The Wellington Phoenix will have to banish their AAMI Park hoodoo if they are to keep alive their hopes of bringing finals football back to the capital.
The Phoenix visit Isuzu UTE A-League leaders Melbourne City on Easter Monday in the final match of round 23.
The Nix are four points adrift of the fourth-placed Western Sydney Wanderers, who they will meet in the penultimate round of the season.
Head coach Ufuk Talay says a top four finish and a home elimination final remains their target, despite their disappointing home defeat to Melbourne Victory last weekend.
“It’s still in our hands with where we sit on the table and the points we can get,” Talay told media on the eve of the match.
“We haven’t had the opportunity due to Covid and being away to play a home final. We definitely have the opportunity.
“There are still 12 points up for grabs. We want to push as hard as we can.
“We play the team that is just above us. There’s another game in between that so it’s very important and very vital that we pick up maximum points in these next two games.”
Picking up maximum points at AAMI Park is easier said than done.
The Phoenix have yet to win at the venue since Talay took charge and have only beaten City once in 17 A-League matches in Melbourne. That came in December 2013 when the league leaders were named Melbourne Heart.
“It’s disappointing that we haven’t won there. I think we’ve gotten draws there previously.”
The Nix came back from two nil down to draw 2-2 with Melbourne City at AAMI Park in round four and relish playing the current standard bearers of the league.
“It’s a good opportunity playing against a good side that want to play football. We play a similar sort of brand in a different set-up.
“If all works well and if the players are focussed and aggressive with and without the ball it gives us a good opportunity to walk away with all three points.
“The game is 11 vs 11 at the end of the day. It doesn’t matter where it’s played. The field is the same, we’ve just got to make sure we’re focussed and ready to go.”
The sides last met at Sky Stadium on January 2, when Wellington gave up an early lead to lose 3-1 to a clinical City side.
“We want to play well and win games at the same time.
“We did play well but we didn’t get the result that we wanted.
“It’s two good sides that play a good attacking brand of football so hopefully we walk away with three points.”
The Phoenix have had nine days to prepare to face City on Easter Monday.
“The week has been good. We’ve had some good sessions with the boys.
“We’ve had some good tactical sessions on how we’re going to set up and create opportunities against a very good opposition.
“I think we’ve played well in the two games that we’ve played against Melbourne City previously and hopefully we can turn this one into a positive result.”
The extra time in between matches also means All Whites midfielder Clayton Lewis is now available to play 90 minutes for the first time since coming back from a fractured kneecap.
“No minutes restrictions with Clay which is good for us and creates healthy competition amongst the squad leading into the last four games.
“Everyone will be fighting for positions and that causes headaches for the coaches which I see as a good thing.
“Hopefully the intensity is raised with players coming back and being available.”
Ufuk Talay will however be without young attacking midfielder Ben Old on Monday evening.
“Ben’s osteitis pubis has come back so we have to offload him and he won’t be available for the game.
“He’s an influential player when he does start or come off the bench so we will miss him.
“Every player is important to us…but at this stage we need to make sure that his body is right.”
The 23rd round Isuzu UTE A-League match between the Wellington Phoenix and Melbourne City is scheduled to kick-off at AAMI Park in Melbourne at 6:00pm (4:00pm AEST) on Easter Monday and will be broadcast LIVE on Sky Sport 3 & 7 in New Zealand and on Paramount+ in Australia.
Most recent A-League meeting: 2 January 2023 – Wellington Phoenix 1 Melbourne City 3
All-time A-League head-to-head: Phoenix 11W, City 17W & 8D.
Wellington Phoenix squad: 3. Finn SURMAN, 4. Scott WOOTTON, 5. Steven UGARKOVIC, 6. Tim PAYNE, 7. Kosta BARBAROUSES, 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).
Unavailable: 8. Ben OLD (injured).