A “massive” game for the Wellington Phoenix in their quest to return to the capital for the Isuzu UTE A-League finals.
The Phoenix are playing host to bottom of the table Melbourne Victory at Sky Stadium on Saturday afternoon and have a chance to move into the all-important top four.
The Nix enter the round in fifth place, but level on points with fourth-placed Central Coast Mariners
It is Wellington’s final regular season game in the capital this season, with three of their remaining five matches in Australia and the other at Eden Park in Auckland.
“Hopefully this is not out last game in Wellington,” Phoenix head coach Ufuk Talay told media on the eve of the match. “Hopefully we get a good result against Victory that pushes us forward.
“The aim is to try to finish in the top four so we can play a home final.
“Hopefully all the results go well for us in the sense that we win our game against Victory first and then look after the last four after that.
“We’re pushing towards getting a home final so hopefully it’s not our last game in Wellington.”
Talay believes a top four finish is a realistic target.
“At the moment we’re battling with Central Coast on the same points.
“For us it’s very important to win our home games. We’re playing against a team that had a good result just before the international break against Central Coast so there are no easy games.
“Every game is very important, and this is a massive game for us.”
The Victory are currently languishing in 12th and last place on the ladder. However, they beat the Mariners 2-0 last round and are just six points behind sixth-placed Sydney FC, with have a game in hand over everyone but top of the table Melbourne City.
Talay doesn’t believe they are a bad team.
“They’ve had moments in games where they’ve played well and they haven’t capitalised on that momentum that they’ve created. They’ve created opportunities to score, and they haven’t punished teams.
“Influential players have been out for certain parts of the season. As you know in the A-League consistency is key with the starting team and they haven’t had that opportunity this year.
“But they’re still a good team with good players that can hurt you. It’s very important that we’re focussed, and we need to go out there and stick to the game plan.”
Ufuk Talay has a full complement of players to pick from for the first time this season, with leading goal scorer Oskar Zawada back following the birth of his first child.
“That’s all out of the way thank god,” Talay said. So he’s happy and I think his missus is happy as well.
“He had a bit of a break during the international period as well so he’s ready to go.”
Influential midfielder Clayton Lewis returned from a fractured kneecap against Adelaide United a fortnight ago and featured for the All Whites against China last week.
“It was fantastic for him to get some minutes with the All Whites.
“With the medical team we’re looking at Clay for around 60 minutes. We’ll make a decision whether he starts the game or comes off the bench and gives us that impact that we need as well.
“I haven’t really decided on what the starting XI looks like after the last result we had. Even though I thought we played some decent football at times, we just weren’t clinical like the opposition were.
“Which opens up the door for me as a coach to be able to select a team that I believe is going to win the game against Melbourne Victory.”
Fit-again fullback Sam Sutton is also vying for selection, with Lucas Mauragis having only returned from Olyroos duty late last night.
“We’ll give him today to refresh and we’ll make a decision what that left fullback position looks like as well.”
Goalkeeper is one position that is not in contention, with Oli Sail performing well for the All Whites last week.
“I think he had two good games. I think he kept the All Whites in the game, especially in the first game; the one save he made down to his left, and I think he made some good saves in the second game as well.
“Oli’s an important player for us. I think he’s one of the best goalkeepers in the competition.
“Regardless of the decisions players make at the end of the season, they’re Wellington Phoenix players, they’re contracted to us, they’re professionals and they’ll go out there and do their job.”
The 22nd round Isuzu UTE A-League match between the Wellington Phoenix and Melbourne Victory is scheduled to kick-off at Sky Stadium in Wellington at 3:00pm (1:00pm AEDT) on Saturday and will be broadcast LIVE on Sky Sport 7 in New Zealand and on Paramount+ in Australia.
Most recent A-League meeting: 3 February 2023 – Melbourne Victory 3 Wellington Phoenix 1
All-time A-League head-to-head: Phoenix 11W, Victory 23W & 11D.
Wellington Phoenix squad: 3. Finn SURMAN, 4. Scott WOOTTON, 5. Steven UGARKOVIC, 6. Tim PAYNE, 7. Kosta BARBAROUSES, 8. 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, 23. Clayton LEWIS, 24. Oskar VAN HATTUM, 31. Yan SASSE, 40. Alex PAULSEN (gk).
Melbourne Victory squad: 1. Matt ACTON (gk), 2. Jason GERIA, 3. Enrique LOPEZ, 4. Rai MARCHAN, 5. Damien DA SILVA, 6. Leigh BROXHAM, 7. Chris IKONOMIDIS, 8. Josh BRILLANTE, 10. Bruno FORNAROLI, 11. Ben FOLAMI, 14. Connor CHAMPMAN, 16. Stefan NIGRO, 18. Bruce KAMAU, 20. Paul IZZO (gk), 21. Roderick MIRANDA, 23. Nathan KONSTANDOPOULOS, 24. Nishan VELUPILLAY, 26. Lleyton BROOKS, 28. Will WILSON, 29. Eli ADAMS.
Unavailable: 17. Luis NANI (injured), 19. Fernando ROMERO (suspended), 22. Jake BRIMMER (injured), 31. Matt BOZINOVSKI (injured).