The Wellington Phoenix can all but secure a trip to the finals for the fourth time in five seasons on Friday night.
The Phoenix visit finals-bound Western Sydney Wanderers in the penultimate round of the 2022-23 Isuzu UTE A-League, knowing a win will take them six points clear of the chasing pack in the race for the top six.
Head coach Ufuk Talay wants to get the job done at CommBank Stadium, rather than leaving it up to their final round match against Macarthur FC to secure a place in the top six.
“We’ve prepared the team to go to Western Sydney and win the game,” Talay told media at Wellington Airport on Thursday. “It’s very important that we play well and get the result at the same time.
“But also, these are the games you want to be involved in. They have a lot of meaning.
“The players have worked well this week and hopefully they can perform and get the result.
“Hopefully we don’t let it go down to the final game of the season and we get the job done against Western Sydney, but the reality is we’ve still got another game after that.
“We’ll take it in baby steps at the moment and focus on Western Sydney.”
Talay doesn’t just want to make the finals for the third time in his fourth and final season with the club. He has his sights set on leading the Nix beyond the elimination final for the first time in 11 years.
“We’ve made the playoffs previously. We want to win that first game [and] hopefully have a home semi, which we haven’t had the opportunity to do since I’ve been here.
“The focus is yes to make the top six, but also hopefully come back and play in front of our home fans.”
Friday night’s game looms as a potential finals dress rehearsal. As it currently stands Wanderers would host the Phoenix in an elimination final.
“If we end up in the same position and they end up where they are then we’ll play them.
“But the focus is on the three points that are available tomorrow evening and finals football is a different game.”
Western Sydney have secured their first trip to the finals in six years and are still a chance of claiming a top two finish.
“They’ve got some good attacking threats up front, and they’ve got a very experienced side altogether.
“Their captain will be back as well, so it won’t be an easy game.
“It’s most important what we do and how we do things with and without the ball, and if we go with the right mindset, we can get something out of it.
“Last year we played them there as well. It was a very important game, and we won that game to cement a spot in the top six, so hopefully we can repeat that this season.”
Talay acknowledges the Nix to get better at both ends of the pitch to beat the Wanderers and snap a four match winless run.
“Conceding goals from set pieces is never great and that’s something we definitely can improve on and we’ve been working on.
“But to win games we have to score more than the opponent and I think we’ve created enough opportunities to do that.”
Ufuk Talay’s right-hand man Giancarlo Italiano will take over as head coach next season and Talay insists the coaching change hasn’t been a disruption for the team.
“It was never a distraction for me. These things happen in football; coaches are employed [and] coaches move on.
“Hopefully it wasn’t a distraction for Chiefy as well. He’s really focused on what he needs to do so we can finish in a good position this season.”
Centre back Josh Laws is back in the extended Wellington squad after serving his one match suspension, while top scorer Oskar Zawada is “definitely” ready to get through 90 minutes despite being substituted against Brisbane with an apparent knock.
“He got through training this week so he’s good to go.”
The 25th round Isuzu UTE A-League match between the Wellington Phoenix and Western Sydney Wanderers is scheduled to kick-off at CommBank Stadium in Sydney at 9:45pm (7:45pm AEST) on Friday and will be broadcast LIVE on Sky Sport 2 & 7 in New Zealand and on Paramount+ in Australia.
Most recent A-League meeting: 10 December 2022 – Wellington Phoenix 1 Western Sydney Wanderers 1
All-time A-League head-to-head: Phoenix 12W, Wanderers 13W & 6D.
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).
Western Sydney Wanderers: 1. Daniel MARGUSH (gk), 2. Gabriel CLEUR, 3. Adama TRAORE, 4. Morgan SCHNEIDERLIN, 5. Tomi MRCELA, 6. Marcelo (c), 8. Oliver BOZANIC, 9. Kusini YENGI, 10. Milos NINKOVIC, 11. Amor LAYOUNI, 14. Nicolas MILANOVIC, 16. Tom BEADLING, 17. Romain AMALFITANO, 20. Lawrence THOMAS (gk), 23. Yeni NGBAKOTO, 26. Brandon BORRELLO, 28. Calem NIEUWENHOF, 29. Terry ANTONIS, 31. Aidan SIMMONS, 33. Alexander BONETIG.