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

The Wellington Phoenix will be without their vice-captain and first-choice goalkeeper for tomorrow’s Isuzu UTE A-League men’s match against the Central Coast Mariners in Gosford and the start of 2022.

Head coach Ufuk Talay has revealed Oli Sail will be sidelined for six to eight weeks with a hip injury, sustained against Sydney FC last week.

It means academy graduate Alex Paulsen, who made his A-League debut off the bench against Sydney, will make his first start against the Mariners, with 16-year-old Henry Gray having joined the squad in Sydney as cover.

Gray is the 12th member of the current group to have come through the club’s academy.

“We’ve relied heavily on our academy this season…so AP (Alex Paulsen) will got out there and we’ll rely on him to do his job and Henry will be sitting on the bench,” Talay told media on the eve of the match.

“It’s one of those seasons where unfortunately with Covid and not being able to bring Visa players into New Zealand has obviously been a big challenge for us from the start of the season.

“But it’s an opportunity for these guys to show what they can do. Whether they sink or swim, it’s up to them, we’ll try to push them in the right direction and give those opportunities.”

The team trained on Christmas morning before Josh Laws’ parents hosted the players for a BBQ.

“Having a game on the 27th [we] can’t give them a day off. We trained a little bit earlier to give them more time in the afternoon.

“At the moment the family we have here is the staff and the players so we tried to make it as normal as possible but obviously it’s not the same as being back home.”

While many of the Phoenix squad have become accustomed to spending Christmas away from Wellington, it’s not the case for a number of the younger players.

“It’s the first time maybe some of these academy players have been away from home, away from family for Christmas.

“There was a bit of talk about a few of the younger boys struggling in that sense.

“So we trained early in the morning so we gave them more time to [spend] with their teammates and enjoy the afternoon as normal, but look it’s never going to be normal when you’re not back home.”

The Phoenix are attempting to snap a run of three straight league defeats and Talay says they’ve been focusing on their play in and out of possession.

“We’ve worked on both sides to be honest, with the ball and without the ball. How we can improve with the ball and also defensively our set-up and how we need to defend.

“For me our team is built on defending well first and then what we do with the ball after.

“There’s always stuff that we need to improve on but the biggest thing for this young group is consistency. That for me is the key for our season.”

Wellington’s last A-League win came against the Central Coast Mariners in round two. The Mariners though have won two of their three matches since to start round six in the top four.

“It’s going to be a great challenge. They’re in a good spot at the moment, they’ve had some good wins so it’s going to be a tough game.”

Like the Phoenix, Central Coast pride themselves on their youth development, with their young core complementing experienced captain Oliver Bozanic.

“He’s a very good player. He’s had good career within the game and I think he’s the heart of that team in what he does with and without the ball,” Talay said.

“They’ve got a few players that we need to nullify when we don’t have the ball and a few spaces that we can exploit when we do have the ball.

“We’re always mindful of opposition players and the attributes that they have, but again for me the focus is on us on what we do when we have ball and when we don’t have the ball.”

While Wellington is without Sail, they are able to call on left back James McGarry again.

McGarry missed last week’s match against Sydney with a knee injury, but has trained with the group for the past few days.

The Wellington Phoenix’s sixth round Isuzu UTE A-League men’s match against the Central Coast Mariners at Central Coast Stadium in Gosford is scheduled to kick-off at 4:05pm AEDT (6:05pm NZT) with the game LIVE on Sky Sport 2.

Most recent meeting: 26 November 2021 – Wellington Phoenix 2 Central Coast Mariners 1

All-time head-to-head: Phoenix 19W, Mariners 16W & 7D.

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, 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 (personal reasons)