Isuzu UTE A-League Round 16 Match Preview

Wellington Phoenix head coach Giancarlo Italiano is full of respect for Western United and has disregarded their position on the Isuzu UTE A-League ladder ahead of Saturday evening’s round 16 match at Sky Stadium.

Western are seven points adrift at the bottom of the table, with just two wins and two draws from their opening 14 matches of the season.

The Phoenix are 22 points better off and are two clear at the top of the ladder.

“I don’t like this idea of top vs bottom,” Italiano told media before training on Friday morning. “Because at the end of the day the 90 minutes don’t lie, and you can’t win the game before kick-off.

“We’ve maybe made that mistake previously in a game. It was a good lesson then, so it won’t be making it again.”

The Nix were stunned 3-0 at home by Newcastle Jets in December and the players have been warned against underestimating Western United.

“Because they’re last it doesn’t make it easier. It makes it harder because they’re still playing for something in their season.

“We found them quite difficult when we played them in Ballarat, so we go into the match with our eyes wide open and respecting the opponent.

“They have some good players. We’re a big fan of [Daniel] Penha, he’s a very influential 10. And even young players like [Noah] Botic probably haven’t been as effective this year as they were last year but are still dangerous players.

“For us we have to go into it with the mindset that it’s like a semi-final.”

BALLARAT, AUSTRALIA – DECEMBER 02: Alex Rufer of the Phoenix celebrates after the final whistle during the A-League Men round six match between Western United and Wellington Phoenix at Mars Stadium, on December 02, 2023, in Ballarat, Australia. (Photo by Martin Keep/Getty Images)

Wellington are also looking to impose themselves on their final home match of the month, something Central Coast didn’t allow them to do on Waitangi Day.

“I’ve always said being the home team you have to take the game to the away team.

“They travel, which is a big factor, and you’ll see we usually take a more conservative approach on the road because of that.

“We’ll take the game to them, like we have every home opponent. I don’t think there’s a game where we’ve sat back at home.

“We’ll try and play an attacking brand [of football] at home.”

WELLINGTON, NEW ZEALAND – FEBRUARY 06: A crowd of 12,301 people watch the A-League Men round 12 match between Wellington Phoenix and Central Coast Mariners at Sky Stadium, on February 06, 2024, in Wellington, New Zealand. (Photo by Mark Tantrum/Getty Images)

The Phoenix are unbeaten in their six games in 2024, while Western are winless so far this year, with two draws and two defeats.

Giancarlo Italiano says momentum can shift very, very quickly.

“Momentum works from week to week, but it also works within the game.

“For example, when Newcastle came here we were flying as well. Newcastle scored in the first five minutes, and they built belief.

“Seasons unfortunately are more about grinding than they are about momentum.

“If you look at all the teams, it doesn’t matter what league, the teams that usually are at the top, they win consistently…but it’s not always pretty.

“It’s not always to the gameplan, sometimes…they can play terribly, and they get a goal last minute.

“Hopefully we fall into that groove and get the results.”

Mo Al-Taay trained fully at NZCIS on Friday and is available for Saturday evening’s match against Western United. Photo: Cam McIntosh/Photomac.

Italiano has a near full-strength squad to pick from, with midfielders Mo Al-Taay and Nicholas Pennington available for selection after missing Tuesday’s match through injury and suspension respectively.

He has to decide whether creative midfielder Ben Old starts again, or comes off the bench, having managed an ankle injury since Christmas.

“It’s more about making sure that we don’t put him at risk after not training for long periods of time.

“He just played 90 minutes…probably longer than what we expected him to play. So, we have to make the assessment for tomorrow whether he starts or not.

“We have to be cautious and put his long-term health as a priority. We have to take those things into consideration.”

Fullback Sam Sutton and striker Oskar Zawada remain sidelined with injuries, but Sutton is “better than expected” and should be able to return to training next week.

WELLINGTON, NEW ZEALAND – FEBRUARY 06: Wellington Phoenix before the A-League Men round 12 match between Wellington Phoenix and Central Coast Mariners at Sky Stadium, on February 06, 2024, in Wellington, New Zealand. (Photo by Mark Tantrum/Getty Images)

The round 16 Isuzu UTE A-League match between the Wellington Phoenix and Western United is scheduled to kick-off at Sky Stadium in Wellington at 5:30pm (3:30pm AEDT) Saturday and will be broadcast LIVE on Sky Sport 2 in New Zealand and on Paramount+ in Australia.

You can get your tickets here.

Most recent meeting:
2 December 2023 – Western United 0 Wellington Phoenix 1

All-time A-League head-to-head: Phoenix 8W, Western 3W & 1D.

Wellington Phoenix squad
(two to be omitted)3. Finn SURMAN, 4. Scott WOOTTON, 5. Fin CONCHIE, 6. Tim PAYNE, 7. Kosta BARBAROUSES, 8. Ben OLD, 10. David BALL, 11. Bozhidar KRAEV, 12. Mo AL-TAAY, 14. Alex RUFER (c), 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, 51. Gabriel SLOANE-RODRIGUES.
Unavailable: 9. Oskar ZAWADA (injured), 19. Sam SUTTON (injured).

Western United squad (two to be omitted): 1. Tom HEWARD-BELLE (gk), 4. James DONACHIE, 6. Tomoki IMAI, 7. Ramy NAJJARINE, 8. Lachie WALES, 9. Michael RUHS, 11. Daniel PENHA, 13. Nikita RUKAVYTSYA, 17. Ben GARUCCIO, 19. Josh RISDON, 21. Sebastian PASQUALI, 22. Kane VIDMAR, 29. Charbel SHAMOON, 32. Angus THURGATE, 33. Matt SUTTON (gk), 36. Zach LISOLAJSKI, 38. Noah BOTIC, 39. Matthew GRIMALDI, 42. Rhys BOZINOVSKI, 44. Jordan LAUTON.
10. Steven LUSTICA (injured), 24. Connor O’TOOLE (injured), 77. Riku DANZAKI (injured).

Main image: Cam McIntosh/Photomac