Isuzu UTE A-League Round 5 Match Preview

The Wellington Phoenix’s proud record in Auckland will be put to the test on Saturday afternoon.

The Phoenix men have only been beaten once in 16 matches in Tāmaki Makaurau, but face a number of challenges at Go Media Stadium Mt Smart this weekend.

Not only are the Nix playing host to three-time premiers Melbourne City, who are unbeaten in their past seven meetings against Wellington, in round five of the Isuzu UTE A-League, but they will do so without their talismanic top goal scorer.

Oskar Zawada has been ruled out of the match with a groin strain, which he aggravated at training on Wednesday.

“Traditionally an injury like that will take two to three weeks for the flare up to relax and then he’ll be able to get back on feet,” Phoenix head coach Giancarlo Italiano told media on Friday afternoon ahead of the team’s flight to Auckland.

“Sometimes you can come back earlier, sometimes it can be a little bit later. It’s about management now and assessing the player and whether he feels comfortable.

“It will be an ongoing week to week thing.”

WELLINGTON, NEW ZEALAND – NOVEMBER 04: Oskar Zawada of the Phoenix celebrates with Alex Rufer and Ben Old after scoring a goal during the A-League Men round three match between Wellington Phoenix and Brisbane Roar at Sky Stadium, on November 04, 2023, in Wellington, New Zealand. (Photo by Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images)

Of more pressing concern for Italiano is assessing the wellbeing of first-choice players Tim Payne, Finn Surman and Alex Paulsen, who all only returned to New Zealand on Friday after being with the All Whites for their matches against Greece and the Republic of Ireland in Athens and Dublin.

The coaching staff will make a call on the trio’s availability on Friday evening or Saturday morning.

“My big question mark would be over Tim Payne at the moment because he started both games and we have a duty of care,” Italiano told media on Wednesday.

“He gets in just one day before the game and with a bit if jet lag we might be putting him at risk to start.”

Fullback Matt Sheridan has been named in the extended squad as cover for Payne and is a chance of making his A-League debut.

WELLINGTON, NEW ZEALAND – OCTOBER 13: Matt Sheridan looks on during the Wellington Phoenix A-League Mens training session at NZCIS on October 13, 2023 in Wellington, New Zealand. (Photo by Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images)

Despite the challenges, Giancarlo Italiano is looking forward to playing in Auckland again, even though its at the home of the A-Leagues’ new expansion team.

“Every time we’ve gone there we’ve done reasonably well. It’s always been great.

“The fans always show up which is good so I think this might bring more fans to watch and get a feel of Wellington.

“It may be one of the last games we ever play here so come out in force.”

The Phoenix enter round five joint top of the A-League, having made an unbeaten start to the new season.

AUCKLAND, NEW ZEALAND – MARCH 12: Fans during the round 20 A-League Men’s match between Wellington Phoenix and Sydney FC at Eden Park, on March 12, 2023, in Auckland, New Zealand. (Photo by Fiona Goodall/Getty Images)

They drew 1-1 with Melbourne Victory in their last outing before the international break, despite remarkably not registering a single shot.

“I don’t think it was by design,” Italiano said. “I laugh when I see the comments that we’ve gone there to play for a draw.

“We didn’t say ‘we’re not going to shoot this game, we’re just going to hold out for a 1-all’.

“We felt like we got in good attacking positions and when we went through our review we actually had a lot of opportunity to get an end product, but it just wasn’t working for us and that happens.

“We had an internal at the weekend and we tried a couple of different things, some fun things for the boys and they embraced it quite well.

“At home we’re going to try attack. It’s our fortress where we need to get as many points as we can at home and show intent and hopefully everything works out from there.”

Saturday afternoon’s match will be David Ball’s 100th A-League appearance for the Wellington Phoenix, becoming just the 13th player to reach the milestone for the club.

“I’m over the moon,” Ball told media at Wellington Airport on Friday afternoon. “It’s taken just over four years, so it shows that I’ve been pretty reliable in terms of the number of games I’ve played over that period.

“It’s a moment and then hopefully I can get another 50 and start working towards that. Just really excited to get back out there and play.”

The experienced English forward came off the bench against Victory before the international break and is a contender to replace the injured Zawada.

“I seem to play many different positions and I came to the club as a nine slash 10 so I’ll put my hand up to play in whatever position.

“If you take a striker who’s been scoring goals like Oskar has since he’s come to the club out of the team it’s going to be a blow, but we’ve just got to rally round and make up for that.

“I think we’ve played with each other long enough now, myself, BK and Kosta, to know what we need from each other so we’ve just got to rally together and put in a performance to get the points.”

WELLINGTON, NEW ZEALAND – OCTOBER 13: David Ball celebrates during the Wellington Phoenix A-League Mens training session at NZCIS on October 13, 2023 in Wellington, New Zealand. (Photo by Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images)

The fifth round Isuzu UTE A-League match between the Wellington Phoenix and Melbourne City is scheduled to kick-off at Go Media Stadium Mt Smart in Auckland at 4:30pm (2:30pm AEDT) Saturday and will be broadcast LIVE and free-to-air on Sky Open, as well as being LIVE on Sky Sport 1 in New Zealand and on Paramount+ in Australia.

Get your tickets for the Macca’s Festival of Football, which also includes the Phoenix’s women’s match against Perth Glory, here.

Most recent meeting:
10 April 2023 – Melbourne City 4 Wellington Phoenix 1

All-time A-League head-to-head: Phoenix 11W, City 18W & 8D.

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, 18. Lukas KELLY-HEALD, 19. Sam SUTTON, 24. Oskar VAN HATTUM, 25. Jack DUNCAN (gk), 26. Isaac HUGHES, 40. Alex PAULSEN (gk), 42. Fergus GILLION, 43. Matt SHERIDAN, 52. Jackson MANUEL.
Unavailable: 9. Oskar ZAWADA (injury), 23. Luke SUPYK (U-17 World Cup).

Melbourne City squad (two to be omitted)1. Jamie YOUNG (gk), 2. Scott GALLOWAY, 6. Steven UGARKOVIC, 8. Hamza SAKHI, 9. Jamie MACLAREN (c), 10. Tolgay ARSLAN, 11. Leo NATEL, 16. Aziz BEHICH, 17. Terry ANTONIS, 18. Jordon HALL, 21. Alessandro LOPANE, 22. Curtis GOOD, 25. Callum TALBOT, 26. Samuel SOUPRAYEN, 33. Patrick BEACH (gk), 37. Max CAPUTO, 38. Harry POLITIDIS, 44. Marin JAKOLIS, 46. Ben MAZZEO, 53. Sebastian ESPOSITO.
4. Nuno REIS (injured), 7. Mathew LECKIE (injured), 15. Andrew NABBOUT (injured), 34. Arion SULEMANI (injured), 35. Zane SCHREIBER (injured), 40. James NIEUWENHUIZEN (injured).