Wellington Phoenix head coach Ufuk Talay is reading little into Melbourne Victory’s position on the Isuzu UTE A-League ladder ahead of Friday night’s match at AAMI Park.
Victory sit five points adrift at the bottom of an otherwise congested table, where just a further five points separate the nine teams above them, including the Phoenix, who are level with third-placed Western Sydney.
“I think the table can be deceiving at times,” Phoenix head coach Ufuk Talay told media on the eve of the game. “I think Melbourne Victory have still got some good and quality players.
“I think they’ve had some moments in games where they’ve been on top and not capitalised on it, so we need to be wary of that.
“They’re playing at home, they’re a team that’s desperate and have a lot to play for.”
With just five points separating third from 11th it’s another important game for the Nix.
“The table is so close I think every game that we play is a big game.
“It’s very important we try to maximise and get three points, but it’s also very important that if we can’t win games that we don’t lose games and give up two points to other teams.”
The Phoenix have 21 points just over halfway through the season, a similar number to when the team made the finals in two of Talay’s previous three campaigns.
“The aim is to get there in the end, to make the top six. We take it game by game and we’ve got a very important game against a good opponent.”
Friday night’s match is the first of four games Wellington will play in Australia this month and the team are prepared for the challenge.
“Obviously being based in Australia for the past two seasons can help for the core group. The boys travel quite well.
“At the end of the day it’s 11-vs-11 whether you play home or away you still need to out there and do a job and win games.
“It’s going to be a tough month with four away games but we’ll push the boys as hard as we can to get the best outcome.
“For me the preparation is important to make sure the players are fresh, fit and ready to play these games.”
All Whites defender Tim Payne hasn’t travelled with the squad to Melbourne after receiving a contentious red card against Perth Glory in Palmerston North.
The Phoenix explored all legal options but were unable to overturn Payne’s one match suspension.
Young academy defender Isaac Hughes has been promoted to the touring party. The 18-year-old captained the Nix reserves last year.
Academy graduate and New Zealand under-20 captain Finn Surman is a contender to replace Payne at centre back, while club captain Alex Rufer is another option having moved into a back three against Perth on Saturday.
“We tried a couple of things at training this week and we’ll make a decision on game day.
“Rufs has played there before. We used him last season in the Melbourne City (FFA Cup) game when we had three or four players wake up with Covid in the morning, so we had to utilise him in that role.
“It’s nothing different, he’s just playing a little bit deeper, and I think he’s got the attributes to be able to do that.
“But also Finn is one of our central defenders that did well for us last season, so we’ll make a decision what’s best for us on gameday.”
Melbourne Victory have signed forward Bruce Kamau from Greek Super League side OFI Crete. He will be available for selection on Friday night.
The 15th round Isuzu UTE A-League match between the Wellington Phoenix and Melbourne Victory is scheduled to kick-off at AAMI Park in Melbourne at 9:45pm (7:45pm AEDT) and will be broadcast LIVE on Sky Sport 1 & 7 in New Zealand and on Paramount+ in Australia.
Most recent A-League meeting: 29 April 2022 – Melbourne Victory 3 Wellington Phoenix 1
All-time A-League head-to-head: Phoenix 11W, Victory 22W & 11D.
Wellington Phoenix squad: 3. Finn SURMAN, 5. Steven UGARKOVIC, 7. Kosta BARBAROUSES, 8. Ben OLD, 9. Oskar ZAWADA, 10. David BALL, 11. Bozhidar KRAEV, 12. Lucas MAURAGIS, 13. Nicholas PENNINGTON, 14. Alex RUFER, 17. Callan ELLIOT, 19. Sam SUTTON, 20. Oli SAIL (gk), 21. Joshua LAWS, 24. Oskar VAN HATTUM, 31. Yan SASSE, 37. Isaac HUGHES, 40. Alex PAULSEN (gk).
Unavailable: 4. Scott WOOTTON (injured), 6. Tim PAYNE (suspended), 23. Clayton LEWIS (injured).