The Wellington Phoenix take on Western United FC at WIN Stadium tonight, in the first match-up between these two rivals this season.
The competition has always been fierce against these two clubs, as evidenced last season when Mark Rudan’s squad took out their first ever match-up 1-0 – only to see the Phoenix retaliate with two emphatic victories against them later that season.
That last encounter, a 2-0 win to the Nix, also saw the home side wear a purple and green kit for the first time in support of the Mental Health Foundation.
For this game, Wellington will again wear the red ‘Wollongong’ strip which has been popular with local fans this season. Although they expect to not have Reno Piscopo available due to injury, they will be hoping veteran Steven Taylor will be ready to go – after both missed the Nix’s 3-2 loss against Melbourne City last round.
In addition to missing Taylor in the backline, the Phoenix have also been without Liam McGing and Te Atawhai Hudson-Wihongi due to injury, leaving the squad dangerously thin at the central defender position. Although this has placed an additional defensive load on the likes of Joshua Laws, Tim Payne and James McGarry, it has been the inspired play of goalkeeper Oli Sail which has buoyed the team in recent weeks.
In the eight matches he has played this season, Oli Sail leads the competition in Goals Saved per Game (5.3) by a wide margin; Liam Reddy is second with four per game. Sail is also second in the A-League in Save Percentage (77%) with his instinctive stops a regular highlight on social channels.
Wellington Phoenix captain, Ulises Davila, says that Sail’s play has been an obvious bright spot for the club this season.
“It’s very good to see how hard Oli has worked last season and this one, he’s kept his consistency [even when he wasn’t playing], and I always tell him he has to be prepared for the chance,” said Davila.
“He stayed ready, he’s worked a lot and now he’s getting his chance and he’s doing great – some great saves every week and is obviously he’s one of the top keepers in the league.”
Meanwhile, Western United come into this match as winners of their last two, including an impressive 2-1 win against Melbourne City last week and a 1-0 victory over Newcastle Jets on Monday; 24-year-old forward Lachlan Wales scoring in both matches.
Although Wales and Dylan Pierias (5 goals) have both shown potential this season, it has been the steady play of their ‘dynamic duo’ of Besart Berisha (6 goals) and playmaker Alessandro Diamanti; the latter currently sitting first-equal in the competition in assists (7) and fourth in crosses (105).
With their age – Berisha is 35 while Diamanti is 37 – along with 38-year-old defender Andrew Durante combining to make them one of the A-League’s oldest starting 11 sides, the club will need to rely on the likes of Wales and Pierias to keep up the pace over an entire season; especially if they want to improve on their seventh-place standing.
Davila says that this match, and every match until the end of the season, have become ‘must-wins’ for the Phoenix as they eye a top six finish.
“The team is playing good football and improving, and we have to keep believing in ourselves.
“We have another 11 games to go, and we are trying to get as many points as possible and to get into the top six and the Finals.”
The Wellington Phoenix take on Western United tonight at WIN Stadium, Wollongong from 7.05pm AEDT (9.05pm NZ Time).
Did you know?
- Opposites in Action: these two teams rely on different methods of scoring goals; while Wellington Phoenix leads the competition with seven goals scored outside the box (four to Davila) versus one header scored (Louis Fenton), Western United has only scored one goal outside the box versus seven headers scored.
- Defending the Headers: no team has conceded more header goals than the Wellington Phoenix (8) and Western United (7) this season
- Big Chances: Although Wellington are last in Big Chances Created this season, they are fourth in the competition in converting those chances (57.1%) ahead of Western United in fourth place.
- Making a Pass: The Phoenix are currently fourth in total passes (7379) and third in pass completion (83.9), compared to Western United who are last in total passes (5748) and eighth in pass completion (81.8%).
Wellington Phoenix squad: 1.Stefan MARINOVIC (gk), 5.James MCGARRY, 6.Tim PAYNE, 8.Cameron DEVLIN, 9.David BALL, 10.Ulises DAVILA, 11.Jaushua SOTIRIO, 12.Matthew RIDENTON, 13.Charles LOKOLI-NGOY, 14.Alex RUFER, 15.Mirza MURATOVIC, 16.Louis FENTON, 17.Tomer HEMED, 18.Ben WAINE, 19.Sam SUTTON, 20.Oliver SAIL, 21.Joshua LAWS, 23.Clayton LEWIS, 27.Steven TAYLOR
**1-3 to be omitted**
Ins: 12.Matthew RIDENTON (return from injury), 27.Steven TAYLOR (return from injury)
Unavailable: 2.Liam McGING (shoulder injury, 1-2 weeks), 3.Luke DEVERE (knee injury, 6 weeks), 4.Te Atawhai HUDSON-WIHONGI (Achilles injury, 2-3 weeks), 7.Reno PISCOPO (injury, 3 weeks)
Western United FC squad: 1.Filip KURTO (GK), 2.Aaron CALVER, 3.Brendan HAMILL, 4 Andrew DURANTE, 5.Dylan PIERIAS, 6.Tomoki IMAI, 7.Besart BERISHA, 8.Lachlan WALES, 9.Kaine SHEPPARD, 10.Steven LUSTICA, 11.Connor PAIN, 13.Ivan VUJICA, 20.Victor SANCHEZ, 21.Sebastian PASQUALI, 22.Tomislav USKOK 23.Alessandro DIAMANTI (c), 25.Luke DUZEL, 26.Nicolas MILANOVIC, 30.Ryan SCOTT (GK), 34.Iker GUARROTXENA
**2-4 to be omitted**
Ins: 20.Victor SANCHEZ (returns from injury), , 26.Nicolas MILANOVIC (promoted)
Unavailable: 19.Joshua RISDON (tibia – 2-3 weeks)