Men’s Match Preview: Wellington Phoenix vs. Adelaide United

After a couple of false starts, the Wellington Phoenix men are hoping to resume their season in Adelaide on New Year’s Day.

They visit Adelaide United in round seven of the Isuzu UTE A-League after their last two matches were postponed on gameday as a result of positive COVID-19 cases in the opposition.

The Omicron outbreak in New South Wales reached the Phoenix men this week, with two players and a staff member testing positive.

But all of the players, including the two who tested positive earlier in the week, have returned negative rapid antigen tests on New Year’s eve.

While two players remain in isolation in Sydney, an 18-strong Phoenix squad has travelled to Adelaide for what is the only round seven match not to be postponed due to COVID-19.

It has been another challenging week for the Phoenix, who have spent the best part of two years away from Wellington.

“The line-up’s changed a few times this week in preparing for the Adelaide game, but unfortunately it’s the world we live in at the moment and we just need to adapt,” head coach Ufuk Talay told media on the eve of the match.

“I never thought I’d be coaching Wellington Phoenix in Sydney. I always thought I’d be in Wellington, but unfortunately these last two seasons COVID has changed the world.

“The group of staff that we have, have sacrificed a lot. We have guys over here with families back in New Zealand and players likewise.”

Talay says it’s “not ideal” but they’re “trying to make the best situation that we can”.

“We’ll always go out there and give our best regardless. We wear the jersey with pride.

“We’ll always go out there and try and represent Wellington Phoenix as best we can.”

Adelaide United sit one place below Wellington on the A-League ladder, having yet to record a win through their first five matches.

They started the season with three draws before narrow defeats to Melbourne Victory and Western United.

“They’re still a very exciting team. They still have some very good players,” Talay said.

“They haven’t got the results that they want this season, but they’re playing at home…it’s always going to be a tough challenge going away to Adelaide and playing them.

“I love going to Adelaide. I love the stadium there, the atmosphere there. I think it’s always great for football.”

As well as being without injured vice-captain Oli Sail and the two players who have tested positive to COVID-19, the Phoenix are unable to call on English forward Gary Hooper.

Hooper re-joined the Nix at the start of the week after being granted leave for personal reasons, but can’t travel to Adelaide.

“He’s just come back from overseas and the border restrictions in South Australia are a little bit different to the other states,” Talay said.

“If he flies into South Australia he has to do quarantine for a few days.”

Hooper will be available for Wellington’s rescheduled FFA Cup quarter-final against Melbourne City in Melbourne on Wednesday, December 5.

Young goalkeeper Alex Paulsen is hoping to end a prolonged wait for his first start for the Phoenix.

Paulsen, 19, made his debut off the bench against Sydney FC in round five and was due to start against both Melbourne City and Central Coast before the FFA Cup quarter-final and A-League match were postponed.

“I think he’s excited. I would be excited if I was in his place,” Talay said.

“The times that we’re living in are providing opportunities for these young players to go out and play.”

The seventh round Isuzu UTE A-League match between the Wellington Phoenix and Adelaide United will kick-off at Coopers Stadium in Adelaide at 7:45pm AEDT (9:45pm NZT), with the game broadcast LIVE on Sky Sport 1.

Most recent meeting:
7 May 2021 – Adelaide United 0 Wellington Phoenix 0

All-time head-to-head: Phoenix 10W, Adelaide 20W & 12D.

Wellington Phoenix squad: 3. Matthew BOZINOVSKI, 5. James MCGARRY, 6. Tim PAYNE, 8. Ben OLD, 9. David BALL, 10. Reno PISCOPO, 11. Jaushua SOTIRIO, 12. Luka PRSO, 13. Nicholas PENNINGTON, 14. Alex RUFER (c), 16. Louis FENTON, 17. Callan ELLIOT, 18. Ben WAINE, 19. Sam SUTTON, 20. Oli SAIL (gk), 21. Joshua LAWS, 23. Clayton LEWIS, 30. Henry GRAY (gk), 31. Kurtis MOGG, 32. George OTT, 33. Finn SURMAN, 34. Jackson MANUEL, 40. Alex PAULSEN (gk), 43. Oskar VAN HATTUM, 88. Gary HOOPER
Unavailable: 20. Oli SAIL (gk) (injured), 88. Gary HOOPER (travel restrictions)