Wellington Phoenix coach Ufuk Talay believes his players need to learn to handle pressure if they are to push further up the Isuzu UTE A-League ladder.
The Phoenix have dropped 17 competition points from winning positions this season, seven more than any other team.
Eight of those dropped points have come against sides which started round 16 in the bottom half of the table.
The latest example of this was last Friday night when the Nix lost 3-1 to the last placed Victory in Melbourne, after leading 1-0.
“I think this group needs to learn to handle expectation,” Talay told media on Friday. “I think that’s one thing we struggle with.
“I thought for 20 minutes we played well against Victory. I thought we dominated with the ball, we had some good moments, we scored a fantastic goal and then after that the expectation rose that we need to go and win the game.
“I think the boys need to learn to handle the pressure; the pressure of trying to be a top team.
“That’s something we’re working with them now with the sports psych because it’s not an execution thing when they go out on the park, it’s more so a mindset thing.”
As well as players talking to the club’s performance psychologist Alex Hill to learn ways to handle pressure, Talay endeavours to take the weight off their shoulders.
“For me pressure is what you put on yourself and the expectation that you put on yourself and that’s something we need to learn and deal with.
“As a coach you try to take the pressure off the players and then they just go out there and perform at their best, without worrying about the results.
“When we lead into a game we always talk about the performance and I believe that if we can play a certain way and a certain brand eight times out of 10 we’ll get the outcome that we want. If we just focus on the result people act differently and change the way that they play.”
The Nix start the round in fifth place on a congested A-League table, three points off second and just three points above ninth-placed Macarthur.
“I think every game is a big game when you look at the table and how it is set out at the moment.
“Everyone’s fighting very hard to get themselves in the top six. We’re coming towards the back end of the season now and it’s very important for us to pick up points away from home.
“We need to go there and perform and try to win the game.”
Macarthur are winless in their last four matches and are coming off a 6-1 defeat to leaders Melbourne City last weekend.
Mile Sterjovski has also taken over as the Bulls’ coach, following Dwight Yorke’s mid-season departure, but Talay says they should not be underestimated.
“They’ll be hungry. The desire will be there.
“I don’t think they have a bad squad. Look at their front third. They’ve got a very good attacking side.
“They’ve got a new coach that probably wants to prove himself at the same time.
“It’s going to be a tough game. There are no easy games within the competition. We’ll go there prepared the way that we want to play…and try and win the game.”
Ufuk Talay will be forced to make at least one change to his starting XI, with Kosta Barbarouses suffering a hamstring injury against Victory which will sideline him for three or four weeks.
Attacking midfielder Noah Karunaratne or striker Joshua Tollervey will be called into the travelling squad from the academy in Barbarouses’ absence.
“We’ve got a few of the young boys currently training with the group. I think it’s important for them to train with us at times to get exposed to the intensity with the senior group.
“We heavily rely on the academy and we have a lot of belief in our academy structure to produce players for the first team.
“At the end of the day sometimes you’ve got to throw them in the deep end and see if they sink or swim.
“Sometimes they sink and we’ve got to help them float back up to the top. Our job is to help them and develop them and guide them in the right ways to get the best out of them.”
All Whites defender Tim Payne is back from suspension and new signing Nikko Boxall has trained with the squad all week, but senior centre back Scott Wootton remains unavailable with a calf injury.
Wootton will travel with the squad in the hope he can train in Sydney next week in the lead-up to next Friday night’s match against Western United in Tasmania.
The 16th round Isuzu UTE A-League match between the Wellington Phoenix and Macarthur FC is scheduled to kick-off at Campbelltown Stadium in Sydney at 7:00pm (5:00pm AEDT) and will be broadcast LIVE on Sky Sport Select & 7 in New Zealand and on Paramount+ in Australia.
Most recent A-League meeting: 6 November 2022 – Wellington Phoenix 4 Macarthur FC 1
All-time A-League head-to-head: Phoenix 3W, Macarthur 1W & 2D.
Wellington Phoenix squad: 3. Finn SURMAN, 5. Steven UGARKOVIC, 6. Tim PAYNE, 7 Ben OLD, 9. Oskar ZAWADA, 10. David BALL, 11. Bozhidar KRAEV, 12. Lucas MAURAGIS, 13. Nicholas PENNINGTON, 14. Alex RUFER, 15. Nikko BOXALL, 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), 44. Josh TOLLERVEY.
Unavailable: 4. Scott WOOTTON (injured), 7. Kosta BARBAROUSES (injured), 23. Clayton LEWIS (injured).
Macarthur FC squad: 12. Filip KURTO (gk), 2. Jake McGING, 5. Jonathan ASPRPOTAMITIS, 6. Tomislav USKOK, 7. Daniel DE SILVA, 8. Jake HOLLMAN, 9. Bachana ARABULI, 10 Ulises DAVILA (c), 11 Kearyn BACCUS, 13. Ivan VUJICA, 14. Moudi NAJJAR, 17. Craig NOONE, 24. Charles M’MOMBWA, 27. Jerry SKOTADIS, 35. Al Hassan TOURE, 36. Ali AUGLAH, 37. Jed DREW, 41. Oliver JONES, 44. Matt MILLAR, 99. Daniel ARZANI.
Unavailable: 31. Lachlan ROSE (injured).