The Wellington Phoenix take on rivals Western United at a packed Sky Stadium tonight, in the Club’s first match on New Zealand soil since March 2020.
The Phoenix enter this match riding a seven-match unbeaten streak (3W, 4D) which includes draws in its last three matches, most recently a 2-2 draw versus Melbourne City, with the Nix dominating the top-ranked side for large stretches of the match.
But Wellington knows it cannot settle for a draw this time, if the Club wishes to have any hope of a top six finish at season’s end.
This will be the Nix’s third and final match-up against Western United this season, with the club taking them on twice in April; the first an entertaining 3-2 win which featured goals from Ulises Davila and Joshua Sotirio – and most memorably a header from Ben Waine in the 90th minute to seal the win.
Most recently, Wellington claimed 1-1 all draw against Western United in MW18 when Ben Waine struck in the 7th minute; with only a Lachlan Wales equaliser preventing the Phoenix from taking away the three points.
It’s fair to say that Western United will be wary of Waine and his goal-scoring prowess against their team, but they’ll also have to account for Tomer Hemed – whose double against Melbourne City in its 2-2 draw last Sunday, now sees him as the Club’s joint-leading goal scorer this season.
Although the team continues to be without their captain Davila as he recovers from a hamstring ailment, they will welcome back experienced defender Steven Taylor from illness. And they continue to see steady improvement from Reno Piscopo as he works his way back to full match fitness; the midfielder showing he can impact the game as the squad’s most creative and dynamic attacker.
Also added to the match day side is Wellington Phoenix Reserves player, Ben Old.
On the defensive side, Tim Payne – which captained the Nix for the first time against Melbourne City – continues to impress at centre back, while Sam Sutton has shown flashes on brilliance in the left back position; the latter using the opportunity given to him to showcase his talent.
Western United enter this match in a late-season slump, having lost their past four matches to slip back into tenth place on the A-League ladder. It is difficult to pinpoint the cause for their current form, as the team has struggled equally on both the offensive and defensive side of things.
On defence, Western United gave given up 11 goals (while only scoring once) over their four-goal slump, surprising given that prior to this, they managed to keep a competition-leading seven clean sheets earlier in the season.
And despite having one of the most dynamic goal scorers in A-League history in Besart Berisha (7 goals this season), as well as young scorers Dylan Pierias (6 goals) and Wales (4 goals), Western United have failed to register a single goal in the past three matches.
Despite this, Western United sits on 28 points on the A-League ladder – equal with the Nix but behind on points differential – meaning that a win for either team tonight moves them closer to the coveted six spot and a place in the A-League Finals.
The Wellington Phoenix take on Western United tonight at Sky Stadium from 4.05pm.
Wellington Phoenix squad: 1.Stefan MARINOVIC (gk), 2.Liam McGING, 5.James MCGARRY, 6.Tim PAYNE, 7.Reno PISCOPO, 8.Cameron DEVLIN, 9.David BALL, 11.Jaushua SOTIRIO, 12.Matthew RIDENTON, 13.Charles LOKOLI-NGOY, 14.Alex RUFER, 16.Louis FENTON, 17.Tomer HEMED, 18.Ben WAINE, 19.Sam SUTTON, 20.Oliver SAIL, 21.Joshua LAWS, 23.Clayton LEWIS, 27.Steven TAYLOR, 41.Ben OLD
**1-3 to be omitted**
Ins: 12.Matthew RIDENTON (promoted), 27.Steven TAYLOR (return from illness), 41.Ben OLD (promoted)
Outs: 15.Mirza MURATOVIC (not selected)
Unavailable: 3.Luke DEVERE (knee injury, 3 weeks), 10.Ulises DAVILA (injury, 1 week)
Western United FC squad: 1.Filip KURTO (gk), 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, 21.Sebastian PASQUALI, 22.Tomislav USKOK, 23.Alessandro DIAMANTI (c), 25.Luke DUZEL, 26.Nicolas MILANOVIC 27.Jerry SKOTADIS, 30.Ryan SCOTT (gk), 31.Adisu BAYEW, 34.Iker GUARROTXENA
**2-4 to be omitted**
In: 9.Kaine SHEPPARD (promoted), 26.Nicolas MILANOVIC (promoted), 27.Jerry SKOTADIS (promoted), 31.Adisu BAYEW (promoted)
Out: 17.Bradden INMAN (hamstring), 20.Victor SANCHEZ (suspended)
Unavailable: Aaron CALVER (adductor), Bradden INMAN (hamstring), Dalibor MARKOVIC (ankle), Joshua RISDON (foot)