Liberty A-League Round 20 Match Preview

The Wellington Phoenix are relishing being back at home as they continue their fight for a place in the Liberty A-League finals.

The Phoenix are playing host to reigning champions Sydney FC at Porirua Park on Sunday afternoon in what’s just their second match in Wellington since Christmas.

The Nix are unbeaten in three matches at their new home, with two wins and a draw.

“It’s been a very positive place for us so far this season results wise [and] performance wise,” Phoenix head coach Paul Temple told media after training on Friday. “But also, the crowd, the atmosphere, and that sense of closeness with the fans, it’s kind of like having a 12th man.

“If there’s a little bit of magic, or there’s some skill, or there’s a run in behind or a cross into the box, the crowd gets excited, and it roars you on. It just gives you energy.

“We’ve not had that obviously for a while, once in the last nine games, and it feels like now we’re back.

“Hopefully the crowd turn up on Sunday, support the team, roar us home and give us that little bit of extra energy during the game.”

WELLINGTON, NEW ZEALAND – JANUARY 28: Phoenix fans celebrates a goal during the A-League Women round 14 match between Wellington Phoenix and Canberra United at Porirua Park, on January 28, 2024, in Wellington, New Zealand. (Photo by Masanori Udagawa/Getty Images)

There’s been a spring in the team’s collective step following their drought-breaking road win against Perth Glory last week, but the Phoenix are still on the outside of the top six looking in.

The Nix entered the weekend in ninth place, five points outside of the last of the finals positions, but with a game in hand.

“Our playoffs have started already. It’s win or bust a little bit.

“Teams around us are doing well, are in form and we’ve got to fight them, but it’s in our hands which is important.

“We’ve got these three home games out of the last four which is great for us, and two in quick succession, Sunday and Wednesday.

“Haven’t really even thought too much about Wednesday. It’s that classic one game at the time [mentality].

“We need to go into Sydney, set ourselves up to try and win the game, and put ourselves in a good position to keep fighting for that top six.”

The Sky Blues started the round in third, just two points off top spot and with a game in hand.

“They’re a big club in this league. They’ve got big players, Matildas, so there’s no doubt they’re an amazing team and…are difficult to play against.

“But I don’t think anyone in this league is so far ahead of everyone else that you can’t go into each game believing that you can win.

“We have some things that we’re going to try and do on Sunday that hopefully give us an advantage from a tactical perspective.”

Wellington Phoenix forward Michaela Robertson in full flight at training at NZCIS on Friday. Photo: Cam McIntosh/Photomac.

Sydney FC prevailed 1-0 in their most recent meeting a few days after Christmas in Sydney.

“Last time we played them I thought it was a pretty tight game.

“It was a game of two headers in the box really. They scored a really good header in the box, and we missed a really good opportunity for a draw.

“There wasn’t much in it in the last game, but I think both teams have taken different paths since then.

“We’ve dropped a little bit in form, and they’ve picked up again and they’ve been steadily getting better.”

Paul Temple will be forced to make at least one change to his starting XI, with centre back Rebecca Lake ruled out of the remainder of the season with a high ankle sprain.

“There’s no question it has an effect on the team because she’s been amazing for us on and off the pitch.

“She’s stepped in to be that starter, she’s vice-captain, she’s led the team out [and] she’s a big personality and presence in the group.

“No question it’s a loss, but like we’ve seen when we’ve had Grace [Wisnewski] injured and then Marisa [van der Meer] injured someone else in this team has to step up now and cover that off.

“It might be their time to shine and that’s really what we have to focus on now…the players that are coming into the team that can step up and perform.”

Kate Taylor has returned to training with the Wellington Phoenix after missing their matches in Melbourne and Perth. Photo: Cam McIntosh/Photomac.

Temple may be able to call on captain Annalie Longo and fellow Football Fern Kate Taylor for the first time in six weeks.

“I think Kate’s a little bit further along than Annalie in terms of return to play.

“They were both out there today (Friday) so we’ll hope that they can both pull through and be available because they’re big players in the team and we’ve been without them now for a little while so it’ll be great to have them back.”

The round 20 Liberty A-League match between Wellington Phoenix and Sydney FC is scheduled to kick-off at Porirua Park in Wellington at 4pm (2pm AEDT) Sunday and will be broadcast LIVE on Sky Sport 1 in New Zealand and on Paramount+ and 10 Play in Australia.

You can get your tickets to cheer on the Phoenix women here.

Most recent meeting:
29 December 2023 – Sydney FC 1 Wellington Phoenix 0

All-time A-League head-to-head: Phoenix 1W, Sydney 4W & 0D.

Wellington Phoenix squad
(four to be omitted): 1. Rylee FOSTER (gk), 2. Zoe MCMEEKEN, 3. Kate TAYLOR, 4. Mackenzie BARRY, 6. Macey FRASER, 7. Isabel COX, 9. Kelli BROWN, 10. Alyssa WHINHAM, 11. Hope BRESLIN, 13. Michaela FOSTER, 14. Michaela ROBERTSON, 15. Daisy BRAZENDALE, 16. Annalie LONGO (c), 17. Mariana SPECKMAIER, 18. Hailey DAVIDSON, 20. Emma MAIN, 21. Manaia ELLIOTT, 22. Aimee DANIELI (gk), 26. Tiana JABER, 27. Helena ERRINGTON.
Unavailable: 5. Marisa VAN DER MEER (injured), 8. Grace WISNEWSKI (injured), 12. Brianna EDWARDS (gk) (personal reasons), 23. Rebecca LAKE (injured).

Sydney FC squad (three to be omitted): 1. Jada WHYMAN (gk), 2. Margaux CHAUVET, 3. Charlotte MCLEAN, 4. Tori TUMETH, 5. Kirsty FENTON, 6. Lucy JOHNSON, 7. Teigan COLLISTER, 8. Darcey MALONE, 9. Shea CONNORS, 10. Sienna SAVESKA, 11. Cortnee VINE, 13. Aideen KEANE, 14. Abbey LEMON, 15. Mackenzie HAWKESBY, 16. Jordan THOMPSON, 18. Taylor RAY, 20. Princess IBINI (c), 24. Caley TALLON-HENNIKER, 40. Jasmine BLACK (gk).
Unavailable:  12. Nat TOBIN (injured), 17. Jynaya DOS SANTOS (Young Matildas),  19. Zara KRUGER (Young Matildas), 21. Shay HOLLMAN (Young Matildas), 22. Indiana DOS SANTOS (Young Matildas), 23. Fiona WORTS (injured), 26. Madeleine CASPERS (Young Matildas), 30. Tahlia FRANCO (gk) (Young Matildas).