Men’s Match Preview: Wellington Phoenix vs. Newcastle Jets

The Wellington Phoenix’s depth will be tested in tonight’s Isuzu UTE A-League match against Newcastle Jets.

Head coach Ufuk Talay is without eight regulars, leaving him with just 18 players to pick from.

“I think we’ve got just the right amount of players to make a squad this week so we’ll go with the numbers we have,” Talay told media on Thursday.

“We don’t have a massive luxury of selection at the moment, but I have a belief in my players and I always look at the glass half full.

“It’s another challenge and it’s a challenge that this team will embrace. It’s another hurdle that we need to get over and I think the players will be up for it.”

On top of losing captain Alex Rufer to a season-ending knee injury, vice-captain Oli Sail, midfielders Clayton Lewis and Ben Old and striker Ben Waine are in Qatar with the All Whites and veteran forward David Ball is suspended. Key playmaker Reno Piscopo also remains side-lined with a calf injury and young forward Oskar van Hattum is “still four weeks away” from returning from a hamstring tear.

“We don’t want any injuries to occur to any players, especially long-term injuries like we have with Alex at the moment, but opportunities arise with these sorts of occasions,” Talay said.

“Players have an opportunity to showcase what they can do. We’ve had some young boys here that haven’t had game time and this is an opportunity to show what they can do and go out there and perform.

“I have a total belief in my players and the way that we set up and the way that we play.

“Sometimes you can perform very well and still lose games, but as long as they go out there and try to apply what we do and how we do things, regardless of the result it’s a great opportunity to show what they can do.”

The Phoenix are particularly undermanned in the defensive and attacking midfield positions in the absence of Rufer, Lewis, Piscopo, Ball and Old.

“I think we’re a little bit light everywhere at the moment, but we’ve got the young boys that need to step up.

“We’ve got Jimmy (James McGarry) coming back as well, which gives us the opportunity to push Sutts (Sam Sutton) in as a 10. Previously he’s played in that role so he understands the role.

“We’ll have to adapt some players into certain different roles. It might not be something they’re accustomed to but I think they’re good enough to adapt.

“They might be playing out of position. It is what it is. It’s 11 vs 11 and we go out there and play.”

Nine of the first team’s 12 academy graduates will feature against Newcastle and Ufuk Talay has faith in all of them.

“I always believe in my players, regardless of who starts.

“The good thing about us is our game doesn’t change by the opposition. We still play the way that we’re going to play and find solutions in the way that we’re going to play.

“For me whether it’s player A or player B, it’s an opportunity for the players.

“It is what it is. You can’t change the scenario so the players need to step up and embrace the occasion.”

With Waine, Ball and Piscopo unavailable, experienced English striker Gary Hooper is in line to start against the Jets.

“Hoops will be okay to start. The question will be how long he will go,” Talay said.

“He trained all week so he’s looking good. I know he wants to be involved so we’ll start Hoops and see how he goes.”

It is the team’s second meeting with the Jets in 10 days, with the Nix prevailing 3-2 in Gosford on Wednesday, March 9 courtesy of a late header from Ball.

Tonight is the deciding match of the season between the two sides, with the Jets having won 4-0 at McDonald Jones Stadium in December.

Both clubs have united to honour the victims of the Christchurch mosque terror attacks.

Newcastle have agreed to reserve 51 seats at McDonald Jones Stadium in a tribute to those who lost their lives on March 15, 2019. Each seat will bear a name of one of the deceased.

The Jets are also raising money for those affected by the recent flooding in northern New South Wales and are showing their support for Ukraine, with the Phoenix to wear their yellow socks with their blue shirt and shorts.

The Isuzu UTE A-League match between the Wellington Phoenix and Newcastle Jets is scheduled to kick-off at McDonald Jones Stadium in Newcastle at 7:45pm AEDT (9:45pm NZT) and will be broadcast LIVE in New Zealand on Sky Sport 2 & 7 and in Australia on Paramount+.

Most recent meeting: 9 March 2022 – Wellington Phoenix 3 Newcastle Jets 2

All-time head-to-head: Phoenix 23W, Jets 14W & 6D.

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: 8. Ben OLD (international duty), 9. David BALL (suspended), 10. Reno PISCOPO (calf injury), 14. Alex RUFER (season-ending knee injury), 18. Ben WAINE (international duty), 20. Oli SAIL (gk), 23. Clayton LEWIS (international duty), 43. Oskar VAN HATTUM (hamstring injury)