A pivotal match for the Wellington Phoenix at the midway point of the 2022-23 Isuzu UTE A-League season.
The Phoenix are playing host to the Central Coast Mariners, who have won their past three matches to surge to outright second on the competition ladder, clear of a congested chasing pack.
The resurgent Nix are five points back in fourth after successive 1-0 wins over Sydney FC and Brisbane Roar.
“For us it’s very important,” Phoenix head coach Ufuk Talay told media on Friday when asked about the significance of Sunday’s match at Sky Stadium. “Even though we’re sitting fourth, I think the team that’s coming last is only six points behind us, so they’re only two wins behind us.
“We haven’t picked up as many points as we would have liked playing at home so for us it’s a very important game to continue the work that we’ve done to stay where we are.
“One of the hardest things in football is to stay where you are. It’s not easy to get to this point, but it’s even harder to continue the same path.
“It’s very important for us at this part of the season where we’re at. We’re playing against an opponent where if we do pick up three points then we’re only two points behind them on the table.”
Wellington’s back-to-back wins have been built on their first clean sheets of the season.
“I think it helps you win games when you don’t concede goals, so hopefully we continue that way,” Talay said.
“Our defensive shape is very important to us, but also I think the boys are a lot more focussed and a little bit more desperate.
“I think that Sydney game has played a massive part in that, in showing that desperation.
“I think we are desperate going forward because we do score goals, but also I think we need to be desperate in our own box and not concede.”
Keeping tight at the back is extra important against a Mariners side which are the A-League’s top goal scorers.
“We’re playing against a good opposition. They’ve got some good players up front [and] they load the last line with four players, so they love to play attacking football.
“I think it’s going to be two teams that like to play the same brand of football and like to score goals, so it’s very important that if we can’t score, we stay in the game and not concede goals.
“I think it’ll be an entertaining game with the two teams, but it’s very important that we pick up points.”
The Phoenix will again be without experienced centre back Scott Wootton, who was a late withdrawal from the squad to play the Roar last week.
“He’s got a grade one strain in his calf so he’ll probably be out for the next three or four weeks unfortunately.
“Lawsy (Josh Laws) came in against Brisbane and did a good job and Finn (Surman) came into the matchday squad and got the opportunity to get on the park as well.
“We’ll rely on the players we have and hopefully they can go out and do a good job.”
Playmaker Bozhidar Kraev and defensive midfielder Nicholas Pennington are available for selection again after being forced to miss the trip to Brisbane through suspension.
Talay has made it clear Kraev will reclaim his place in the starting XI.
“I think BK’s done well for us.
“Unfortunately, he got sent off the other game against Sydney and missed last week’s game, but I think he’s a very influential and very important player for us, so I think he’ll take his spot back.”
The 13th round Isuzu UTE A-League match between the Wellington Phoenix and Central Coast Mariners is scheduled to kick-off at Sky Stadium in Wellington at 3:00pm (1:00pm AEDT) and will be broadcast LIVE on Sky Sport 7 in New Zealand and on Paramount+ in Australia.
Most recent A-League meeting: 16 October 2022 – Wellington Phoenix 2 Central Coast Mariners 2
All-time A-League head-to-head: Phoenix 18W, Mariners 18W & 8D.
Wellington Phoenix squad: 3. Finn SURMAN, 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, 14. Alex RUFER (c), 17. Callan ELLIOT, 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: 4. Scott WOOTTON (injured).
Central Coast Mariners squad: 2. Thomas AQUILINA, 3. Brian KALTAK, 4. Joshua NISBET, 6. Maximilien BALARD, 7. Samuel SILVERA, 9. Jason CUMMINGS, 11. Beni NKOLOLO, 13. Harrison STEELE, 15. Storm ROUX, 18. Jacob FARRELL, 20. Daniel VUKOVIC (c) (gk), 21. Michael RUHS, 22. Cameron Windust 23. Daniel HALL, 24. Yaren SOZER (gk), 25. Nectarios TRIANTIS, 27. Sasha KUZEVSKI, 31. Christian THEOHAROUS, 90. Paul AYONGO, 98. MARCO TULIO.
Unavailable: 10. Matheus MORESCHE (injured), 26. Bradley TAPP (injured).