There’s a collective spring in the Wellington Phoenix players’ step upon the team’s return to Canberra.
The Phoenix play Canberra United at McKellar Park on Saturday afternoon to kick-off round four of the 2022-23 Liberty A-League season.
The Nix women broke through for their maiden win in ACT in February, convincingly beating Canberra United 3-0.
After three defeats to open the new season, Phoenix head coach Natalie Lawrence says the team’s spirits have lifted just by being in Australia’s capital.
“You can feel it amongst them,” Lawrence told media on the eve of the game. “We’re at the same hotel, we’re in the same team room that we were when we got to celebrate that win last year.
“As much as that lifts us and gives us confidence we also know Canberra are a different team, it’s in a different period of time in the league, it’s early on and Canberra have had a couple of draws whereas last year they were struggling and we were focussed on getting that first win.
“There’s a good feeling around the game and there’s a confidence around the game, but not an over cockiness. We know they’re going to be super tough.”
Lawrence is also buoyed by the improvement the team made against Melbourne Victory last week and believes “we’re knocking on the door” of the first win of the season.
“If you look at last week, we wanted it to be more of a 90-minute performance. We kind of fell away after 45 in the first game and then 70 in the second game whereas [against Victory] we stayed in the fight, we stayed more focussed, we were more defensively disciplined and if we continue to do that we can be freer and braver in attack.
“We are going into the game targeting points from this one. We target points from every game but this is one we definitely want to get something out of and keep building.
“We know getting a win will just spur us on. It’s one of the things that we’re definitely needing as a team.”
Football Ferns forward Emma Rolston has travelled with the squad to Canberra and is in line to make her debut for the Phoenix, having missed the opening three matches of the season after aggravating a back injury while on international duty.
“We’re pretty stoked to have her back in. Hopefully she is going to be able to hit the ground running and perform for us.”
Natalie Lawrence believes Rolston will help a Nix attack that has found the back of the net just twice in the opening three matches.
“If I think back to the City game we created quite a lot, we had 17 shots, and then the last two games have been quite a lot lower.
“It’s been a big focus for us this week to create more. We want to be an attacking team, we want to create a lot and what Rollo offers is something different to probably anyone else in the team.
“She’s technically very good, she can shoot from different areas of the field using both feet [and] she can create for others so we’re pretty excited to see what she can do this weekend.”
Lawrence is still unable to call on first-choice goalkeeper and skipper Lily Alfeld and vice-captain Kate Taylor because of knee and ankle injuries respectively, while midfield linchpin Grace Wisnewski isn’t quite ready to make her first appearance of the season.
“We decided to give her another week to get here more touches on the ball so she feels ready to come back in and play in the league.
“Hopefully she should be available from next week.”
The Phoenix will come up against former team-mate Grace Jale on Saturday afternoon.
Jale has scored two of Canberra United’s three goals so far this season and is on a record-equalling six-game goal scoring streak in the A-League.
“We know she’s going to be gunning to score this weekend. That’d get her the record for a consecutive number of goals in the league during a calendar year.
“We’re really aware of her threats but I’m confident our defenders can nullify those as well.”
The fourth round Liberty A-League match between the Wellington Phoenix and Canberra United is scheduled to kick-off at McKellar Park in Canberra at 3:00pm AEDT (5:00pm NZT) and will be broadcast LIVE on Sky Sport 1 in New Zealand and Paramount+ and 10 Play in Australia.
Most recent meeting: 11 February 2022 – Canberra United 0 Wellington Phoenix 3
All-time A-League head-to-head: Phoenix 1W, Canberra 0W & 0D.
Wellington Phoenix squad: 2. Saskia VOSPER, 4. Mackenzie BARRY, 5. Marisa VAN DER MEER, 6. Isabel GOMEZ, 7. Chloe KNOTT, 9. Ava PRITCHARD, 10. Alyssa WHINHAM, 11. Betsy HASSETT, 12. Brianna EDWARDS (gk), 13. Paige SATCHELL, 14. Michaela ROBERTSON, 15. Zoe MCMEEKEN, 16. Emma ROLSTON, 17. Claudia CICCO, 18. Te Reremoana WALKER, 19. Charlotte LANCASTER, 20. Milly CLEGG, 21. Michaela FOSTER, 22. Georgia CANDY (gk).
Unavailable: 1. Lily ALFELD (gk) (injured), 3. Kate TAYLOR (injured), 8. Grace WISNEWSKI (injured).
Canberra United squad: 1. Keeley RICHARDS (gk), 3. Grace TARANTO, 4. Holly MURRAY, 5. Emma ILIJOSKI, 6. Laura HUGHES, 7. Ellie BRUSH, 8. Sasha GROVE, 10. Grace MAHER, 11. Grace JALE, 12. Hayley TAYLOR-YOUNG 13. Sophia CHRISTOPHERSON, 15. Madison McCOMASKY, 16. Kennedy FAULKNOR, 17. Vesna MILIVOJEVIC, 18. Chloe LINCOLN, 19. Nickoletta FLANNERY, 23. Michelle HEYMAN (c), 24. Ellen GETT.
Unavailable: 9. Chengshu WU