Isuzu UTE A-League Round 22 Match Preview

Wellington Phoenix head coach Giancarlo Italiano is bullish about the depth of his squad heading into the deciding five weeks of the Isuzu UTE A-League round-robin.

The Phoenix will be without regular right back Tim Payne and central defender Isaac Hughes for their Easter Sunday match against Brisbane Roar at Sky Stadium, after both suffered hamstring injuries before the international break.

And Italiano is preparing for the possibility talismanic striker Oskar Zawada won’t be able to play again this season because of a growth on his thigh.

But he isn’t concerned the Phoenix are going to run out of gas in their premiership push.

“I’ll be concerned when we don’t have 11 players that we can put on the park,” Italiano told media before training on Thursday. “As long as we have 11 players and boys that come off the bench that want to do a job for us, I’m not concerned.

“We’ve gone through this all season. At the beginning of the season everyone was talking about a lack of depth, and I think the boys have answered that quite well.

“We’ve had injuries all season [and] we’ve had to makeshift a lot of players into different positions and be very flexible in the way we think about our formations and the way we play. This is no different to any other challenge that we’ve had.

“I think there’s maybe one or two teams that have an extensive squad. Everyone’s pretty much in the same boat.”

The Nix enter the round three points clear of Central Coast Mariners, who meet Sydney FC on Saturday night.

Wellington visit Central Coast next weekend in a potential premiership decider.

“I’m a traditionalist so I think that the team that wins the league at the end of the season is the best team in the league.

“Then you move into a championship format, where it becomes about every game being one of those pressure games, which is a different dynamic. If you can do the double you’re doing unbelievably well.

“Winning anything will be creating a legacy at this club and will be an unbelievable achievement for this playing group and the club.”

Youstin Salas strikes a volley at Wellington Phoenix training at NZCIS while his teammates and Giancarlo Italiano watch on. Photo: Cam McIntosh/Photomac.

But winning silverware is not a motivating factor for Giancarlo Italiano and the Phoenix.

“Once you start focusing on the outcome as opposed to the process it builds anxiety [and] it builds these emotions that you can’t actually control.

“If you focus on what you can control then it’s easier to navigate, with all things in football and in life.

“I say it every week and it becomes cliché, but it is a game-by-game proposition.

“We have five finals now. It means nothing in the end if we can’t get over Brisbane on Sunday. And then if we can get the result that we want we just move on to the next one and focus on that one.

“I try to give that sense of reasoning with the group, and I think they’ve embraced that. It works well for us, so we’ll keep moving that way.”

AUCKLAND, NEW ZEALAND – MARCH 16: Kosta Barbarouses of the Wellington Phoenix (C) scores a goal during the A-League Men round 21 match between Wellington Phoenix and Sydney FC at Eden Park, on March 16, 2024, in Auckland, New Zealand. (Photo by Fiona Goodall/Getty Images)

Kosta Barbarouses, Alex Rufer, Ben Old, Alex Paulsen and Lukas Kelly-Heald only re-joined the squad on Saturday morning after a long trip home from Cairo, where they were representing the All Whites.

Barbarouses and Rufer played 90 minutes against Tunisia on Wednesday morning (NZT), while Old came off the bench in the second-half against both Tunisia and Egypt last Saturday.

“I’m not complaining about it,” Italiano said. “I’m actually really happy that, especially Rufs and Kosta getting 90 minutes, I think that’s really important for them because they deserve it.

“And Oldie getting some time I think he merits it as well. It’s a really good experience for those others who didn’t get on as well.

“Those that I feel are ready to play will play on Sunday.”

AUCKLAND, NEW ZEALAND – MARCH 16: Finn Surman of the Wellington Phoenix celebrates on full time during the A-League Men round 21 match between Wellington Phoenix and Sydney FC at Eden Park, on March 16, 2024, in Auckland, New Zealand. (Photo by Phil Walter/Getty Images)

Finn Surman returned home from Cairo a couple of days earlier after copping a stray boot to his head in training.

“He’s got a cut right above his forehead [and] got five stitches.

“We’ll make a call on the -1. I think he has a bit of an infection in the cut, but it’s precautionary at the moment.

“The other issue we have is whether he can head the ball or not with the risk of it reopening again.

“We need to be on the cautious side, but I think if you ask him he’ll want to play. As long as we don’t risk his safety, I’m happy for that to happen.”

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA – NOVEMBER 10: Lukas Kelly-Heald of the Phoenix controls the ball infront of Bruno Fornaroli of Melbourne Victory during the A-League Men round four match between Melbourne Victory and Wellington Phoenix at AAMI Park, on November 10, 2023, in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Quinn Rooney/Getty Images)

If Surman is unable to play, Kelly-Heald is a possibility to start as a left-sided centre back, with Sam Sutton at fullback.

“I have Sutts back so it means I could balance off the left back role with him coming into centre back. We have explored that.

“There are other options as well that we’ve looked at, but that’s definitely one.”

The match will kick-off at the unaccustomed time of 1pm, but Italiano is welcoming it.

“It’s a good time to come and watch a football game. If you look at EPL, Serie A, most European leagues’ kick-offs are at one, three o’clock.

“I think it’s important that we get a crowd, and that time is more appealing for families. They can come out nice and early and get home and still enjoy a bit of Easter.

“Hopefully we can put a show on on Sunday.”

The round 22 Isuzu UTE A-League match between Wellington Phoenix and Brisbane Roar is scheduled to kick-off at Sky Stadium in Wellington at 1pm (11am AEDT) Easter Sunday and will be broadcast LIVE on Sky Sport 1 in New Zealand and on Paramount+ in Australia.

Most recent meeting:
2 February 2024 – Brisbane Roar 1 Wellington Phoenix 1

All-time A-League head-to-head: Phoenix 12W, Roar 21W & 15D.

Wellington Phoenix squad
(two to be omitted)3. Finn SURMAN, 4. Scott WOOTTON, 5. Fin CONCHIE, 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, 23. Luke SUPYK, 24. Oskar VAN HATTUM, 25. Jack DUNCAN (gk), 39. Seth KARUNARATNE, 40. Alex PAULSEN (gk), 43. Matt SHERIDAN, 51. Gabriel SLOANE-RODRIGUES.
Unavailable: 6. Tim PAYNE (injured), 9. Oskar ZAWADA (injured), 26. Isaac HUGHES (injured).

Brisbane Roar squad (two to be omitted): 1. Macklin FREKE (gk), 3. Corey BROWN, 5. Tom ALDRED (c), 7. Florin BERENGUER, 8. Jonas MARKOVSKI, 10. Nikola MILEUSNIC, 11. Jez LOFTHOUSE, 12. Taras GOMULKA, 13. Henry HORE, 16. Thomas WADDINGHAM, 19. Jack HINGERT, 20. Marco ROJAS, 21. Antonee BURKE-GILROY, 23. Keegan JELACIC, 26. Jay O’SHEA, 27. Kai TREWIN, 29. Matt ACTON (gk), 32. James NIKOLOVSKI, 35. Louis ZABALA, 99. Ayom MAJOK.
Unavailable: 2. Scott NEVILLE (injured), 6. Joe CALETTI (injured).

Main image: Cam McIntosh/Photomac.