Isuzu UTE A-League Round 21 Match Preview

The Wellington Phoenix will be cheered on by their biggest crowd of the season on Saturday evening when they play their final ‘home’ game at their Auckland fortress.

Between 15-20 thousand fans are expected to be in attendance at Eden Park for the Phoenix’s much-anticipated round 21 Isuzu UTE A-League match against Sydney FC.

The Nix are unbeaten in 11 previous visits to Aotearoa’s largest stadium, dating back to November 2011.

“Auckland’s been kind to us,” Phoenix head coach Giancarlo Italiano told media after training on Friday evening.

“We’ve always had a positive response from the public. I know we have a lot of supporters in Auckland.

“I think we’ve played some really good football up there…[and] we’ve had some really good experiences there.

“The one that sticks in my head the most was when we played Wanderers at Eden Park…I think it was [Stefan] Marinovic who played a long ball into [Jaushua] Sotirio for a chip on. The buzz off that goal was fantastic.

“The vibe’s great there. When the fans get behind us it’s a nice play to be.”

And Italiano believes the crowd will be the difference on Saturday evening.

“The fans are the 12th man. When things go against you, they can lift you…if you’re winning, they give you the support that you need to keep carrying through and when it gets tense, they’re the ones that push you through.

“I’m really looking forward to it and it’s just a shame we can’t get this every game.”

The Wellington Phoenix warm-up for training at NZCIS on Friday. Photo: Cam McIntosh/Photomac.

The Phoenix enter the weekend second on the ladder but level on points with top of the table Central Coast, while Sydney FC have surged to fifth, nine points back with a game in hand, on the back of an eight match unbeaten run.

This match and their upcoming games against fellow top six sides Central Coast, Macarthur and Victory are “no longer three pointers, they’re six pointers”.

“In all these games…not losing is just as important as winning because the opposition can’t gain spots.

“Everyone is really fighting for every spot.”

Giancarlo Italiano is in a contemplative mood at Wellington Phoenix training on Friday. Photo: Cam McIntosh/Photomac.

After suffering just their third defeat of the season last weekend, Giancarlo Italiano wants his side to get back to the game-by-game mentality which has worked well for the Nix this season.

“The focus now is going back to what we know and performing well.

“I don’t think we’ve been the best the last couple of weeks. We could do a lot better with the ball.

“Defensively the outputs are quite good still, but with the ball we’ve been a little bit, I don’t want to say hit and miss, but it hasn’t flowed as well as what I expect and what the players expect.

“There’s a high expectation in the group that they can do a lot better, and I think we need to refocus on that and avoid all the talk about what’s happening with the season.

“For us what’s worked from day one is [taking it] game-by-game. If we can get back to that mindset, I think we’ll do well.”

Sydney FC beat the Nix 3-1 in their most recent meeting in Sydney a few days after Christmas.

“I thought it was a really good game. It was a very tense game and I feel like this game is going to be the same. It’s going to be decided by a moment.

“I think in the second half we got a lot right but in the end we got punished.

“In the first half I think they got a lot right and they didn’t capitalise.”

Italiano believes the “two contrasting styles” will be one for the football enthusiasts.

“They’re the best pressing team in the league and no one does what they do. So, it’s unique and it’s very, very effective.

“And no one does what we do, and when we do it right, we’re quite effective as well.”

Wellington Phoenix fullback Tim Payne is all smiles at NZCIS on Friday. Photo: Cam McIntosh/Photomac.

The round 21 Isuzu UTE A-League match between the Wellington Phoenix and Sydney FC is scheduled to kick-off at Eden Park in Auckland at 5:30pm (3:30pm AEDT) Saturday and will be broadcast LIVE on Sky Sport 3 in New Zealand and on Paramount+ in Australia.

You can get your tickets to cheer on the Phoenix men here.

Most recent meeting:
29 December 2023 – Sydney FC 3 Wellington Phoenix 1

All-time A-League head-to-head: Phoenix 15W, Sydney 27W & 6D.

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, 17. Youstin SALAS, 18. Lukas KELLY-HEALD, 19. Sam SUTTON, 24. Oskar VAN HATTUM, 25. Jack DUNCAN (gk), 26. Isaac HUGHES, 40. Alex PAULSEN (gk), 43. Matt SHERIDAN, 51. Gabriel SLOANE-RODRIGUES.
Unavailable: 9. Oskar ZAWADA (injured).

Sydney FC squad (two to be omitted): 1.  Andrew REDMAYNE (gk), 4. Jordan COURTNEY-PERKINS, 6. Jack RODWELL, 9. Fabio GOMES, 10. Joe LOLLEY, 11. Robert MAK, 12. Corey HOLLMAN, 15. Gabriel LACERDA, 16. Joel KING, 17. Anthony CACERES, 18. Matthew SCARCELLA, 19. Mitch GLASSON, 20. Adam PAVLESIC (gk), 22. Max BURGESS, 23. Rhyan GRANT, 25. Jaiden KUCHARSKI, 26. Luke BRATTAN (c), 27. Hayden MATTHEWS, 28. Nathan AMANATIDIS, 31. Tiago QUINTAL.
3. Aaron GURD (injured), 8.  Jake GIRDWOOD-REICH (suspended), 13. Pat WOOD (injured), 29. Joe LACEY (injured).