Isuzu UTE A-League Round 12 Match Review

The Wellington Phoenix remain two points clear atop the Isuzu UTE A-League ladder after repelling another of their premiership challengers.

Cheered on by a season-high 12,301 fans at Sky Stadium in Wellington, the Phoenix have played out a cagey 0-0 draw with the inform Central Coast Mariners.

The result means the Nix remain unbeaten in 2024 and still have some breathing space at the top of the table.

“I’ll take the point,” Phoenix head coach Giancarlo Italiano told media post-match. “Did we play our best? I’d say probably not. Did the fact that we played a couple of days earlier affect the quality? Yes, but they also went through it.

“I’m happy we didn’t lose, but I go into every game thinking that the three points is what we desire.

“It was a good contest. I felt as though tactically we matched each other well. We just basically cancelled each other out.”

It is Wellington’s sixth clean sheet of the season and comes against the highest scoring team in the league.

“It was pleasing. I felt like the gameplan did work. But when defensively you do well that’s the perfect opportunity to capitalise.

“I didn’t think we countered as well. Mind you they set up pretty well.

“I thought there was some really positive moments in that first half. I think we had two, maybe three, really good cutbacks if we go back on the video we probably should have scored.

“I was a little bit annoyed towards the end because I think we still had opportunities to get forward, but I didn’t have the right personnel coming off the bench to make the impact I wanted.”

Wellington Phoenix captain Alex Rufer arrives at Sky Stadium ahead of the Waitangi Day match against Central Coast Mariners. Photo: Cam McIntosh/Photomac.

Giancarlo Italiano made three changes to the XI which started Friday night’s 1-1 draw at Brisbane Roar, with captain Alex Rufer, defender Tim Payne and creative midfielder Ben Old returning in place of Nicholas Pennington, Isaac Hughes and Mo Al-Taay.

The first half set the tone for the match, with little action in either penalty area.

The Phoenix settled the quicker of the two sides and played most of the opening 20 minutes in the Mariners’ half, winning a free-kick and a couple of corners.

But all they had to show for their weight of possession was a couple of shots from outside the box, one of which was blocked by the Central Coast defence.

Their brightest moment came in the 14th minute when Kosta Barbarouses found some space on the right flank and drove a dangerous ball across the box. Unfortunately for Barbarouses and the Nix it eluded Oskar van Hattum at the back post.

WELLINGTON, NEW ZEALAND – FEBRUARY 06: Oskar van Hattum of the Wellington Phoenix controls the ball against Brian Kaltak of the Central Coast Mariners during the A-League Men round 12 match between Wellington Phoenix and Central Coast Mariners at Sky Stadium, on February 06, 2024, in Wellington, New Zealand. (Photo by Mark Tantrum/Getty Images)

Wellington’s next goalscoring opportunity came seven minutes out from halftime when David Ball dragged a shot wide from the right side of the box.

The Mariners had their first shot of the match soon after, which was blocked, and then after a goalmouth scramble Central Coast forward Ryan Edmondson struck a shot from outside the box that Alex Paulsen comfortably saved. However, the visitors were deemed to be off-side in the lead-up.

The Phoenix had the final chance of the half a minute out from the break with Barbarouses heading narrowly wide of the post after Ball had delivered an inviting ball over the top.

The opening minutes of the second half followed a similar pattern to the start of the first, with Wellington having the lion’s share of possession and playing most of the match in the Mariners’ half.

Oskar Van Hattum forced Central Coast ‘keeper Danny Vukovic to make his first save of the match in the 52nd minute with a powerful shot from the edge of the box. Vukovic did well to parry away van Hattum’s shot to safety.

WELLINGTON, NEW ZEALAND – FEBRUARY 06: Daniel Vukovic of the Central Coast Mariners makes a save during the A-League Men round 12 match between Wellington Phoenix and Central Coast Mariners at Sky Stadium, on February 06, 2024, in Wellington, New Zealand. (Photo by Mark Tantrum/Getty Images)

The Mariners’ goalkeeper made a more regulation save in the 61st minute, holding on to a shot from Ben Old with his less-favoured right foot.

Italiano made his first substitution soon after, bringing Fin Conchie on in place of van Hattum, who had worked tireless up front, allowing Ball to move higher up the pitch.

There was little to report for the next 20 minutes, with the Phoenix unable to find the final pass to breakdown the resolute Central Coast defence.

The Nix too controlled the dangerous Mariners attack until the 89th minute when midfielder Max Balard blazed narrowly wide of Paulsen’s left post from distance.

Paulsen was called into action moments later, holding on to a powerful shot from Angel Torres from the edge of the box.

WELLINGTON, NEW ZEALAND – FEBRUARY 06: Ángel Torres of the Central Coast Mariners and Bozhidar Kraev of the Wellington Phoenix battle for the ball during the A-League Men round 12 match between Wellington Phoenix and Central Coast Mariners at Sky Stadium, on February 06, 2024, in Wellington, New Zealand. (Photo by Mark Tantrum/Getty Images)

Wellington had the final chance in the second minute of time added on when Bozhidar Kraev burst into the Central Coast box, but he mishit his shot and it deflected its way off a Mariners defender and into Vukovic’s grateful arms.

The fulltime whistle was blown a couple of minutes later with the two sides unable to be separated.

The Wellington Phoenix have little time to recover as they are back at Sky Stadium on Saturday to host bottom of the table Western United.

You can get your tickets here for the 5:30pm kick-off.

The Wellington Phoenix gather in a huddle before their top of the table match against Central Coast Mariners. Photo: Cam McIntosh/Photomac.

Wellington Phoenix: 40. Alex PAULSEN (gk), 3. Finn SURMAN, 4. Scott WOOTTON, 6. Tim PAYNE, 7. Kosta BARBAROUSES, 8. Ben OLD, 10. David BALL (23. Luke SUPYK 89th), 11. Bozhidar KRAEV, 14. Alex RUFER (c), 18. Lukas KELLY-HEALD, 24. Oskar VAN HATTUM (5. Fin CONCHIE 62nd).
Unused substitutes: 25. Jack DUNCAN (gk), 26. Isaac HUGHES, 42. Fergus GILLION, 43. Matt SHERIDAN, 51. Gabriel SLOANE-RODRIGUES.

Central Coast Mariners: 20. Danny VUKOVIC (gk) (c), 2. Mikael DOKA, 3. Brian KALTAK, 4. Josh NISBET, 6. Max BALARD, 7. Christian THEOHAROUS (39. Miguel DI PIZIO 69th), 9. Alou KUOL (17. Jing REEC 46th), 11. Angel TORRES, 18. Jacob FARRELL, 23. Daniel HALL, 99. Ryan EDMONDSON (22. Ronald BARCELLOS 87th).
Unused substitutes: 30. Jack WARSHAWSKY (gk), 15. Storm ROUX, 33. Nathan PAULL, 37. Bailey BRANDTMAN.

7. Christian THEOHAROUS (Central Coast Mariners) – yellow – 68th