Isuzu UTE A-League Round 14 Match Preview

The Wellington Phoenix are determined to square the ledger with the Newcastle Jets in the 2023-24 Isuzu UTE A-League.

The Jets stunned the Phoenix 3-0 at Sky Stadium early last month to take a commanding lead in their three-game season series.

The return fixture is at McDonald Jones Stadium in Newcastle on Saturday night.

Phoenix head coach Giancarlo Italiano has reiterated his team is maintaining a “game to game” focus rather than placing importance on where they are on the table at this stage of the season.

“What I do think is important is there are match-ups throughout the season and I call them mini tables with our players,” Italiano told media at Wellington Airport on Thursday.

“For example, if we’re playing Newcastle and if it’s two or three games we want to be ahead of the points table between just us two.

“Same as Melbourne Victory. We’ve had two draws now and now we’re equal. By the end of the season for our three matches we want to be ahead, even if it’s on goal difference.

“Overall if we are ahead in eight or nine of those match-ups we’re doing very well. That’s the way we approach it.

“It’s just a little bit of alternative logic to get the players to focus on what is important which is every game, one by one.”

Italiano has immense respect for the Jets and their head coach Rob Stanton and has a plan in place to even the season series with Newcastle.

“I know their coach very well. He was one of my original mentors.

“We’ve always had a tactical mind shift whenever we play each other because we know each other very, very well.

“I won’t give too much away [but] there will be a different emphasis on the way we attack and defensively I think we can nullify a lot of their threats.

“Hopefully it pans out and I feel if we can curb the initial onset of pressure then I think we’ll steadily get into the game.”

WELLINGTON, NEW ZEALAND – DECEMBER 09: Coach Giancarlo Italiano of the Phoenix talks to his players during the A-League Men round seven match between Wellington Phoenix and Newcastle Jets at Sky Stadium, on December 09, 2023, in Wellington, New Zealand. (Photo by Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images)

The 3-0 loss to the Jets was Wellington’s first of the season and is the heaviest of their two defeats to date, but Italiano has refused to label it their worst performance.

“In terms of chance creation it was probably one of our best games. We hit the post twice, we had two one-on-ones, and they were still panicked at three-nil.

“They were defending for their lives because they knew if we got one goal we potentially could have come back.

“In terms of performance I thought it was okay, it was adequate [and] it built on what we did previously.

“Did we defend well? I don’t think so. That’s where we got caught. We were naïve to say the least.

“We knew what their threats were and we still made those errors so I was disappointed at that.

“Even at three-nil down most teams give up. We were still going so that was a very good platform to build on for the next week against Macarthur.”

WELLINGTON, NEW ZEALAND – JANUARY 12: An injured Oskar Zawada recovers during a Wellington Phoenix A-League training session at NZCIS on January 12, 2024 in Wellington, New Zealand. (Photo by Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images)

Newcastle striker Apostolos Stamatelopoulos scored a brace against the Nix last month and has now found the back of the net six times in his past seven matches to jump to second in the goalscoring charts.

Giancarlo Italiano may be able to call on their talismanic striker Oskar Zawada for the first time since the defeat to the Jets, with Zawada included in the 20-man touring party for their matches against Newcastle and Brisbane Roar.

“We’ll see how he travels [and] see how he goes at training tomorrow.

“He’s been given the all clear for an involvement but for me it’s more about exposing him to the environment and see how he handles it.

“If we feel comfortable that he can contribute then we’ll play him.

“Oz is a prolific striker and very effective. He gives us an option off the bench and a different dynamic to the way we play.

“I’ll use him according to how the game pans out, but it is valuable to have someone like that come off the bench.”

WELLINGTON, NEW ZEALAND – JANUARY 19: Konstantinos Barbarouses of the Phoenix warms up during the A-League Men round 13 match between Wellington Phoenix and Melbourne Victory at Sky Stadium, on January 19, 2024, in Wellington, New Zealand. (Photo by Andy Jackson/Getty Images)

Italiano has no doubts Zawada can combine well with inform Phoenix forward Kosta Barbarouses, who has scored eight goals in the six matches the Polish striker has missed.

“You saw in the previous games when Kosta and Oz played together, they’ve worked well.

“It’s just a different dynamic with Oz because he’s more of a target man. He can bring the play in from high pressure situations and he’s a little bit more direct, but I think Kosta complements him well.

“If I do bring Oz on I’ll make sure I still play to Kosta’s strengths.”

The big decision Italiano has to make about his starting XI is who starts at right back in the absence of Tim Payne, who is suspended for two matches.

Nicholas Pennington deputised for the majority of the second half against Victory last week following Payne’s red card in first half stoppage time, while fellow midfielder Mo Al-Taay and academy graduate Matt Sheridan are the other right back options.

“From a tactical point of view we will adjust the squad according to what we have available.

“That might indicate a change in shape, a change in structure and also a change in how we approach the game.”

WELLINGTON, NEW ZEALAND – JANUARY 19: Nicholas Pennington (L) of the Phoenix and Zinédine Machach of the Victory compete for the ball during the A-League Men round 13 match between Wellington Phoenix and Melbourne Victory at Sky Stadium, on January 19, 2024, in Wellington, New Zealand. (Photo by Andy Jackson/Getty Images)

The round 14 Isuzu UTE A-League match between the Wellington Phoenix and Newcastle Jets is scheduled to kick-off at McDonald Jones Stadium in Newcastle at 8pm (6pm AEDT) Saturday and will be broadcast LIVE on Sky Sport 5 in New Zealand and on Paramount+ in Australia.

Most recent meeting:
9 December 2023 – Wellington Phoenix 0 Newcastle Jets 3

All-time A-League head-to-head: Phoenix 24W, Jets 17W & 6D.

Wellington Phoenix squad
(two to be omitted)3. Finn SURMAN, 4. Scott WOOTTON, 5. Fin CONCHIE, 7. Kosta BARBAROUSES, 8. Ben OLD, 9. Oskar ZAWADA, 10. David BALL, 11. Bozhidar KRAEV, 12. Mo AL-TAAY, 14. Alex RUFER (c), 15. Nicholas PENNINGTON, 18. Lukas KELLY-HEALD, 19. Sam SUTTON, 23. Luke SUPYK, 24. Oskar VAN HATTUM, 25. Jack DUNCAN (gk), 26. Isaac HUGHES, 40. Alex PAULSEN (gk), 42. Fergus GILLION, 43. Matt SHERIDAN.
Unavailable: 6. Tim PAYNE (suspended).

Newcastle Jets squad (two to be omitted) 1. Ryan SCOTT (gk), 3. Jason HOFFMAN, 5. Lucas MAURAGIS, 6. Brandon O’NEILL (c), 7. Trent BUHAGIAR, 8. Apostolos STAMATELOPOULOS, 10. Reno PISCOPO, 13. Clayton TAYLOR, 14. Dane INGHAM, 15. Jason BERTHOMIER, 17. Kosta GROZOS, 18. Daniel STYNES, 19. Callum TIMMINS, 20. Michael WEIER (gk), 22. Phil CANCAR, 23. Daniel WILMERING, 26. Archie GOODWIN, 27. Nathan GRIMALDI, 29. Justin VIDIC, 33. Mark NATTA.
Unavailable: 11. Jacob DOWSE, 21. Noah JAMES (gk), 25. Carl JENKINSON, 37. Lachlan BAYLISS, 39. Thomas AQUILINA, 66. Zac BOWLING (gk).