Isuzu UTE A-League Round 24 Match Preview

The Wellington Phoenix have another match “like a grand final” at Sky Stadium on Friday night.

The Phoenix, who sit level on points with Central Coast Mariners atop the Isuzu UTE A-League ladder, are playing host to third-placed Melbourne Victory, who are the only team that can deny Wellington a top two finish.

The two sides have met twice this season with both matches finishing in 1-1 draws after the Nix beat Victory in pre-season.

“We respect them immensely,” Phoenix head coach Giancarlo Italiano told media before training on Thursday. “They’re a very good team, especially with the ball. That’s the one thing a lot of teams underplay.

“They create quite a number of chances. They don’t get the return they merit, but with the ball they’re very, very dangerous, and defensively they’re quite sound.

“I think tomorrow night’s going to be about that little edge, that small difference that no one sees.

“Tomorrow is like a grand final, so they’ll be looking for that edge as well.”

Italiano is expecting the Nix to bounce back from the “gut-wrenching” 2-1 defeat to Central Coast in Gosford on Saturday.

“We’ll find out tomorrow, but the spirit’s pretty good in the group at the moment.

“We’re going to face six of those matches if we get all the way through to the grand final. They’re going to have to get used to that feeling of playing through a cut-throat sort of game.

“It’s so cliché but you do learn a lot from defeat and it’s the best time to address any issues that you have.

“Where we were disappointed in that game last week was we gave off two very soft goals, uncharacteristic goals.

“We addressed it this week and what we’re looking for now is…we’re aware of those things and if we can curb them then hopefully the result looks after itself.”

WELLINGTON, NEW ZEALAND – MARCH 31: Coach Giancarlo Italiano of the Phoenix looks on prior to the A-League Men round 22 match between Wellington Phoenix and Brisbane Roar at Sky Stadium, on March 31, 2024, in Wellington, New Zealand. (Photo by Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images)

Overall Giancarlo Italiano was far from downcast by the time the Phoenix returned to Wellington.

“Sometimes you have to take a step back and go alright how far the group has actually progressed to get into this position?

“When I reflected on the plane back from Central Coast I was quite proud.

“The same people that were saying we were going to finish last are now saying ‘it’ll be disappointing if you don’t finish it off’ so we’ve come a long way.”

The Nix have yet to suffer back-to-back defeats this season, something Italiano attributes to the playing group’s resilience.

WELLINGTON, NEW ZEALAND – MARCH 31: Alex Rufer of the Phoenix celebrate the goal of Bozhidar Kraev during the A-League Men round 22 match between Wellington Phoenix and Brisbane Roar at Sky Stadium, on March 31, 2024, in Wellington, New Zealand. (Photo by Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images)

“Every time a challenge is put forward to them, they’ve always stepped up.

“There’s a lot of respect within the group from a player-to-player perspective. A lot of them are good friends.

“As well the coaching staff and I have tried to build more of a family sort of environment and also a collective mentality where ‘all ships rise with the tide’. They’ve bought into that.

“There’s a lot of emphasis, not so much on the tactical side, but more about them as people, values and what we think is important.

“We had the ability at the beginning of the season to shape the squad in that mould early and that benefitted us long-term.

“Every time we’ve hit an obstacle, we’ve come on top and again that just goes down to a really good bunch of players and a good group.”

WELLINGTON, NEW ZEALAND – JANUARY 19: Alex Rufer of the Phoenix celebrates after scoring a penalty during the A-League Men round 13 match between Wellington Phoenix and Melbourne Victory at Sky Stadium, on January 19, 2024, in Wellington, New Zealand. (Photo by Andy Jackson/Getty Images)

Wellington are welcoming back captain Alex Rufer from suspension. Rufer scored the Phoenix’s stoppage time equaliser in their last meeting with the Victory in January.

“I think he gives us a little bit more experience in those bigger games.

“He gives us a little bit more balance with the ball and defensively he’s probably the one link we probably missed in the last game.”

Experienced fullback Tim Payne is also in line to return to the Phoenix starting XI after coming off the bench against the Mariners in his first match back from a hamstring injury.

“The intention would be that we’re looking to start him tomorrow, it’s just whether he gets through the 90.

“If you speak to the physios it’d be more precautionary and they wouldn’t want him to play the full 90, but if you ask Tim he’ll want to play, especially such a massive game.

“We’ll see how he goes at training today and make that assessment for tomorrow.”

WELLINGTON, NEW ZEALAND – FEBRUARY 10: Timothy Payne of the Wellington Phoenix celebrates the teams first goal by Nicholas Pennington during the A-League Men round 16 match between Wellington Phoenix and Western United at Sky Stadium, on February 10, 2024, in Wellington, New Zealand. (Photo by Mark Tantrum/Getty Images)

The round 24 Isuzu UTE A-League match between Wellington Phoenix and Melbourne Victory is scheduled to kick-off at Sky Stadium in Wellington at 7pm (5pm AEDT) Friday and will be broadcast LIVE on Sky Sport 2 in New Zealand and on Paramount+ in Australia.

You can get your tickets here.

Most recent meeting:
19 January 2024 – Wellington Phoenix 1 Melbourne Victory 1

All-time A-League head-to-head: Phoenix 11W, Victory 24W & 13D.

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, 23. Luke SUPYK, 24. Oskar VAN HATTUM, 25. Jack DUNCAN (gk), 40. Alex PAULSEN (gk), 43. Matt SHERIDAN, 51. Gabriel SLOANE-RODRIGUES.
Unavailable: 9. Oskar ZAWADA (injured), 26. Isaac HUGHES (injured).

Likely Melbourne Victory squad (two to be omitted): 2. Jason GERIA, 3. Adama TRAORE, 5. Damien DA SILVA, 6. Leigh BROXHAM, 7. Chris IKONOMIDIS, 8. Zinedine MACHACH, 10. Bruno FORNAROLI, 11. Ben FOLAMI, 14. Connor CHAPMAN, 16. Stefan NIGRO, 17. Nishan VELUPILLAY, 19. Daniel ARZANI, 20. Paul IZZO (gk), 21. Roderick MIRANDA (c), 22. Jake BRIMMER, 23. Salim KHELIFI, 25. Ryan TEAGUE, 27. Jordi VALADON, 28. Roly BONEVACIA, 30. Ahmad TALEB (gk).