The Wellington Phoenix face Melbourne Victory tonight, in a re-match that the Nix have no doubt circled on their calendar since late February.
Last time these two teams met in Match Week 9, the Victory came away with a surprising 2-0 win thanks to a pair of headers from Melbourne’s towering attacker, Rudy Gestede.
Victory will be without Gestede for this match due to injury, while the Phoenix will be welcoming back a favourite son – defender Steven Taylor due to make his first appearance this season, also the 50th A-League appearance for his career.
Wellington Phoenix Coach Ufuk Talay says that the addition of Taylor could be a turning point for the club this season.
“Taylor is a very experienced player and it’s something that I think we need within the squad,” said Talay.
“He’s a very influential player, a great leader at the back as well and a great organiser - I’m hoping he comes out and plays well and gives the team the massive boost we need in that backline.”
The Nix will again wear their red ‘Wollongong Strip’ for this match as part of Wollongong Appreciation Month, a kit which carries positive vibes for the squad; the last time they wore this strip – in a 3-0 home win versus Perth Glory – was arguably their best performance of the season.
In addition to the defensive boost provided by a returning Taylor, Wellington will be buoyed by the recent play of their attackers as evidenced in the club’s last match against Brisbane.
Reno Piscopo and Ulises Davila were consistently dangerous in that game as two of the team’s best creators, with the Roar forced often to foul them just to slow them down – a season-long trend which sees Piscopo and Davila ranking as two of the most fouled players in the competition as a result.
And Tomer Hemed continues to find his form, having scored in his last two matches to showcase his ability as a top-level striker. His continued emergence will be key to the Nix’s ability to climb the A-League ladder and secure a sport in the Finals.
Talay hopes that Hemed continues his momentum against Victory and for the rest of the season.
“He got close to 60 minutes in his legs [against Brisbane] so hopefully we can continue to build him up, and as we build him if he continues to score that’s even better,” said Talay.
“He’s a very important player for us, and for him to score goals and us to win games is very important – we need to maximise these next two games and get six points if we want to get anything out of this season.”
Since their Match Week 9 win, the wheels have fallen off for Melbourne Victory; they have lost all three of their previous matches and conceded 13 goals combined (versus 4 goals scored) in that stretch – their worst loss a 6-0 drubbing versus Melbourne City. For the season, Melbourne Victory sit at bottom place with both the lowest number of goals scored (11) and goals conceded (26) this season.
In addition to losing Gestede for this match, Melbourne will also be without their captain Leigh Broxham - suspended for this clash after picking up his fifth yellow card against Adelaide – and key players Ryan Shotton and Marco Rojas.
Despite this, Victory will rely on veterans Robbie Cruse, Jacob Butterfield and Callum McManaman to generate their offense. 22-year-old Jake Brimmer is also a player to watch after a solid showing against the Nix in their last encounter.
The Wellington Phoenix take on Melbourne Victory tonight at WIN Stadium, Wollongong from 7.05pm AEDT (9.05pm 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 (c), 11.Jaushua SOTIRIO, 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
**2-4 to be omitted**
Ins: 21.Joshua LAWS (promoted), 27.Steven TAYLOR (promoted)
Unavailable: 3.Luke DEVERE (knee - 8 weeks)
Melbourne Victory squad: 1.Matt ACTON (gk), 2.Storm ROUX , 3.Adama TRAORE, 4.Nicholas ANSELL, 7.Callum McMANAMAN, 8.Jacob BUTTERFIELD, 10.Robbie KRUSE, 11.Ben FOLAMI, 13.Birkan KIRDAR, 14.Jay BARNETT, 15.Aaron ANDERSON, 16.Brandon LAUTON, 17.Elvis KAMSOBA, 20.Max CROCOMBE (gk), 22.Jake BRIMMER, 25.Luis LAWRIE-LATTANZIO, 26. Lleyton BROOKS, 33.Dalibor MARKOVIC, 35.Zaydan BELLO
**1-3 to be omitted**
In: 4.Nicholas ANSELL (promoted), 17.Elvis KAMSOBA (Promoted), 26. Lleyton BROOKS (promoted)
Out: 6.Leigh BROXHAM (suspended), 9.Rudy GESTEDE (knee)
Unavailable: 5.Ryan SHOTTON (groin), 19.Dylan RYAN (knee), 23.Marco ROJAS (fractured leg)