Four months removed from their last Hyundai A-League football game, the Phoenix are looking forward to the challenge of taking on defending A-League champions, Sydney FC in the first match of the newly re-launched season.
All eyes will be on both teams as they take the field at Netstrata Jubilee stadium tomorrow night, in front of a live Sydney crowd – who will no doubt be hungry for some real-life football after a long, COVID-enforced absence.
Wellington’s last match was on 15 March, when the club defeated Melbourne Victory 3-0 at Sky Stadium in front of a raucous crowd; that match will also be remembered for Gary Hooper’s epic backwards header, which has been shown on many highlight reels over the past few months. That win helped to further establish the Phoenix as the in-form club of the competition at the time, winners of their past four games – their first four-match winning streak since March 2015, and only the third in club history – and scoring nine goals over that stretch.
As the squad prepares prepare for both tomorrow’s test and a run of six matches in 28 days, Coach Ufuk Talay says that his players are excited to get back out on the field again after a long four-week training camp and a long period of isolation.
“We go to training, we come back and we’re at the hotel for the rest of the day. The boys are in their own spaces or in their rooms, we come together for breakfast, lunch and dinner, and we come together on the park – it’s not easy, but at the same time we know what we need to sacrifice to get over the line at the end of the season.”
The Phoenix are buoyed by the return of two of their top imports from overseas, with Ulises Davila (11 goals, 5 assists) and Gary Hooper (6 goals, 4 assists) re-joining the squad from Mexico and the UK respectively. They join a full-strength Phoenix squad for the long run, although the club will be without Cameron Devlin, Tim Payne and Oliver Sail against Sydney FC due to suspension.
Captain Steven Taylor says that although the club has lost the momentum they had earlier in the season, it also means that all clubs are on an ‘even keel’ as the season re-starts.
“It’s down to us as a team, we’ve got to try and start well – it’s like a mini-tournament where we have to put these points up on the table.
“We’re in decent physical condition in training, but we’ll need these next six games to build ourselves up for Finals football – and put ourselves in a position where we can challenge to win it.”
Meanwhile Sydney FC sits in first place on the ladder with 15 wins in 20 matches; eight points clear of second-placed Melbourne City. Like Wellington, they are bringing back a full-strength squad, spearheaded by the A-League’s second-leading goal scorer in Adam La Fondre (17 goals) and an imposing defence that includes Rhyan Grant and Andrew Redmayne.
The Phoenix’s last match against Sydney FC was a 2-2 draw at home; with goals from Reno Piscopo and Ulises Davila holding Sydney to only their third draw of the season.
The Wellington Phoenix take on Sydney FC at Netstrata Jubilee Stadium tomorrow on Friday 17 July from 7pm, as the Phoenix look for their first five-match winning streak in club history.
Did you know?
·Opportunities Abound – With Devlin, Payne and Sail out of this match, the door opens for match time for some of the younger Phoenix players – including promising goalkeeper Zac Jones, who will appear in the match day squad for the first time this season.
·Fenton’s Return – The match also sees the welcome return of Louis Fenton to the squad, after missing a large chunk of the season due to injury and subsequent surgery.
·Sotirio Century – Jaushua Sotirio is in line for his 100th career match in the Hyundai A-League if he plays on Friday, with 81 appearances for Western Sydney – and 18 this season for the Phoenix – under his belt.
·Second Half Scorers – Sydney FC (17%) and Wellington Phoenix (13%) boast the two highest shot conversion rates in the second half of games this Hyundai A-League season.
·Passers & Blockers – The Phoenix have the highest passing accuracy (83.7%) in the Hyundai A-League this season; they also boast two of the five players to have blocked more than 20 shots this season (Steven Taylor – 28, Luke DeVere – 22).
At a Glance:
Date: Friday, 17 July 2020
Kick-off: 9.30pm NZT/ 7.30pm AEST
Venue: Netstrata Jubilee Stadium, Sydney
Broadcast: (NZ) Sky Sport 7, (Aus) Fox Sport 505. International broadcasters can be found here.
Wellington Phoenix squad: 1.Stefan MARINOVIC (gk), 2.Liam McGING, 3.Luke DEVERE, 4.Te Atawhai HUDSON-WIHONGI, 5.Matti STEINMANN, 7.Reno PISCOPO, 9. David BALL, 10.Ulises DAVILA, 11.Jaushua SOTIRIO, 12. Brandan Wilson, 13.Liberato CACACE, 14.Alex RUFER, 16.Louis FENTON, 17.Callan ELLIOT, 21.Callum MCCOWATT, 23.Walter SCOTT, 27.Steven TAYLOR (c), 30.Zac JONES (gk), 31.Ben WAINE, 88. Gary HOOPER
Unavailable: 6.Tim PAYNE (Suspended – 4 matches), 8.Cameron DEVLIN (Suspended – 1 match), 20.Oliver SAIL (gk) (Suspended – 4 matches)
Sydney FC squad: 1.Andrew REDMAYNE (gk), 2.Patrick FLOTTMANN, 4.Alex WILKINSON (c), 5.Alex BAUMJOHANN, 6.Ryan McGOWAN, 7.Michael ZULLO, 8.Paulo RETRE, 9.Adam LE FONDRE, 10.Milos NINKOVIC, 11.Kosta BARBAROUSES, 12.Trent BUHAGIAR, 16.Joel KING, 17.Anthony CACERES, 18.Luke IVANOVIC, 19.Chris ZUVELA, 21.Harry VAN DER SAAG, 23.Rhyan GRANT, 24.Marco TILIO, 26.Luke BRATTAN, 30.Adam PAVLESIC
**2-4 to be omitted**
Unavailable: 3.Ben WARLAND (hamstring – 2 weeks), 20.Thomas HEWARD-BELLE (gk) (knee – 1 week)