth minute but his cutback was cleared by right fullback Jason Geria, who managed to get his body in front of Bozhidar Kraev, who was waiting at the back post.

The hosts built into the game but had nothing to show for their spell of dominance with Geria spraying their best opportunity well wide of goal after he found a bit of space outside the Wellington box.

Victory striker Bruno Fornaroli registered the first shot on target in the 23rd minute, stinging the hands of Phoenix goalkeeper Alex Paulsen with an effort from the top of the box.

After withstanding a positive period from Melbourne, the Nix had a couple of half-chances half an hour into the match.

The opportunities again fell to Pennington. He sliced a shot wide after Ben Old’s left-wing cross deflected into his path at the back post in the 31st minute and moments later the midfielder and Kosta Barbarouses got in each other’s way as they both tried to shoot after winning possession on the edge of the Victory box.

Nicholas Pennington showed his value down the other end of the pitch soon after, producing a great last-ditch tackle in the Wellington penalty area as Fornaroli was about to shoot.

The hosts’ opportunities were limited to shots from outside the box for the remainder of the half, with Paulsen making comfortable saves to keep out long-range efforts from Jordi Valadon and Roly Bonevacia.

Old had the first two chances of the second half, twice skying volleys over the bar after the Phoenix earned a couple of corners.

The Victory wrestled back the initiative but they too were unable to find the target with Traore, substitute Ben Folami and Fornaroli all shooting high or wide in a 10 minute spell shortly after halftime.

Finn Surman also produced a big block to snuff out an opportunity for Nishan Velupillay inside an hour mark.

A shot from Bozhidar Kraev in the 64th minute looked to be on target, but it was deflected wide of goal by Geria. Surprisingly the Nix weren’t awarded a corner.

Giancarlo Italiano made his first change soon after, bringing on Oskar van Hattum in place of David Ball.

The Victory managed the first shot on target of the second half in the 72nd minute through Folami, but his effort from distance was straight at Alex Paulsen.

Italiano made a double-change a handful of minutes later, bringing on Oskar Zawada and Youstin Salas in place of Kraev and Pennington.

They had to spend much of the remaining quarter of an hour defending as the hosts dominated possession without testing Paulsen.

He made just one regulation save to deny Fornaroli with Victory’s other half-chances either blocked by Surman and Scott Wootton or sailing off target.

The Phoenix comfortably held on to claim their 12th clean sheet of the season and 100th in club history.

The Wellington Phoenix will return home tomorrow to prepare for the second leg of the semi-final at Sky Stadium on Saturday night.

Match highlights


Game played on Sunday May 12, 2024

Semi-final, first leg

Melbourne Victory 0
Wellington Phoenix 0


Melbourne Victory

20. Paul IZZO (gk), 2. Jason GERIA, 3. Adama TRAORE, 5. Damien DA SILVA, 10. Bruno FORNAROLI (14. Connor CHAPMAN 89th), 17. Nishan VELUPILLAY (11. Ben FOLAMI 60th), 21. Roderick MIRANDA (c), 23. Salim KHELIFI (19. Daniel ARZANI 60th), 25. Ryan TEAGUE, 27. Jordi VALADON (22. Jake BRIMMER 60th), 28. Roly BONEVACIA (7. Chris IKONOMIDIS 79th).

Unused substitutes: 40. Christian SICILIANO (gk), 37. Kasey BOS.

Wellington Phoenix

40. Alex PAULSEN (gk), 3. Finn SURMAN, 4. Scott WOOTTON, 6. Tim PAYNE, 7. Kosta BARBAROUSES, 8. Ben OLD (12. Mo AL-TAAY 90+5), 10. David BALL (24. Oskar VAN HATTUM 65th), 11. Bozhidar KRAEV (9. Oskar ZAWADA 77th), 14. Alex RUFER (c), 15. Nicholas PENNINGTON (17. Youstin SALAS 77th), 19. Sam SUTTON.

Unused substitutes: 25. Jack DUNCAN (gk), 18. Lukas KELLY-HEALD, 26. Isaac HUGHES.


10. David BALL (Wellington Phoenix) – yellow – 41′
15. Nicholas PENNINGTON (Wellington Phoenix) – yellow – 52′
19. Daniel ARZANI (Melbourne Victory) – yellow – 88′
14. Alex RUFER (Wellington Phoenix) – yellow – 90+5′


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

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