The Wellington Phoenix face their Distance Derby rivals Perth Glory tonight, for the first time this season - in a re-match of their 2019/20 Elimination Finals clash in last season’s re-start.
This match will also be the first game of the club’s Wollongong Appreciation Month in March, with the Phoenix playing three matches at WIN Stadium while wearing a Wollongong-themed red strip for the first time.
The Phoenix are coming off of a solid 2-0 win versus the Newcastle Jets last Sunday, thanks to goals from David Ball and Ben Waine; the club keeping their first clean sheet of the season and making their chances count with two goals scored from six goal attempts.
That win came at the end of a stretch of three matches played in seven days, in which the Nix claimed a respectable four points from a possible nine (1W, 1D, 1L), despite dealing with injuries to key players Tomer Hemed, Luke DeVere and Jaushua Sotirio - in addition to Ball’s suspension and the limited availability of sparkplug Cameron Devlin.
Coach Ufuk Talay also used this stretch to give key minutes to a trio of youngsters in Oli Sail, Ben Waine and Liam McGing, and says they each have showed what they can do when given an opportunity – particularly against the Jets.
“You’ve got to reward the players that they gone out there and played; they went out there, they did a good job and we came out with a clean sheet and two goals – you’ve got to reward the players for their efforts.
“And the players who played in the last match did a fantastic job, so we’ll look to possibly continue in the same direction with them.”
The Nix will continue to tinker with their backline due to DeVere’s injury, having utilised both James McGarry and Joshua Laws at left back in recent matches, as well as a combination of McGing, Laws and Tim Payne as central defenders – the latter allowing Louis Fenton to slide into the right back role.
The impending return of Steven Taylor in a fortnight’s time is also expected to bring added stability to this Phoenix backline.
For Perth Glory, who currently sit in seventh place on the A-League ladder, a win tonight could see them move into a coveted top six spot. The Glory have only played two games in the past month due of COVID-19 travel restrictions, and are coming off of a 2-0 loss in their last match against the top-seeded Central Coast Mariners.
Prior to that loss, Perth had been on a three-game winning streak - scored seven goals in just three matches and leading the competition in both goals scored (19) and goal conversion rate (33%). Bruno Fornaroli has been at the forefront of their blistering attack, having scored four goals in his last six matches and six in total this season.
But defence has been a concern for Perth, as they have allowed 15 goals (third-worst in the competition) and are the only team yet to record a clean sheet. Perth has chosen to go with Tando Velaphi in goal over the past five matches, after the Glory had conceded eight goals in their first two matches with Liam Reddy as their goalkeeper.
Coach Talay says that Perth’s attacking strengths present a strong challenge to the Phoenix’s defensive line, but says it’s up to how his players perform on the night.
“Perth have got some very influential players and a decent squad, but for me it’s all about us – and not them – and how we play and what we do with the ball,” says Talay.
“We’re playing at home and it’s very important for us to get the three points – I don’t want us to be one of those teams that yo-yo around by winning one, drawing one, losing one; it’s very important for us to build consistency with these games coming up.
“I have the belief in our players and what they can do, so we just need to continue to build that momentum.”
The Wellington Phoenix take on Perth Glory tonight at WIN Stadium, Wollongong from 4.05pm AEDT (6.05pm NZ Time).
Wellington Phoenix squad: 1.Stefan MARINOVIC (gk), 2.Liam McGING, 4.Te Atawhai HUDSON-WIHONGI, 5.James MCGARRY, 6.Tim PAYNE, 7.Reno PISCOPO, 8.Cameron DEVLIN, 9.David BALL, 10.Ulises DAVILA, 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
**2-4 to be omitted**
Ins: 8.Cameron DEVLIN (promoted), 19.Sam SUTTON (promoted)
Unavailable: 3.Luke DEVERE (knee injury, 10 weeks), 11.Jaushua SOTIRIO (knee injury, 1 week), 27.Steven TAYLOR (quarantine, 2 weeks)
Perth Glory squad: 1.Tando VELAPHI (gk), 5.Jonathan ASPROPOTAMITIS, 6.Osama MALIK, 8.Kosuke OTA, 9.Bruno FORNAROLI, 10.Andy KEOGH, 13.Luke BODNAR, 15.Brandon WILSON, 16.Nick SULLIVAN, 17.Diego CASTRO (C), 19.Callum TIMMINS, 18.Nick D'AGOSTINO, 20.Carlo ARMIENTO, 22.Josh RAWLINS, 23.Dane INGHAM, 24.Daniel STYNES, 29.Darryl LACHMAN, 33.Liam REDDY (gk), 38.Ciaran BRAMWELL, 88.Neil KILKENNY
**2-4 to be omitted**
Ins: 5.Jonathan ASPROPOTAMITIS (returns from injury), 13.Luke BODNAR (promoted), 22.Josh RAWLINS (promoted)
Outs: 34.Mason TATAFU (ankle – 1-2 weeks)
Unavailable: 7.Chris IKONOMIDIS (knee – 2-3 weeks)