Men’s Match Preview: Wellington Phoenix vs. Melbourne City

Wellington Phoenix head coach Ufuk Talay will be back in the dugout for Saturday’s Isuzu UTE A-League match against Melbourne City.

Talay returned to training on Friday after seven days in isolation following a positive COVID-19 test.

He was forced to watch the Phoenix’s matches against Perth Glory and Brisbane Roar from his apartment in Sydney.

“For me it feels like it’s been a long seven days,” Talay told media on Friday. “Covid-wise I was quite good, just had a blocked nose for a couple of days and that was pretty much it.

“It felt pretty weird to be honest to be sitting at home and watching the games off the computer screen.

“It was a little bit delayed which was not nice because I was getting notifications on my phone that we’d scored but then I hadn’t seen the goal as yet.

“It wasn’t a great experience. It’s an experience I don’t want to have again, but you know what? This is another chapter in the book of my last two seasons at Wellington Phoenix dealing with Covid and all the stuff that we’ve dealt with so far.”

Assistant coach Giancarlo Italiano and goalkeeper coach Paul Gothard guided the Nix to wins over both Perth and Brisbane in Talay’s absence.

“We don’t whinge and whine,” Talay said. “We get on with things and I’m very pleased with the group, showing resilience and very pleased with my staff, continuing the great work and getting the results that they’ve got.”

While Ufuk Talay will be back in the dugout at PointsBet Stadium, home of the Cronulla Sharks, another member of his management team and two players have tested positive to COVID-19. One of the players is injured, while the other was on the bench in Redcliffe on Wednesday night.

Mexican attacking midfielder Gael Sandoval is also “touch and go” after injuring his knee against the Roar, meaning All Whites defender Tim Payne will be in the squad to play Melbourne City, even though he’s not due back in Sydney until Friday evening.

“We’ll assess him once he gets back and hopefully he’s good enough to sit on the bench. If he’s required we’ll have to use him.”

Fellow All White Clayton Lewis is a chance of playing again for the Phoenix this season.

The ankle injury Lewis suffered against Perth Glory on Saturday isn’t as bad as first feared.

The midfielder has torn ligaments but he doesn’t require surgery and will be side-lined for six weeks.

“We don’t want anybody injured but six weeks is not a long time for what we believe he initially first had

“He’s still torn his ligaments but…he may be back for the last couple games of the season.”

Only 14 of the 26-strong Nix squad were able to train on Friday.

“I don’t want anyone else to be injured otherwise I’ll have to strap on the boots,” Talay said.

“We are what we are and the boys have shown a lot of resilience.

“The players that have come in have been given opportunities and have stepped up, which is quite pleasing for me.”

Melbourne City come to Sydney on a nine-game unbeaten run.

“It’s going to be a tough game. Melbourne City are top of the ladder at the moment. They’ve got a few players coming back from injury as well so they’ll probably have a pretty full squad that we’ll play against.

“We’ll go out there and play the way that we want to play and try to nullify them when they have the ball and try to expose them as they do throw a lot of numbers forward.

“We had a good game against them in the [FFA] Cup earlier in the season so hopefully we can get the same result that we did in the Cup.”

The Isuzu UTE A-League match between the Wellington Phoenix and Melbourne City is scheduled to kick-off at PointsBet Stadium in Cronulla at 4:35pm AEDT (6:35pm NZT) and will be broadcast LIVE on Sky Sport 2 & 7 in New Zealand and on Paramount+ in Australia.

Most recent meeting:
5 January 2022 (FFA Cup quarter-final) – Melbourne City 0 Wellington Phoenix 0 (Phoenix won 4-3 on penalties)

All-time head-to-head: Phoenix 11W, Melbourne City 15W & 8D.

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), 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: 11. Jaushua SOTIRIO (hamstring injury), 14. Alex RUFER (season-ending knee injury), 21. Joshua LAWS (ankle injury), 23. Clayton LEWIS (ankle injury), 43. Oskar VAN HATTUM (hamstring injury), 88. Gary HOOPER (calf injury)
Doubtful: 7. Gael SANDOVAL (knee injury)