Men’s Match Preview: Wellington Phoenix vs. Western United

Wellington Phoenix coach Ufuk Talay is keeping faith in his young players to help the team to a bounce-back result in Ballarat on Saturday afternoon.

The Phoenix visit second-placed Western United after suffering heavy back-to-back defeats in the absence of half a dozen regulars.

The team have thoroughly reviewed Tuesday’s 5-0 loss to the Central Coast Mariners.

“There were a few videos that we showed to the players and I think it was a little bit of an eye opener,” Talay told media on Friday.

“We spoke about where we’re at as a group and what we need to do to get out of this.”

Talay says the team have missed the injured Alex Rufer, Clayton Lewis and Josh Laws, as well as Reno Piscopo and Jaushua Sotirio who have only recently return from their injuries.

All five played key roles in the team’s seven-game unbeaten run earlier in the season.

“But at the same time these young players that we’re playing at the moment they need to understand that these opportunities may never come again.

“Opportunities arise with suspensions and injuries and you’ve got to take the opportunities that are given to you because at the end of the day you can either forge a career out of it or have a very short career.

“We’re asking these young boys to step up and try to win us games.

“I think the talent is there. Obviously playing at this level and playing consistently at this level is not going to be easy for these boys. They’re going to make mistakes, but they also need to learn.”

Despite the heavy defeats the Phoenix are “still sitting in a pretty decent position”.

The Nix are seventh on the ladder and just a point outside the top six, with games in hand over five of the six teams above them.

“I think 37 points will get us into the top six. I think it’s three wins and a draw we need to get us in that position,” Talay said.

“We need to get a decent result against Western United and a decent result against Perth and then we’re looking forward to those two games back at home.

“I know the boys will be buzzing for that so I think the spirits will be pretty high regardless of the numbers that we have available for those games.

“We obviously want to get more than 10, but I think 10 points will put us in a good spot and finish in the top six.”

Western United are a clear second on the ladder and played out an entertaining 2-2 draw with the Mariners in their last outing last week.

“Western United for me are a very disciplined side, a team that grinds out results,” Talay said. “They’ve won a lot of games 1-nil. They’ve scored one goal and then they’ve defended for practically the whole game and seen out the game.

“For us it’s very important that we stay in the game and not concede [early], which will give us an opportunity to score.

“They’ve got some good players, some very experienced players in their squad but we’ll come up with a plan to try and nullify them and stop them from scoring and hopefully we get the opportunities to play the way we want to play.

“That’s one thing I’ve always said to the players ‘don’t move away from what we do regardless of the outcome’.  Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose but we make sure we stick to the football that we want to play.”

Left back James McGarry hasn’t made the trip to Ballarat after testing positive to COVID-19 on Tuesday, but the team hasn’t reported any further positive cases since.

Talay is likely to move the versatile Sam Sutton back to fullback in McGarry’s absence and start Gael Sandoval alongside Nicholas Pennington at the base of the Nix midfield.

“Gael’s played there previously. It’s not a like for like change but we’ll have to make do with the players that we have.”

Piscopo took a knock to his ankle on Tuesday night but will still be available to feature against Western United, while Sotirio is a chance of starting the match after making his return off the bench against Central Coast.

The Isuzu UTE A-League match between the Wellington Phoenix and Western United is scheduled to kick-off at Morshead Park Stadium in Ballarat at 2:05pm AEST (4:05pm NZT) and will be broadcast LIVE on Sky Sport 7 in New Zealand and on Paramount+ in Australia.

Most recent meeting:
21 January 2022 – Wellington Phoenix 2 Western United 1

All-time head-to-head: Phoenix 6W, Western United 1W & 1D.

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, 36. Riley BIDOIS, 38. Luis TOOMEY, 40. Alex PAULSEN (gk), 43. Oskar VAN HATTUM, 88. Gary HOOPER
Unavailable: 5. James MCGARRY (COVID-19), 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)