The Wellington Phoenix return to their home away from home this weekend to restart the 2022-23 Isuzu UTE A-League season.
The Phoenix are hosting Western Sydney Wanderers at WIN Stadium in Wollongong on Saturday evening.
The men have played 14 “home” games in Wollongong over the past two A-League seasons while the team was forced to relocate to New South Wales.
They have a good recent record at WIN Stadium, winning five of their past six matches at the venue, with their only defeat coming against Western Sydney 12 months ago.
“We’re used to playing home games in different venues,” Phoenix head coach Ufuk Talay told media on the eve of the match. “We spent a season in Wollongong so we’re looking forward to going back to WIN Stadium and playing a game.
“I think it’ll be nice to go back and see some familiar faces.
“It’s going to be a long trip. Obviously, we’ve got to fly to Sydney and then bus down to Wollongong. It’s something that we were used to while we were playing out of Wollongong.
“I think it’ll be nice to go back down to Wollongong. Hopefully we get the fans that we got out there and I think there might be a big contingent of Western Sydney fans that will add a bit more atmosphere to the game.”
It’ll be the men’s first match in a month after the A-League paused for three weeks during the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022™.
“I think the boys are quite excited to get back into the rhythm and routine of things,” Talay said.
“It [the break] gave us some time to improve things with the team and individuals as well. It also gave time for little niggling injuries to go away, give players some rest time and get some proper prehab and rehab done to get them back on the park at 100%.
“At the same time it’s been great to watch some international football and some quality games at a very entertaining World Cup. We’re just excited to get the season up and running again.”
The Nix went into the break after an agonising 3-2 home defeat to Western United and a mini pre-season followed.
“Obviously we’re not playing competitive games [so] we have to try and balance keeping the players fit and also try to keep the match fit by playing internal games.
“We also worked on our backline, our defensive shape and what we do with the ball. It was a mixture of things.
“Players tend to remember the running side of things. We worked them quite hard and obviously tapered off this week as it’s been more tactical leading into a game.”
Young centre back Finn Surman is the only first-team player unavailable for selection, meaning Talay has a near full-strength squad to pick from to play the Wanderers.
“It’s just Finn out at the moment which is a great headache for me as a coach to make a selection which is the best XI and how can we influence the game with the players coming off the bench.”
Club captain Alex Rufer is available to play for the first time this season, having missed the opening six matches recovering from knee surgery in April.
“Alex has come a long way very quickly,” Talay said. “He’s been training with the group for a quite a while now.
“We got him some match minutes in an internal game and we also got him some match minutes with the reserve team and I think that’s helped him along.
“We’ve included him in the squad of 20 that’s available to travel and play [but] I think this week may still be too early for Alex to be part of the travelling squad.
“He’s heading in the right direction and hopefully next week we can get him more involved with the first team.”
The Phoenix have won seven of their past 11 matches against Western Sydney Wanderers, but Western Sydney are flying high in second on the ladder with four wins and a draw from the opening six rounds.
“They’re a very disciplined team, a team that grinds and works hard for each other,” Talay said.
“They haven’t scored a lot of goals. They’ve won their games 1-nil and tend to defend quite well once they do go up.
“For us it’s very important that we stay in the game and if we can score first I think that would open them up a little bit more for more opportunities.
“There’s no easy game within the A-League and everyone’s having to restart. The season is kicking off again so hopefully it goes well for us.”
The seventh round Isuzu UTE A-League match between the Wellington Phoenix and Western Sydney Wanderers is scheduled to kick-off at WIN Stadium in Wollongong at 5:00pm AEDT (7:00pm NZT) and will be broadcast live on Sky Sport 4 in New Zealand and on Paramount+ in Australia.
Most recent A-League meeting: 5 May 2022 – Western Sydney Wanderers 1 Wellington Phoenix 2
All-time A-League head-to-head: Phoenix 12W, Wanderers 13W & 5D.
Wellington Phoenix squad: 4. Scott WOOTTON, 5. Steven UGARKOVIC, 6. Tim PAYNE, 7. Kosta BARBAROUSES, 8. Ben OLD, 9. Oskar ZAWADA, 10. David BALL, 11. Bozhidar KRAEV, 12. Lucas MAURAGIS, 13. Nicholas PENNINGTON, 17. Callan ELLIOT, 18. Ben WAINE, 19. Sam SUTTON, 20. Oli SAIL (gk), 21. Joshua LAWS, 23. Clayton LEWIS, 24. Oskar VAN HATTUM, 31. Yan SASSE, 40. Alex PAULSEN (gk).
Unavailable: 14. Alex RUFER (injured), 3. Finn SURMAN (injured).
Western Sydney Wanderers squad: 1. Daniel MARGUSH (gk), 2. Gabriel CLEUR, 3. Adama TRAORE, 5. Tomislav MRCELA, 6. Marcelo GUEDES (c), 7. Ramy NAJJARINE, 8. Oliver BOZANIC, 9. Kusini YENGI, 10. Milos NINKOVIC, 11. Sulejman KRPIC, 12. Ruon TONGYIK, 17. Romain AMALFITANO, 19. Daniel WILMERING, 20. Lawrence THOMAS (gk), 23. Yeni NGBAKOTO, 26. Brandon BORRELLO, 32. Nathaniel BLAIR, 35. Zac SAPSFORD, 36. Alessandro LOPANE.