Isuzu UTE A-League Round 15 Match Preview

The Wellington Phoenix’s depth will be put to the test in Brisbane on Friday night.

The competition leaders will be without three frontline players, including club captain Alex Rufer, for their round 15 Isuzu UTE A-League match against Brisbane Roar, while another two aren’t available to start.

Rufer, who has scored in the team’s past three matches, is suspended after picking up his fifth yellow card of the season against Newcastle last week.

He joins fullbacks Tim Payne (suspension) and Sam Sutton (injury) on the sidelines, while fit-again striker Oskar Zawada and attacking midfielder Ben Old will be limited to minutes off the bench against the Roar.

Young fullback Matt Sheridan and reserves midfielder Fergus Gillion, who travelled across the Tasman last week, will come into the matchday squad, and Phoenix head coach Giancarlo Italiano has faith in his squad.

“We’ve got enough numbers,” Italiano said. “It’s a good opportunity for these young players to step up and see what they can do.

“You’re always going to have to rely on the depth of your squad. I’ve yet to see a team that is able to churn out the same XI game in, game out.

“The timing is probably not the best in terms of the frequency and the amount of injuries that we’ve had, but it’s part and parcel of any season.

“We’re not using it as an excuse. It’s an opportunity for these young guys to show us what they have.”

Rufer’s suspension and Sutton’s ankle injury has created a conundrum for Italiano as to how he balances the starting XI.

“I relied on Sutts and Lukas [Kelly-Heald] to be on the left side last game so now I have to make sure that whoever I put in at six can control the game like Rufs.

“And at the same time have balance on the left side and then don’t take away too much from the right side where Nicho (Nicholas Pennington) did a good job in the last game.”

Alex Rufer has been an ever present member of the Phoenix side this season, playing 90 minutes in all but one of their 14 matches to date.

“Will I miss him? Yea, I definitely will, but it’s a good chance for the other sixes that we have in the squad to come into the team and show us what they have.

“And they have the capability to do well against Brisbane.

“It’s a really, really good opportunity for these guys to step up, take that pressure and show me what they have.”

WELLINGTON, NEW ZEALAND – JANUARY 12: Alex Rufer is challenged by Matt Sheridan during a Wellington Phoenix A-League training session at NZCIS on January 12, 2024 in Wellington, New Zealand. (Photo by Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images)

Brisbane Roar enter the round in ninth place, four points outside the top six, after losing their past three matches.

“I think they’ve been quite unlucky to be fair in the last couple of games,” Italiano said. “I thought they were unlucky against Newcastle when they went down to 10. I thought it was a bit harsh the red card.

“Even the Macarthur game they had a large part of that game and Macarthur just hurt them transitionally.

“They’re at a stage in the season now where they need to get something out of the next couple of games in order for them to make a viable push for the six.

“So, for me they’re going to be a formidable opponent [and] very hard to break down.

“They have quality in that squad that can hurt us and at the same time we’re a little bit disjointed with the amount of changes that we have to make to the starting team.

“So, I think they’ll be looking at that and going it’s a really good opportunity to press us and be assertive and aggressive from the start.

“It’s a matter of us working into the game, working to our game plan and making sure we can ride the pressure.

“I’m hopeful that once we get out of that hard first 30 minutes we can settle into the game and then we can execute our gameplan.”

NEWCASTLE, AUSTRALIA – JANUARY 27: Phoenix players celebrate their win during the A-League Men round 14 match between Newcastle Jets and Wellington Phoenix at McDonald Jones Stadium, on January 27, 2024, in Newcastle, Australia. (Photo by Scott Gardiner/Getty Images)

The Nix have won their past two matches in Australia and are attempting to win three straight for the first time in two years.

“The goal is always not to lose away, so I never bank on wins.

“I always bank on not losing which I think is a more realistic goal, because playing away from home there are a lot of variables.

“Even if you’re not having the best day with the ball, you can defend well and that can guarantee you some sort of result.

“If we win, unbelievable…and it would show a true sense of maturity from the squad, but at the same time not losing is also very important.”

WELLINGTON, NEW ZEALAND – NOVEMBER 04: Oskar Zawada (R) of the Phoenix celebrates with Alex Rufer (L) and Scott Wootton after scoring a goal during the A-League Men round three match between Wellington Phoenix and Brisbane Roar at Sky Stadium, on November 04, 2023, in Wellington, New Zealand. (Photo by Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images)

The round 15 Isuzu UTE A-League match between the Wellington Phoenix and Brisbane Roar is scheduled to kick-off at Suncorp Stadium in Brisbane at 9:45pm (7:45pm AEDT) Friday and will be broadcast LIVE on Sky Sport 1 in New Zealand and on Paramount+ in Australia.

Most recent meeting:
4 November 2023 – Wellington Phoenix 5 Brisbane Roar 2

All-time A-League head-to-head: Phoenix 12W, Roar 21W & 14D.

Wellington Phoenix squad: 
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, 15. Nicholas PENNINGTON, 18. Lukas KELLY-HEALD, 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: 14. Alex RUFER (c) (suspended), 6. Tim PAYNE (suspended), 19. Sam SUTTON (injured).

Brisbane Roar squad: 1. Macklin FREKE (gk), 3. Corey BROWN, 5. Thomas ALDRED (c), 6. Joe CALETTI, 8. Jonas MARKOVSKI, 10. Nikola MILEUSNIC, 12. Taras GOMULKA, 13. Henry HORE, 16. Thomas WADDINGHAM, 17. Carlo ARMIENTO, 19. Jack HINGERT, 20. Marco ROJAS, 21. Antonee BURKE-GILROY, 23. Keegan JELACIC, 26. Jay O’Shea, 27. Kai TREWIN, 29. Matt ACTON (gk), 32. James NIKOLOVSKI, 35. Louis ZABALA, 99. Ayom MAJOK.
Unavailable: 2. Scott NEVILLE, 14. Rylan BROWNLIE