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

The Wellington Phoenix return to action in the Isuzu UTE A-League on Sunday after an enforced two-week absence from the competition.

The Phoenix men last played on February 19, when they drew 1-1 with Sydney FC and extended their unbeaten run to six matches.

It was their fifth game in 14 days, but, after last Sunday’s match against Western Sydney Wanderers was postponed, they have now gone the same period without a competitive fixture.

“We’ve had too much time off,” Phoenix head coach Ufuk Talay told media on the eve of Sunday’s match against Melbourne City.

“I think we needed a good break after those games but not the break that we’ve had.

“The boys have had some good rest but we just want to get back into a flow of games and build that momentum again.”

The Nix are scheduled to play three times in the next week, with Sunday’s match against City followed by a ‘home’ match against Newcastle Jets in Gosford and a trip to Brisbane on Saturday to play the Roar.

The players who didn’t feature regularly during the unbeaten run played a friendly match against local National Premier Leagues side Dulwich Hill last week and on Monday they played an intersquad game.

“We did an in-house game to keep their match fitness up, but we want to get back to playing competitive games,” Talay said.

“I think the boys are pretty excited to get going again.

“We just want to start to play games. That break in between didn’t help.”

The extreme wet weather in New South Wales has curtailed the team’s build-up this week.

“It’s been raining for so long here. We haven’t had a proper pitch to train on to be honest.

“We’ve been shoved around left, right and centre on synthetic and today we’re on the futsal court to get through a session.

“We’re just making do with what we can. I think the group is used to these challenges. It is what it is and we’ll make the best out of the current situation.”

Melbourne City have played three times since the Phoenix last took the field, beating Central Coast Mariners and Sydney FC before drawing 2-2 with Perth Glory on Wednesday night.

City are keeping pace with Western United at the top of the table and Talay is wary of the reigning champions’ attacking threat.

“They’ve got a very, very good squad, a very experienced squad.

“They’ve got the frontline for the Socceroos with (Matthew) Leckie, (Andrew) Nabbout and (Jamie) Maclaren so they’ve got some good attacking players.

“But the focus is always on us. What we do when they have the ball and what we need to do when we have the ball.

“I think they’ve conceded the most amount of goals this season so they do score goals, but they do concede a lot of goals and that’s something we need to exploit.”

Ufuk Talay has fielded the same XI for the last four Phoenix matches and believes that has been a key to their unbeaten run.

“We needed consistency. That was something we lacked at the start of the season with the starting XI.

“You saw once we had a bit of consistency in those last five games what the team can actually do.

“It’s important to keep our best players on the park as much as we can and have that consistency.”

Talay will have to make at least one change to his first-choice side with attacking midfielder Reno Piscopo side-lined with a calf injury.

Experienced English forward Gary Hooper has also experienced tightness in his calf this week and is unlikely to be available to play at Leichhardt Oval.

Academy graduate Ben Old is likely to replace Piscopo in the starting XI, with Talay reluctant to break up his strike partnership of David Ball and Jaushua Sotirio.

The Isuzu UTE A-League match between the Wellington Phoenix and Melbourne City is scheduled to kick-off at Leichhardt Oval in Sydney at 4:05pm AEDT (6:05pm NZT) and will be broadcast LIVE in New Zealand on Sky Sport 7 and in Australia on Paramount +.

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), 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: 5. James MCGARRY (knee injury), 10. Reno PISCOPO (calf injury)
Doubtful: 88. Gary HOOPER (calf injury)