Isuzu UTE A-League Round 18 Match Preview

Another potentially pivotal week for the Wellington Phoenix in the Isuzu UTE A-League.

The Phoenix conclude their February on the road with a visit to Gosford to play the second-placed Central Coast Mariners on Friday night.

The Nix enter round 18 in fifth place, just three points behind the Mariners and ahead of Sydney FC and Newcastle Jets on goal differential.

“The table’s so tight you win one game you go up and if you lose one game you can fall out of the six,” head coach Ufuk Talay told media on the eve of the match.

“The table is very close and for us to push forward and really try to cement a spot in the top six, and even push towards that top four, I think this game is very important for us to walk away with three points.

“Every game’s important at the moment. Every game is a big game.

“We’ll go there to set up to win and hopefully get a good result, but if we lose it’s not the end of the world, we’ve still got a few more games to play within the season.”

WELLINGTON, NEW ZEALAND – JANUARY 22: Alex Rufer of the Phoenix celebrates after scoring a goal during the round 13 A-League Men’s match between Wellington Phoenix and Central Coast Mariners at Sky Stadium, on January 22, 2023, in Wellington, New Zealand. (Photo by Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images)

Wellington beat Central Coast 2-1 at Sky Stadium last month, but were humbled 5-0 by the Mariners in their last visit to Gosford in April last year.

“I think they’re a very good side,” Talay said. “They’re a difficult side to play against. They load the frontline with a lot of players.

“It pins you back as a team at times, but…in our home game against them I thought the first half we were quite good. We pinned them into their half, even when they had the ball. We pressed quite well so we’ll try to do that again.

“They’re playing at home and obviously they want to win so they might pressure us a little more playing at home. That’s great for us. That means there will be more spaces in other areas and the boys need to make the right decisions.”

Talay wants his players to continue where they left off in Tasmania last Friday night, when they bounced back from disappointing back-to-back defeats to beat Western United 3-0.

“The Western United game was a good game in the sense that we did both sides of the game well.

“We did well with the ball and I thought we also defended quite well for the full game.

“I think we’ve had moments where we’ve played really good football and then we’ve tapered off and let opponents come into the game.”

Visa signings Yan Sasse, Bozhidar Kraev and Oskar Zawada scored the Phoenix’s goals against Western United.

“We bring in our visa players to make the difference and at the moment they are for us.

“If they’re not going to add value or add a difference to the team, then there’s no point having visas.

“For us it’s very important they do add value and they’re doing that at the moment and hopefully they continue that way.”

LAUNCESTON, AUSTRALIA – FEBRUARY 17: Yan Sasse of the Phoenix celebrates a goal during the round 17 A-League Men’s match between Western United and Wellington Phoenix at University of Tasmania Stadium, on February 17, 2023, in Launceston, Australia. (Photo by Steve Bell/Getty Images)

Sasse has taken a little longer than Kraev and Zawada to settle in Wellington, but Talay believes the Brazilian’s benefitting from getting a good run of games.

“ I always knew Yan was a good player. I could see in the touches and the things that he does.

“Getting rewarded with a goal has probably helped his confidence as well.”

The team had a delayed start to the week, with their flight home on Saturday night cancelled, meaning they didn’t return to Wellington until Sunday evening.

“We had to modify what we did this week with the boys. They seemed a little bit tired after sitting at the airport probably for over 12 hours.

“We modified what we did this week just to make sure they’re fresh for the game.”

LAUNCESTON, AUSTRALIA – FEBRUARY 17: Callan Elliot of Phoenix celebrates with fans after the win in the round 17 A-League Men’s match between Western United and Wellington Phoenix at University of Tasmania Stadium, on February 17, 2023, in Launceston, Australia. (Photo by Simon Sturzaker/Getty Images)

Ufuk Talay is going to be forced to make at least one change to his starting XI with right back Callan Elliot suspended after picking up his fifth yellow card of the season last week.

“Cal’s been fantastic and consistent for us so it’s disappointing he’s suspended for this game, but it’s good that it’s happened early so we get it out of the way.”

All Whites defender Tim Payne “will have to slide across” to right back and Scott Wootton is in line to return at centre back, having trained fully with the group this week.

The 18th round Isuzu UTE A-League match between the Wellington Phoenix and Central Coast Mariners is scheduled to kick-off at Industree Group Stadium at 9:45pm (7:45pm AEDT) on Friday and will be broadcast LIVE on Sky Sport 2 & 7 in New Zealand and on Paramount+ in Australia.

Most recent A-League meeting:
22 January 2023 – Wellington Phoenix 2 Central Coast Mariners 1

All-time A-League head-to-head: Phoenix 19W, Mariners 18W & 8D.

Wellington Phoenix squad: 
3. Finn SURMAN, 4. Scott WOOTTON, 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, 19. Sam SUTTON, 20. Oli SAIL (gk), 21. Joshua LAWS, 24. Oskar VAN HATTUM, 31. Yan SASSE, 35. Noah KARUNARATNE, 40. Alex PAULSEN (gk).
Unavailable: 7. Kosta BARBAROUSES (injured), 17. Callan ELLIOT (suspended), 23. Clayton LEWIS (injured).