FFA Cup Preview: Wellington Phoenix vs. Melbourne City

The Wellington Phoenix men are embracing their challenging December schedule, with tomorrow night’s FFA Cup quarter-final against Melbourne City their sixth match in 20 days.

It is their third straight mid-week Cup tie and comes less than 72 hours after their 2-1 defeat to Sydney FC in round five of the Isuzu UTE A-League.

Head coach Ufuk Talay says his players should be relishing the short turnarounds.

“There’s always going to be fatigue but for me when I played in Europe it was the best playing mid-week games because there was less training in between,” Talay told media on the eve of the quarter-final.

“For me as a footballer playing games is the best part.

“There’s going to be fatigue, it’s normal, but at the same time I think they should be enjoying the games that are coming back-to-back.”

Talay acknowledges playing over the festive season adds extra challenges, given the squad remains based in Sydney.

“It’s a tough period coming into Christmas, being away from family and friends for the players.”

As a result Phoenix management check in with each of the players on a daily basis to monitor their wellbeing.

“The greatest thing for me is we’ve got so many games which hopefully take the focus away from all of that stuff happening in the background.

“They need to focus on the games we have in mid-week and at the weekends.”

Wellington are taking a “strong squad” to Melbourne, despite the short turnaround.

“We’ve come this far within the competition, we win this, we win the next one and we’ve got an opportunity to win a trophy.

“We’ll push as hard as we can. We’re playing against last year’s champions so I think it’s going to be a great opportunity for the boys to step up and it’s a one off game so hopefully they can go out there and give it everything.”

Ufuk Talay thought the Phoenix “started off timid” against Sydney FC on Sunday and doesn’t want to see that again tomorrow night.

“I think with the young group when we went 2-nil down they realised that the expectation was gone and they started to play.

“That’s something that we need to do from the first minute, play with no weight on your shoulders, there is no expectation other than you going out and performing.”

Nineteen-year-olds Ben Old and Oskar van Hattum impressed off the bench against Sydney and are pushing for selection in the first XI.

“The boys that came on gave us a good impact in the game on Sunday, which is what you want from substitutions.

“We try to manage the boys on how much load we put be in their legs but at the same time when we pick a team I believe that’s the team that’s going to get us the result.”

Fellow academy graduate Alex Paulsen will start against Melbourne City, with first-choice goalkeeper Oli Sail unavailable through injury.

Talay is backing Paulsen to produce another good performance, after making a number of quality saves in his club debut against Sydney.

“We wouldn’t have signed him and we wouldn’t have made him no. 2 if we didn’t believe in his qualities.

“These opportunities arise for players with injuries and suspensions and now obviously with Oli being out he’s got to step up and take that role.”

Reserves goalkeeper Henry Gray, 16, will join the Phoenix in Melbourne to serve as Paulsen’s back-up.

City will be without talismanic forward Jamie Maclaren tomorrow night after he was red-carded in the closing stages of the Melbourne derby on Saturday night.

The reigning A-League champions qualified for the last eight with a pair of wins over National Premier Leagues (NPL) Victoria sides.

City defeated South Melbourne 3-0 in the Round of 32 in November before beating Hume City 1-0 in the round of 16 at the start of the month.

The FFA Cup quarter-final between the Wellington Phoenix and Melbourne City is scheduled to kick-off at Casey Fields in Melbourne at 7:30pm AEDT (9:30pm NZT), with the match broadcast live on 10 Play in Australia and YouTube in New Zealand.

Wellington Phoenix squad: 3. Matthew BOZINOVSKI, 5. James MCGARRY, 6. Tim PAYNE, 8. Ben OLD, 9. David BALL, 10. Reno PISCOPO, 11. Jaushua SOTIRIO, 12. Luka PRSO, 13. Nicholas PENNINGTON, 14. Alex RUFER (c), 16. Louis FENTON, 17. Callan ELLIOT, 18. Ben WAINE, 19. Sam SUTTON, 20. Oli SAIL (gk), 21. Joshua LAWS, 23. Clayton LEWIS, 30. Henry GRAY, 31. Kurtis MOGG, 32. George OTT, 33. Finn SURMAN, 34. Jackson MANUEL, 40. Alex PAULSEN (gk), 43. Oskar VAN HATTUM, 88. Gary HOOPER
Unavailable: 20. Oli Sail (gk) (hip flexor injury) & 88. Gary HOOPER (personal reasons)