Ufuk Talay is placing faith in his principles as he endeavours to arrest a form slump and guide the Wellington Phoenix to a third finals appearance in four seasons.
The Phoenix visit bottom of the table Macarthur FC on Saturday evening, knowing a draw will secure Wellington a place in the top six of the 2022-23 Isuzu UTE A-League.
But points have been hard to come by for the Nix in recent weeks, with one draw and four defeats from their past five matches. It’s the team’s worst run since the first five matches of Talay’s inaugural season.
“We strongly believe in our processes and that’s what got us through that first year when we lost those games,” he told media on Friday ahead of the team’s flight to Sydney.
“It’s about sticking to the processes and what we believe in and how we should play the game.
“If we start to be afraid that we’ve lost a few games in a row and we move away from our beliefs it really makes life a lot more difficult.
“We need to stick to our processes, our principles, our beliefs and what we need to do, and we just need to execute a lot better.”
Talay has made it clear they’re “not going there to play for a draw”.
“I always want to finish on a high. The great thing is that it’s still in our own hands to make the top six.
“We’ll go with a positive mindset. We’ll go to try to win the game and we’ll adjust accordingly as the game goes.
“I know they will not be happy with where they’re sitting at the moment Macarthur. I’m sure they don’t want to finish bottom of the table and end the season that way.
“I’m expecting them to come out and try to play and try to win the game as well so it’s very important we go out with the mindset of trying to win the game.”
Three points would also give the Phoenix a confidence boost heading into the finals.
“It’ll be nice to get a win leading into the playoffs, but the reality is the year we didn’t make the top six we beat Macarthur 3-nil [in the final round] and they ended up getting through to the semis.
“Finals football is different. It’s a totally different mindset; the way that you set up and the way that you plan.
“[But] it’ll be great to win the game and go into the finals series with a win under your belt.”
The Phoenix were held scoreless for the first time this season last Friday night, but most of the concern has been at the other end of the pitch, where the team has conceded 17 goals during their five game winless run.
“I think the group are smart enough to comprehend what we need to improve on.
“What I heavily rely on is our structure defensively and I think that’s been poor and that’s something we definitely have to improve on.
“At times we’ve let ourselves down in one-vs-one moments. Sometimes the opponent has got the better of us.
“It’s not about being technically gifted it’s just the desire and passion to get through games.”
Despite the form slump, Ufuk Talay is convinced the Nix are a top six side this season, and he hasn’t considered the possibility Saturday’s game could be his last match in charge.
“I haven’t looked at it as our last week.
“I know that the group is good enough to get themselves into the top six and then we’ll have a game after that and hopefully a home game and an away game in the finals series.
“I don’t look at it being my last game. I know the group is good enough to get us to where we need to get to.
“For me this is a nice rehearsal leading into finals football. It’s an important game that we need to get a result from, and finals football is the same once we get to that.”
Attacking midfielder Ben Old remains the only Wellington player unavailable to play Macarthur.
The final round Isuzu UTE A-League match between the Wellington Phoenix and Macarthur FC is scheduled to kick-off at Campbelltown Stadium in Sydney at 7:00pm (5:00pm AEST) on Saturday and will be broadcast LIVE on Sky Sport 7 in New Zealand and on Paramount+ in Australia.
Most recent A-League meeting: 12 February 2023 – Macarthur FC 2 Wellington Phoenix 1
All-time A-League head-to-head: Phoenix 3W, Macarthur 2W & 2D.
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).
Macarthur FC squad: 1. Nick SUMAN (gk), 2. Jake McGING, 5. Jonathan ASPROPOTAMITIS, 6. Tomi USKOK, 8. Jake HOLLMAN, 9. Bachana ARABULI, 11. Kearyn BACCUS, 12.Filip KURTO (gk), 13. Ivan VUJICA, 14. Moudi NAJJAR, 17. Craig NOONE, 19. Jesper WEBBER, 20. Jason ROMERO, 24. Charles M’MOMBWA, 27. Jerry SKOTADIS, 31. Lachlan ROSE, 35. Al Hassan TOURE, 36. Ali AUGLAH, 41. Oliver JONES, 44. Matt MILLAR.
Unavailable: 7. Danny DE SILVA (injured), 10. Ulises DAVILA (injured), 99. Daniel ARZANI (injured).