Men’s Match Preview: Wellington Phoenix vs. Central Coast Mariners

Wellington Phoenix head coach Ufuk Talay is expecting another great occasion at Sky Stadium on Sunday afternoon.

The Phoenix are playing in Wellington for the first time since May 22 last year, when more than 24 thousand fans cheered the team to a unforgettable 3-0 win over Western United.

It is in stark contrast to the sparse crowds the team have played in front of in Australia this season.

The Nix are expecting more than 15 thousand fans at Sky Stadium for the Easter Sunday match against Central Coast Mariners and Talay says that will give the team a massive boost.

“The game is nothing without the supporters,” he told media on Saturday.

“Supporters make the game. Players want to come out and play in front of their fans and be cheered on.

“When you go away and you might not have a good game you actually look forward to coming back to your home stadium, play in front of your home fans who give you that boost.

“That’s something the boys haven’t had all season and I’m hoping we have that opportunity to use that energy from the crowd on the park.”

Ufuk Talay took a moment to himself on Sky Stadium before the team came out for training on Saturday.

“I was just assessing the pitch and how lovely it actually is to play on a nice field.

“The pitch is always great here. It’s like a bowling green so there’s no excuses.

“It brings back a lot of good memories that we’ve had here at this stadium and hopefully we can create a few more.”

As much as half of the potential Phoenix matchday squad, including Scott Wootton, Gael Sandoval and Nicholas Pennington, will be playing at Sky Stadium for the first time.

“There’s guys that have never been to New Zealand that are currently here with the squad,” Talay said.

“It’s something new to them…and I think they’ll enjoy it and embrace it and it’s a great occasion for those guys as well.”

The Nix returned in Wellington on Good Friday, five and a half months after leaving New Zealand three weeks out from the start of the A-League season.

The players and staff are buzzing to be back home, but Talay has reminded his team to remain focused on the task at hand.

“That’s the discussion we had this morning with the players.

“I want the players to enjoy their time whilst we’re here and the best way of enjoying it is getting the result on the weekend.

“I wanted to make sure the boys got back and catch-up with their time with their families and friends, but at the same time they know we’re here to do a job.”

The Phoenix were on the wrong end of a 5-0 defeat to the Mariners earlier this month and it provided the team with “a lot of learning moments”.

“They won’t change too much the way that they set-up and the way that they play so we just need to deal with those direct balls we struggled with in that game a lot better.

“We’re playing at home, we’ll do things our way again and try to get the result that we need.”

Ufuk Talay will have to make at least one change to the XI which started the 1-0 win over Perth Glory in Sydney on Wednesday night, with right back Callan Elliot out with a hamstring strain.

Veteran forward David Ball will play, despite a toe injury keeping him in a moonboot in between matches.

“He’ll do some stuff to get the legs moving but we’ll try and keep the load off that toe.

“Once he gets the jab it goes all numb and he doesn’t feel anything so hopefully he gets through the 90 minutes.”

It is the Phoenix’s seventh match in 23 days. They have won four of their past six matches to sit fifth on the A-League ladder.

The Nix are undefeated in their past 11 matches in New Zealand (W9, D2), stretching back to October 2019.

The Isuzu UTE A-League match between the Wellington Phoenix and Central Coast Mariners is scheduled to kick-off at Sky Stadium in Wellington at 3:05pm NZT (1:05pm AEST) and will be broadcast LIVE and free-to-air on Prime and on Sky Sport 2 & 7 in New Zealand and on Paramount+ in Australia.

Most recent meeting:
5 April 2022 – Central Coast Mariners 5 Wellington Phoenix 0

All-time head-to-head: Phoenix 18W, Mariners 17W & 7D.

Wellington Phoenix squad: 3. Matthew BOZINOVSKI, 4. Scott WOOTTON, 5. James MCGARRY, 6. Tim PAYNE, 7. Gael SANDOVAL, 8. Ben OLD, 9. David BALL, 10. Reno PISCOPO, 11. Jaushua SOTIRIO, 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, 36. Riley BIDOIS, 38. Luis TOOMEY, 40. Alex PAULSEN (gk), 43. Oskar VAN HATTUM, 88. Gary HOOPER
Unavailable: 14. Alex RUFER (season-ending knee injury), 17. Callan ELLIOT (hamstring injury), 19. Sam SUTTON (COVID-19 protocols), 21. Joshua LAWS (ankle injury), 23. Clayton LEWIS (ankle injury), 88. Gary HOOPER (calf injury)