Isuzu UTE A-League Round 7 Match Preview

Giancarlo Italiano is keen to keep a lid on the excitement surrounding the Wellington Phoenix’s start to the 2023-24 Isuzu UTE A-League.

The Phoenix are the outright competition leaders for the first time since March 2015.

“I try to avoid the noise,” Italiano told media on Friday when asked if he’s noticed a reaction from within the league to the Nix being top of the ladder. “I personally don’t like it because I think it can become a distraction.

“My job is to make sure all of the players are level-headed and stay on course.

“It’s harder with a younger group because younger players are inconsistent by nature. We’re really working hard to make sure that there’s a baseline that we can work off.

“We’re six rounds in. We’re not in round 16 and we’re top of the table and we’re starting to talk about winning the competition.

“For me the most important thing for me is making sure week to week we’re building on our performances and we’ll see where we are at the end of the season.”

He also believes the Phoenix have now “got a big target on our head” and “every game becomes more competitive”, starting with Saturday’s night match against Newcastle Jets at Sky Stadium.

The Jets enter round seven in ninth place on the ladder, with one win, two draws and three defeats.

“They’re going to be formidable opponents tomorrow. I know their coach (Rob Stanton) quite well. Very good coach, very tactically aware.

“They’re a good team. I think they’ve been very unlucky the last couple of games. They’ve also had injuries and they’ve had a changing line-up.

“Rob has a lot of young players he’s given faith to so I think you’ll see in their results they’ll be inconsistent, but they are a dangerous team.

“We played them in the pre-season and they caused us quite a bit of damage so we’re going into the game very, very cautious.”

GOSFORD, AUSTRALIA – NOVEMBER 25: Jets coach Rob Stanton during the A-League Men round five match between Newcastle Jets and Central Coast Mariners at Industree Group Stadium, on November 25, 2023, in Gosford, Australia. (Photo by Scott Gardiner/Getty Images)

The Phoenix are unbeaten six matches into the new season, with four wins and two draws, but Italiano believes there is more to come from his side.

“Being perfectly honest I don’t think we’re playing to the level that I think we can.

“I think we’re going in the right direction [but] if we’re serious about doing anything major in this season we need to increase the consistency overall, with the ball especially.

“Defensively we’re quite sound at the moment, but we can still improve in that respect.

“Even small things like set pieces I think we can still be a little bit more effective on the attacking side.

“The main thing is that we don’t peak now. We want to peak at the end of the season.”

BALLARAT, AUSTRALIA – DECEMBER 02: Oskar Zawada of the Phoenix shoots at goal during the A-League Men round six match between Western United and Wellington Phoenix at Mars Stadium, on December 02, 2023, in Ballarat, Australia. (Photo by Martin Keep/Getty Images)

Giancarlo Italiano has a fully fit squad to pick from with talismanic striker Oskar Zawada in contention to return to the starting line-up after playing half an hour off the bench against Western United last weekend in his first game back from a groin strain.

Italiano has made minimal changes to his starting XI from week to week and has no plans to tinker against Newcastle.

“For me I like to reward consistency. It’s something that players can rely on and work to every week. And it also means every position is valued.

“I don’t like making changes for the sake of making changes.”

The Phoenix and Jets have each scored 599 goals in the A-League men’s competition, despite the Nix having played 44 fewer matches in the competition.

The last two matches between these two sides have seen both teams score at least one goal on the day.

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)

The seventh round Isuzu UTE A-League match between the Wellington Phoenix and Newcastle Jets is scheduled to kick-off at Sky Stadium in Wellington at 7:30pm (5:30pm AEDT) Saturday and will be broadcast LIVE on Sky Sport 2 in New Zealand and on Paramount+ in Australia.

You can get your tickets here.

Most recent meeting:
4 March 2023 – Wellington Phoenix 2 Newcastle Jets 1

All-time A-League head-to-head: Phoenix 24W, Jets 16W & 6D.

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, 18. Lukas KELLY-HEALD, 19. Sam SUTTON, 23. Luke SUPYK, 24. Oskar VAN HATTUM, 25. Jack DUNCAN (gk), 26. Isaac HUGHES, 40. Alex PAULSEN (gk), 52. Jackson MANUEL.
Unavailable: Nil.

Newcastle Jets squad (two to be omitted)1. Ryan SCOTT (gk), 3. Jason HOFFMAN, 5. Lucas MAURAGIS, 6. Brandon O’NEILL (c), 7. Trent BUHAGIAR, 8. Apostolos STAMATELOPOULOS, 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, 29. Justin VIDIC, 33. Mark NATTA, 39. Thomas AQUILINA.
11. Jacob DOWSE, 15. Jason BERTHOMIER, 21. Noah JAMES, 27. Nathan GRIMALDI, 37. Lachlan BAYLISS, 66. Zac BOWLING.