Isuzu UTE A-League Round 26 Match Preview

The Wellington Phoenix are approaching their potentially decisive final round match against Macarthur FC as they have every other game in their record-breaking 2023-24 season.

The Phoenix can lift the club’s first major trophy at Sky Stadium on Saturday night if they beat Macarthur and Premiers’ Plate rivals Central Coast lose to Newcastle Jets in a match kicking off at the same time in Newcastle.

But Phoenix head coach Giancarlo Italiano hasn’t treated this week any differently.

“It’s the same approach every game,” Italiano told media before training on Friday. “What’s worked for us before will work for us again.

“My job is to make sure the focus is solely on the performance for the first 45, fix what we need to at halftime and then finish the game off for the next 45.

“When there’s a build-up like this or there’s added expectation, I feel like it’s more of a distraction than anything.

“No one came into this season giving this team any sort of credit or respect so we just went back to what we think is a good formula, focusing on the now, so we won’t change.”

And Italiano doesn’t believe there’s any danger of his players getting carried away with the enormity of the occasion.

“There hasn’t been any talk about winning silverware, and they never get too cocky.

“It is a young group, and my biggest thing is balancing out the expectation of being in a position where they have to consistently churn out performance after performance and get a result.

“That’s something they’re probably not accustomed to, but every challenge that has been thrown our way they’ve actually done quite well.”

The Premiers’ Plate will be at Sky Stadium on Saturday night, but the Nix will steer clear of it unless they’re crowned premiers.

Wellington Phoenix players warm-up for training at NZCIS on Friday. Photo: Cam McIntosh/Photomac.

“I don’t want to see it. I don’t want to know about it. I don’t want my players to see it. It’s bad luck.

“If we get crowned champions they have to have it there, but I don’t like tempting fate.

“It’s almost like kryptonite.”

The Phoenix aren’t planning to keep tabs on the score in Central Coast’s match at Newcastle either, with both matches kicking off at 7:15pm NZT.

“We don’t need to know it. It doesn’t matter. If we don’t win, then all this is pointless.

“We’re going to go out there [and] try and play the best football we can. We get the result and then everything else will take care of itself.”

WELLINGTON, NEW ZEALAND – DECEMBER 09: Coach Robert Stanton of the Jets talks to his players during the A-League Men round seven match between Wellington Phoenix and Newcastle Jets at Sky Stadium, on December 09, 2023, in Wellington, New Zealand. (Photo by Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images)

Giancarlo Italiano is good friends with Newcastle coach Rob Stanton but hasn’t called him to ask the Jets for a favour on Saturday night.

“Robbie’s a good coach and he doesn’t need my phone call to inspire him to win a derby.

“I expect Jets will want to put one over the Mariners and if they can stop them winning the championship they’ll have bragging rights for a long time.”

Italiano has a fully-fit squad to call on to play Macarthur, with centre back Isaac Hughes back from the hamstring injury he suffered against Sydney FC at Eden Park last month.

“You have to credit the physio and the S&C for managing these guys throughout the season.

“We don’t have the biggest squad and we’ve had a lot of significant injuries and I feel as though both Cory Glover and Weijie Lim have done really well in making sure that we have fit players every week and having a fit squad.

“It’s great to have a full squad now. Now we have some competition for spots on the bench.

“All great winning sides have one thing in common, they have a lot of depth…not only a good starting XI, but guys that can come off the bench and do a job.”

WELLINGTON, NEW ZEALAND – APRIL 12: A Phoenix fan celebrates 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)

A bumper crowd is expected at Sky Stadium on Saturday night and they have a major role to play.

“They’re like the 12th man. It’s very, very important that the crowd come and cheer us on.

“The three biggest games the club has ever played are going to be the next three.

“This game here with potentially the title on the line, the first leg of the semi-final and then the home leg.

“If we can get anywhere close to 20 thousand for tomorrow’s game it will be an unbelievable experience for the fans themselves just to come out and be part of an atmosphere.”

The round 26 Isuzu UTE A-League match between Wellington Phoenix and Macarthur FC is scheduled to kick-off at Sky Stadium in Wellington at 7:15pm (5:15pm AEST) Saturday and will be broadcast LIVE on Sky Sport 2 in New Zealand and on Paramount+ in Australia.

You can get your tickets here. And make sure you stick around after the fulltime whistle as you’ll be invited on to the pitch for a club photo.

Most recent meeting:
18 February 2024 – Macarthur FC 1 Wellington Phoenix 2

All-time A-League head-to-head: Phoenix 6W, Macarthur 2W & 2D.

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, 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, 24. Oskar VAN HATTUM, 25. Jack DUNCAN (gk), 26. Isaac HUGHES, 40. Alex PAULSEN (gk), 43. Matt SHERIDAN.

Macarthur FC squad (two to be omitted): 1. Danijel NIZIC (gk), 4. Matthew JURMAN, 6. Tomi USKOK, 7. Daniel DE SILVA, 8. Jake HOLLMAN, 10. Ulises DAVILA (c), 12. Filip KURTO (gk), 13. Ivan VUJICA, 14. Kristian POPOVIC, 15. Kearyn BACCUS, 17. RAPHAEL, 18. Walter SCOTT, 20. Kealey ADAMSON, 23. Clayton LEWIS, 24. Charles M’MOMBWA, 27. Jerry SKOTADIS, 31. Lachlan ROSE, 37. Jed DREW, 52. Ariath PIOL, 98. Valere GERMAIN.
2. Jake McGING (injured), 3. Tommy SMITH (suspended), 19. Jesper WEBBER (injured), 21. BERNARDO Oliveira (injured), 22. Yianni NICOLAOU (suspended), 44. Matt MILLAR (injured).

Main image: Cam McIntosh/Photomac.