The Wellington Phoenix take on A-League leaders Melbourne City tonight at AAMI Park, in a must-win match for the Nix and their top six aspirations.
Wellington enter this match undefeated in six matches (3W, WD), and also carry a five-game undefeated streak away from their temporary home at WIN Stadium – with their last loss in enemy territory coming over two months ago against the Wanderers.
Although the Phoenix failed to score in either of their last two matches, they also prevented the opposition from doing the same – displaying high-level defence and keeping back-to-back clean sheets for the second time this season.
The last time these two teams met, Melbourne City were lucky to walk away with a 3-2 win after being thoroughly tested by the Phoenix in Wollongong. That match saw the Nix equalise twice thanks to Tomer Hemed and Ulises Davila, with Marco Tilio coming off the bench to head home the winner for City in the 83rd minute.
Both sides enter this match minus key players; Nix captain Davila out with a hamstring complaint and City’s Andrew Nabbout out for a stretch following a leg injury against Adelaide United on Thursday.
Wellington Phoenix coach Ufuk Talay says the loss of Davila for this match is tough, but the team is keen to rise to the challenge against a high-flying Melbourne squad.
“It’s a massive blow for us, he [Davila] is a very influential player for us – he’s scored some very good goals and he helps the team to get results, it’s a blow to lose our captain and at the same time one of our better players,” said Talay.
“It [Melbourne City] is a great game to play in, and I think as a player these are the games you want to be involved in, against a team in great form; and every game is a must win for us until the end of the season.
“To go to Melbourne, we’re going there for three points and we don’t fear anyone; every team that we’ve played we’ve been very competitive and last time we played them in Wollongong we lost 3-2 but I thought we played a very good game.”
Wellington are also continuing to bring Reno Piscopo back to full match fitness, with the 22-year-old attacking midfielder impressing with his energy in two short stints off the bench versus Adelaide and Brisbane. The Nix will also welcome back both Cameron Devlin and Louis Fenton, who sat out the last match due to suspension.
Talay says the opportunity is there for the players to pick up an important win.
“It’s up to them as to what they want to get out of the season, we’ll go there with the mindset of getting three points and then we’ll be excited to hop on a plane on Monday and come to Wellington.”
It is fair to say that Melbourne City are in strong form at the moment, winners of four in a row and undefeated in eight (W6, D2); they sit eight points clear on 2nd-placed Central Coast and are the current front-runners for the A-League Premiership.
City lead the A-League in goals scored with 52 – including 10 in their last three matches – and boast both the competition’s leading scorer in Jamie Maclaren (24 goals) and the always-dangerous Craig Noone, who is first-equal in assists (8) and first in both crosses (196) and passes created (75).
Fatigue may be a factor for City as they have played three matches in a week, with their last match on Thursday night. As a result, Melbourne is expected to rotate their squad – relying on a quality bench that includes Adrian Luna and Nuno Reis, with Tilio expected to be promoted into the Starting XI to replace Nabbout.
Coach Talay says that the Phoenix are focused on the three points, especially knowing they will be travelling to Wellington tomorrow for the first time this season.
“If you look at the table it’s very compressed, that top six – obviously Melbourne City have pulled away but everyone else is in the mix.
“If you look at the results everyone is a little bit hesitant, there’s been a lot of draws and teams not wanting to lose, but for us we’ve got five games to finish off the season and every game is a must-win for us.
“And we know if we get a good result against City then that puts us right in the mix for the last four games – two of those in New Zealand, which is a massive boost for our players as well.”
The Wellington Phoenix take on Melbourne City at AAMI Park in Melbourne tonight at 4.05pm AEDT (6.05pm NZT).
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, 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
**2-4 to be omitted**
Ins: 8.Cameron DEVLIN (return from suspension), 16.Louis FENTON (return from suspension), 15.Mirza MURATOVIC (promoted)
Outs: 10.Ulises DAVILA (injury - 1 week)
Unavailable: 3.Luke DEVERE (knee - 3 weeks)
Melbourne City FC squad: 1.Tom GLOVER (gk), 2.Scott GALLOWAY, 3.Scott JAMIESON (c), 4.Nuno REIS, 5.Daniel GEORGIEVSKI, 7.Rostyn GRIFFITHS, 8.Aiden O’NEILL, 9.Jamie MACLAREN, 10.Florin BERENGUER-BOHRER, 11.Craig NOONE, 14.Naoki TSUBAKI, 16.Taras GOMULKA, 17.Stefan COLAKOVSKI, 18.Connor METCALFE, 19.Ben GARUCCIO, 20.Adrian LUNA, 22.Curtis GOOD, 23.Marco TILIO, 33.Matthew SUTTON (gk), 36.Kerrin STOKES
**2-4 to be omitted**
In: 14.Naoki TSUBAKI (promoted), 16.Taras GOMULKA (promoted), 36.Kerrin STOKES (promoted)
Out: 15.Andrew NABBOUT (adductor).
Unavailable: 13.Nathaniel ATKINSON (hamstring)