Wellington Phoenix head coach Ufuk Talay has faith in his squad’s depth to cover for Clayton Lewis’ absence.
The All Whites midfielder will be side-lined for the foreseeable future after scans confirmed he fractured his left patella in the first half of Sunday’s 2-1 win over the Central Coast Mariners.
Lewis has featured in all 13 of the Phoenix’s Isuzu UTE A-League matches so far this season, starting the past 12 after coming off the bench in the season-opener against Adelaide United.
“Disappointed for Clay,” Phoenix head coach Ufuk Talay said. “To be honest gutted for him. I thought he was getting into some good form. He created that partnership again with Alex [Rufer] in the midfield.
“The timeframe is unknown. We’ll see how that fracture heals. It could be eight weeks, 10 weeks, 12 weeks.”
Talay believes he has the “cattle” to replace Lewis at the base of the Nix midfield, with Steven Ugarkovic and Nicholas Pennington vying to start alongside Rufer.
“I believe we have the best four sixes in the competition to be honest.
“In these circumstances where bad things happen opportunities arise for other players to step in and it’s up to Stevie and Nicho to step in and to a job.”
Lewis has joined experienced defender Scott Wootton (calf) on the side-lines, leaving Talay with just 18 fit first-team squad members to pick from and looking at options in the transfer window.
“We haven’t come to a conclusion…with what’s best suited for us.
“Initially we thought we needed a central defender. I do believe we need that depth in that position as well.
“Hopefully we can get something across the line before that window is closed.”
Inform striker Oscar Zawada, who’s scored five goals in his past six matches, was nursing a quad injury earlier in the week, but has been cleared to play Perth.
“He’s fine. He trained yesterday and he’ll train this afternoon once we get to Palmy, so he’s good to go.”
It is the Phoenix’s second match in Palmerston North and first since December 2009.
The bus trip north adding to the ‘Distance Derby’.
“It’s a long trip for them but it’s also a home game where we’re away again unfortunately.
“But it’s exciting. I’ve never been up to Palmy so hopefully we get a good turnout and most of all we get a good outcome.”
The Nix can jump up to second on the ladder with a win over the Glory, but Talay isn’t getting carried away.
“Yes, we want to finish as high as we possibly can, but the goal is to make the top six.
“We take it game by game. We’re playing against a very good opponent who’s picked up a lot of points at home.
“They’re three points behind us. The competition is still very close. For us our focus is to win the game against Perth and get the three points.”
There has been a spotlight on the team’s behaviour this week after tempers boiled over at the end of the men’s past two matches.
“At the end of the day boys will be boys. They need to recognise when there is conflict which one to chase and which one not to chase up and both occasions I don’t think we needed to do that, especially in the Central Coast game.
“It happens. It’s the desire and passion to be successful. Do we take it a step to far at times? Maybe yes, but at the end of the day it’s all handbags.”
That desire and passion also has Ufuk Talay one yellow card away from a suspension.
“Maybe too much fire in the belly at times…but it’s something that I’m aware of.
“At the end of the day I am who I am [and] I’m not going to change who I am. Maybe [I need] a bit more awareness of those moments where I do get frustrated. It’s not meant in a bad way.”
The 14th round Isuzu UTE A-League match between the Wellington Phoenix and Perth Glory is scheduled to kick-off at Central Energy Trust Arena in Palmerston North at 3:00pm (1:00pm AEDT) and will be broadcast LIVE on Sky Sport 1 & 7 in New Zealand and on Paramount+ in Australia.
Most recent A-League meeting: 23 December 2022 – Perth Glory 1 Wellington Phoenix 1
All-time A-League head-to-head: Phoenix 18W, Glory 20W & 10D.
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, 24. Oskar VAN HATTUM, 31. Yan SASSE, 35. Noah KARUNARATNE, 40. Alex PAULSEN (gk).
Unavailable: 4. Scott WOOTTON (injured), 23. Clayton LEWIS (injured).
Perth Glory squad: 33. Liam REDDY (gk), 2. John KOUTROUMBIS, 3. Jacob DOWSE, 4. Luke BODNAR, 5. Mark BEEVERS, 7. Ryan WILLIAMS, 8. Mustafa AMINI (c), 12. Luke IVANOVIC, 13. Cameron COOK (gk), 15. Jordan ELSEY, 16. Keegan JELACIC, 18. David WILLIAMS, 19. Zach DUNCAN, 20. Giordano COLLI, 21. Antonee BURKE-GILROY, 23. Mitch OXBORROW, 28. Trent OSTLER, 29. Darryl LACHMAN, 37. Jacob MUIR, 43. Adam ZIMARINO.
Unavailable: 1. Brad JONES (gk) (injured), 10. Salim KHELIFI (injured), 14. Jack CLISBY (suspended), 22. Adam TAGGART (injured), 24. Adrian SARDINERO (injured).