Isuzu UTE A-League Round 25 Match Preview

“The focus is now on Newcastle” less than a week on from one of the great nights in Wellington Phoenix history.

The Phoenix are in Newcastle to face the Jets on Friday night in the penultimate round of the Isuzu UTE A-League season, seven days after a 95th minute Finn Surman header secured Wellington a 1-0 win over Melbourne Victory and assured the club of its highest ever finish.

Head coach Giancarlo Italiano insists he hasn’t had to bring his players back down to earth this week.

“There’s all this talk about being on a high,” Italiano told media via zoom from Newcastle on Thursday morning. “I haven’t seen that all this week.

“I haven’t seen any sort of misplaced euphoria or misguided expectation. The focus is now on Newcastle.

“This group is really well grounded. They probably would have enjoyed it that night, and then they came back to training on the Sunday and it was business as usual.

“I think earlier in the season I probably would have been more worried about complacency and getting a little bit ahead of ourselves.

“That’s something I need to manage with a younger group, but I think the way this group’s matured it’s not something that I have a worry about.”

WELLINGTON, NEW ZEALAND – APRIL 12: Phoenix players celebrate the win during the A-League Men round 24 match between Wellington Phoenix and Melbourne Victory at Sky Stadium, on April 12, 2024, in Wellington, New Zealand. (Photo by Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images)

The Nix remain level on points with Premiers’ Plate rivals Central Coast Mariners at the top of the A-League ladder and can reclaim the outright lead before Central Coast play Adelaide United on Sunday afternoon.

The Phoenix need at least a point to take the premiership race into the final week of the regular season.

“We don’t go in with a mentality that we have to draw. We’re just going to keep doing what we’re doing week to week.

“The approach is always we want to get the best result. I can never guarantee victory. All we can do is guarantee performing week-in, week-out.

“I haven’t changed anything at training. I haven’t changed the focus. It’s always been what we can control.

“I don’t want to go into this game thinking that it’s going to be do or die. The players already have that incentive [and] that motive to go out there and win, so for me it’s more about focusing on where we think Newcastle are weak, where we can exploit and making sure we nullify their threats.”

The Jets can have a major say in who lifts the Premiers’ Plate as they will host the Mariners in the final round.

“There are so many scenarios that can play out now.

“I don’t want to go there and absolutely touch them up because then it’ll ruin their confidence for next week.

“But at the same time, I want to win the game more importantly than anything else.

“I think it’s going to be a hard game. They were one of the hardest games for us in the pre-season friendlies and in the first round at home when we lost our first game. Even when we played them last time here it was a last-minute winner.

“If you look at their results the last three weeks; they’ve drawn with City, they beat Sydney and then they beat Brisbane last week, so their tails are up.

“I respect them a lot. They’ve got a good coach. They’ve got some really good young players.

“It’s more about our players taking that mentality that we must respect them, but at the same time we need to keep doing what we’re doing in order to get the result.”

WELLINGTON, NEW ZEALAND – APRIL 16: Isaac Hughes and Oskar Zawada arrive for a Wellington Phoenix A-League training session at NZCIS on April 16, 2024 in Wellington, New Zealand. (Photo by Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images)

Striker Oskar Zawada travelled with the Phoenix squad on Wednesday afternoon, having recovered from a thigh contusion.

Giancarlo Italiano says Zawada has been very driven to return and contribute to the team.

“He’s been very frustrated that he’s had these injuries and he hasn’t been able to play in a team that is doing well.

“But he’s the ultimate professional. He wants to work hard, and he always look after his body.

“He had plenty of interest to leave but I think one of the big things he wanted to do this season was create a bit of legacy within the club and he’s still in a position to achieve that.”

WELLINGTON, NEW ZEALAND – APRIL 16: Oskar Zawada warms up during a Wellington Phoenix A-League training session at NZCIS on April 16, 2024 in Wellington, New Zealand. (Photo by Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images)

Zawada last featured for the Nix in round 18 and won’t be considered for a place in the starting XI on Friday night.

“If I have the opportunity to play him against Jets that means he’s got 10 minutes of conditioning in his legs which means if I need him against Macarthur Bulls I can push him to 20-30 and that means for the semi-final he’s not underdone and he can contribute if he’s available.

“I’ll put him on if I feel like I’m confident and he’s needed in the game. I’m not going to put him on just for the sake of giving him minutes. I don’t think that’s appropriate, especially in the context of the season.

“The intention is obviously to build him up and any time that he gets is great in order for him to get where he needs to be.”

WELLINGTON, NEW ZEALAND – APRIL 16: Mohamed Al-Taay in action during a Wellington Phoenix A-League training session at NZCIS on April 16, 2024 in Wellington, New Zealand. (Photo by Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images)

The round 25 Isuzu UTE A-League match between Wellington Phoenix and Newcastle Jets is scheduled to kick-off at McDonald Jones Stadium in Newcastle at 9:45pm (7:45pm AEST) Friday and will be broadcast LIVE on Sky Sport 7 in New Zealand and on Paramount+ in Australia.

Most recent meeting:
27 January 2024 – Newcastle Jets 1 Wellington Phoenix 2

All-time A-League head-to-head: Phoenix 25W, Jets 17W & 6D.

Wellington Phoenix squad
(two to be omitted)3. Finn SURMAN, 4. Scott WOOTTON, 6. Tim PAYNE, 7. Kosta BARBAROUSES, 8. Ben OLD, 9. Oskar ZAWADA, 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: 26. Isaac HUGHES (injured).

Newcastle Jets squad (two to be omitted): 1. Ryan SCOTT (gk), 3. Jason HOFFMAN, 6. Brandon O’NEILL, 7. Trent BUHAGIAR, 8. Apostolos STAMATELOPOULOS (c), 10. Reno PISCOPO, 13. Clayton TAYLOR, 14. Dane INGHAM, 17. Kosta GROZOS, 18. Daniel STYNES, 19. Callum TIMMINS, 20. Michael WEIER (gk), 22. Phil CANCAR, 23. Daniel WILMERING, 25. Carl JENKINSON, 26. Archie GOODWIN, 27. Nathan GRIMALDI, 29. Justin VIDIC, 37. Lachlan BAYLISS 39. Thomas AQUILINA.
5. Lucas MAURAGIS, 11. Jacob DOWSE, 15. Jason BERTHOMIER, 33. Mark NATTA, 66. Zac BOWLING.