Wellington Phoenix head coach Ufuk Talay is wary of a wounded Western United side ahead of Sunday’s sixth round Isuzu UTE A-League match at Sky Stadium.
The reigning champions are winless at the bottom of the A-League ladder, with just one point from the opening five rounds.
John Alosi’s side have also leaked eight goals in their past two matches.
In contrast, the Phoenix are riding high after a 4-1 win over Macarthur FC last Sunday moved them on to the verge of the top six.
“We should never underestimate Western United,” Talay told media on Friday. “We’ve analysed the games that they’ve played and they haven’t played bad football.
“They haven’t been clinical in the top half, and they’ve been a little bit sloppy with individual errors in front of their own goal, [but] they’re still a very good side.
“They’ve still got some good quality experienced players and they’ll still be dangerous with the pacy players they have up front so it’s not going to be an easy game.
“They’re probably hurting a lot. They’re last year’s champions and they’re probably sitting where they thought they wouldn’t be sitting after five rounds.
“It’s going to be a difficult game and we definitely don’t underestimate Western United at all.”
Serbian striker Aleksandar Prijović is a chance of making his first appearance of the season against the Nix.
Prijović, who scored the only goal in Western United’s elimination final win over the Phoenix in May, has yet to make a match day squad as he’s been battling a chronic toe injury.
“I think it’ll come down to John’s assessment of where he is,” Talay said when asked if he expects Prijović to feature.
“He obviously hasn’t had a lot of game time so whether he starts or comes off the bench will be a decision he has to make.”
The Nix are close to full-strength with only young centre back Finn Surman joining club captain Alex Rufer on the injured list.
Ufuk Talay made five changes to his starting XI in each of the past two weeks, with plenty of competition for places in the front four.
“The boys had a great game the last game and we want some consistency within the squad so we’ll see what we do this weekend.
“One thing that we need to look at is the opposition; how we can exploit them and what kind of players we need in those positions.
“At the same time, I need to be fair with the players as well. The players that started the game did a good job and the players that we introduced into the game did a fantastic job as well.
“I know all players want to be in the starting XI, but for me it’s very important that the starting team get us to a certain point and the players that come onto the park influence the game as well.
“We’ll have a game plan for Western United and some players will miss out and some will play, but everyone will get their opportunity.”
Talay is welcoming the depth he has in his squad this season.
“You can’t rely on the starting XI to get the outcome that you need week-in, week-out.
“You need that depth within the squad, not just for each individual game, but also during the season when you have suspensions and injuries you need people to fill that void.”
Young playmaker Ben Old was the only player in the front four to start against both Melbourne City and Macarthur FC.
“I like Oldie a lot. I think he’s a technical player, he works hard off the ball as well and I’m quite fair with the players and when they perform well I still give them the opportunity to go out there and perform the next week.
“The big thing we need from Oldie is consistency, to be able to be back it up week-in, week-out and do the same thing over and over again.”
The sixth round Isuzu UTE A-League match between the Wellington Phoenix and Western United is scheduled to kick-off at Sky Stadium in Wellington at 3:00pm (1:00pm AEDT) and will be broadcast live on Sky Sport 1 & 7 in New Zealand and on Paramount+ in Australia.
Most recent A-League meeting: 14 May 2022 – Western United 1 Wellington Phoenix 0
All-time A-League head-to-head: Phoenix 6W, Western 2W & 1D.
Wellington Phoenix squad: 4. Scott WOOTTON, 5. Steven UGARKOVIC, 6. Tim PAYNE, 7. Kosta BARBAROUSES, 8. Ben OLD, 9. Oskar ZAWADA, 10. David BALL, 11. Bozhidar KRAEV, 12. Lucas MAURAGIS, 13. Nicholas PENNINGTON, 17. Callan ELLIOT, 18. Ben WAINE, 19. Sam SUTTON, 20. Oli SAIL (gk), 21. Joshua LAWS, 23. Clayton LEWIS, 24. Oskar VAN HATTUM, 31. Yan SASSE, 40. Alex PAULSEN (gk).
Unavailable: 14. Alex RUFER (injured), 3. Finn SURMAN (injured).
Western United squad: 1. Jamie YOUNG (gk), 4. Leo LACROIX, 5. Dylan PIERIAS, 8. Lachlan WALES, 9. Dylan WENZEL-HALLS, 11. Connor PAIN, 14. James TROISI, 17. Ben GARUCCIO, 19. Joshua RISDON, 21. Sebastian PASQUALI, 23. Alessandro DIAMANTI (c) 26. Nicolas MILANOVIC, 27. Jacob TRATT, 31. Adisu BAYEW, 33. Ben COLLINS, 37. Ryan SCOTT (gk), 38. Noah BOTIC, 42. Rhys BOZINOVSKI, 88. Neil KILKENNY, 99. Aleksandar PRIJOVIC.
Unavailable: 6. Tomoki IMAI (injured), 7. Tongo DOUMBIA (injured), 10. Steven LUSTICA (injured), 44. Nikolai TOPOR-STANLEY (suspended).