Wellington Phoenix coach Ufuk Talay views tomorrow night’s FFA Cup semi-final against Melbourne Victory as one of the biggest games in the club’s history.
The Phoenix are endeavouring to reach a final for the first time in their 15-year existence. They finished one game short of the A-League grand final in 2010 and up until this season hadn’t advanced beyond the round of 16 in the FFA Cup.
Talay guided Wellington to the A-League finals in his first season in charge in 2020 and ranks this game “very high” amongst the most important Phoenix games he has been involved in.
“All the games are important but this is a different occasion,” Talay told media on the eve of the semi-final.
“We’ve got a chance to make a final and win a trophy so it’s very important.
“I think the players are very excited about the occasion. Not every season you get to play in a semi-final that leads into a final so it’s a big occasion and we’re looking forward to it.
“They know they could be part of a great part of this club’s history, making an FFA Cup final.
“For me the focus is on performance and I believe if we perform well eight out of 10 times we’ll get the result that we need.”
The Phoenix are without two of their regulars, with centre back Tim Payne and central midfielder Clayton Lewis on international duty with the All Whites in the United Arab Emirates.
Unfortunately experienced English defender Scott Wootton is not yet ready to make his club debut, with a quad strain limiting Wellington’s newest recruit.
“He’s progressing well but still hasn’t been with the group so for me I think it’s too early for him to play in this game,” Talay said.
It means either 18-year-old Finn Surman or young Victory loanee Matthew Bozinovski is likely to partner Josh Laws in the heart of the Wellington defence, with Ufuk Talay seemingly ruling out club captain Alex Rufer deputising at centre back as he did against Melbourne City in the Cup quarter-final.
“It’s going to be a great occasion for them and a great opportunity for them.
“If I didn’t have the confidence in them then I’d be trying to makeshift and put another player in there.
“I have full confidence in my players, I have full belief in my players to go out there and do a job, regardless of their age and experience.”
Nicholas Pennington will start in midfield in place of Lewis and Talay feels he deserves another opportunity after impressing in the quarter-final.
“I thought Clayton and Nicho did a good job against Melbourne City.
“I felt bad for Nicho as well not starting the last game (against Western United) because I thought he played well, but I had to make a decision on what the best decision was at that time for the team.
“He’ll get an opportunity to play tomorrow night.”
Young goalkeeper Alex Paulsen was the hero of the club’s quarter-final win over City, saving three penalties in the shoot-out and the Phoenix are prepared to again go the distance in Geelong.
“That’s something that we work on during the week. They take penalties at training, but when it comes to the pressure time it’s about executing.”
Melbourne Victory won the FFA Cup in 2015 and currently sit atop the A-League.
They came from a goal down to be holders Adelaide United 2-1 in their quarter-final at the start of the month and played out a pulsating 2-2 draw with Sydney FC in the league on Tuesday night.
Talay regards Victory as “a very defensive team”
“The last game that they played against Sydney was the first time this season that I’ve seen their fullbacks be as adventurous.
“They’re a very good team in transition. That’s what you need to be when you’re a defensive side.
“They haven’t conceded a lot of goals from open play this season so it’s one of those teams that’s not going to be easy to break down, but I still believe we have the quality to do that.”
The winner will face the Central Coast Mariners in the FFA Cup final on Saturday, February 5.
If the Phoenix win the final will be staged at Central Coast Stadium in Gosford, but if the Victory prevail they will host the decider at AAMI Park in Melbourne.
The FFA Cup semi-final between the Wellington Phoenix and Melbourne Victory is scheduled to kick-off at GMHBA Stadium in Geelong at 5:35pm AEDT (7:35pm NZT) and will be broadcast live on 10 Play in Australia and on Football Australia’s My Football YouTube Channel in New Zealand.
Most recent meeting: 24 March 2021 – Wellington Phoenix 4 Melbourne Victory 1
All-time head-to-head: Phoenix 10W, Victory 21W & 11D.
Wellington Phoenix squad: 3. Matthew BOZINOVSKI, 4. Scott WOOTTON, 5. James MCGARRY, 6. Tim PAYNE, 7. Gael SANDOVAL, 8. Ben OLD, 9. David BALL, 10. Reno PISCOPO, 11. Jaushua SOTIRIO, 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 (gk), 31. Kurtis MOGG, 32. George OTT, 33. Finn SURMAN, 34. Jackson MANUEL, 40. Alex PAULSEN (gk), 43. Oskar VAN HATTUM, 88. Gary HOOPER
Unavailable: 4. Scott WOOTTON (quad injury) 6. Tim PAYNE (international duty), 20. Oli SAIL (gk) (hip flexor injury), 23. Clayton LEWIS (international duty)