The Wellington Phoenix’s ‘February football frenzy’ ramps up at WIN Stadium on Wednesday night with a match-up against the newly crowned FFA Cup champions.
Melbourne Victory lifted their first piece of men’s silverware in four years on Saturday night when they beat Central Coast Mariners 2-1 in the FFA Cup final.
Victory downed the Phoenix 4-1 in last month’s semi-final, scoring four goals in the final half an hour after Gary Hooper gave Wellington a 1-0 halftime lead.
Phoenix head coach Ufuk Talay highlighted Melbourne’s bench as being the difference between the two sides on the night, but believes that won’t be the case in Wednesday night’s Isuzu UTE A-League match.
“It was one of those games that we defended very well I thought and we got the goal that we needed, but at that time with players missing we lacked a bit of depth to kill that game off,” Talay told media on the eve of the match.
“Having Payney (Tim Payne) and Clay (Clayton Lewis) coming back has helped [and] now we’ve got Scotty Wootton hopefully in the mix as well, [it] gives us that depth.
“Now when we make changes [they’re] like for like changes instead of makeshift and moving players from positions they normally don’t play, [which] is a good thing for us.”
Payne and Lewis were influential in the Phoenix’s 3-1 win over Macarthur FC on Sunday, after returning from international duty with the All Whites, while Wootton is a chance of making his long-awaited club debut.
The experienced English defender has been side-lined with a quad strain since arriving in Sydney last month.
“He’s got to drive a few balls today to tick that box and then hopefully he’s good to go,” Talay said.
“Because he’s had a bit of a quad strain, that’s the muscle that you use when you kick a ball so we just got to test that out today.
“He clipped a few balls yesterday which was all good with no pain and hopefully today he can drive a few more balls, a little more longer distance and we tick that box and he’ll be ready to go.”
Hooper, his fellow countryman, is likely to miss his second straight match with a hamstring injury, meaning Jaushua Sotirio is line to start in his absence.
Sotirio scored a second-half brace at Campbelltown on Sunday to secure the Phoenix the three points and lift them on to the verge of the top five.
Talay says the result has given the players a “massive boost”.
“A win always makes things a lot easier. It’s a lot easier to fix things and make things better.
“A win gives confidence and hopefully we can continue on this run now.”
Ufuk Talay was also very pleased with the performance against Macarthur.
“I thought we played some very good football [and] I think we were in control for most of that game.
“For me the most pleasing part was the last 10-15 minutes where we controlled the game with the ball and we kept the ball moving, not taking the ball to the corners and that’s the way we need to kill games.”
The Phoenix have had no time to celebrate that showing, with just two full days to prepare to face Victory.
“Few players are a bit sore from the game, which is understandable.
“We’ll see how they go today. There are a few players we will test again to see if their strength has come or not and then we’ll decide what the team looks like for tomorrow.”
With games to follow against Adelaide United, Brisbane Roar and Sydney FC over the next week and a half, Talay will have to manage his squad.
“We always try and put our best team on the park, if we can, but at the same time we need to make sure they’ve recovered fully before they go out on the park to get the best out of them.
“I’ve got to take it game-by-game. If we look too far ahead then no players would play so we need to put our best team out there as possible to win this game against Melbourne Victory and then we’ll look forward to Adelaide after that.”
The match is closed to fans as it was not financially viable to open the grandstands at WIN Stadium, so the Phoenix won’t have their loyal Australian-based supporters to cheer them on.
“Whether it’s behind closed doors or not we’ve been playing away from home for the last season and a half so for us being behind closed doors doesn’t change anything at the end of the day.”
Both sides are on a high and Wellington are embracing the challenge of testing themselves against one of the sides who have set the standard so far this A-League season.
It’s a great opportunity against the guys that just won the Cup. We played them previously, we showed what we can do and now we’ve got to maintain it through the 90 minutes.
“If we win the game we go three points behind them and everyone’s saying they’ve had a fantastic season so far.
“The boys are in good spirits and hopefully we can get a good result.”
Most recent meeting: 29 January 2022 – Melbourne Victory 4 Wellington Phoenix 1
All-time head-to-head: Phoenix 10W, Victory 22W & 11D.
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
Doubtful: 88. Gary HOOPER (hamstring injury)