Hyundai A-League preview: Phoenix v Mariners

The improving Wellington Phoenix begin a season-defining week against a Central Coast Mariners outfit searching for their first win in seven matches.

MATCH DETAILS

Saturday, 14 January 2017

Wellington Phoenix v Central Coast Mariners

Westpac Stadium, Wellington

Kick-Off: 7:35PM (Local) (5:35PM (AEDT))

Referee: Jarred Gillett

Assistant Referee 1: Simon Lount

Assistant Referee 2: Mark Rule

Fourth Official: Ben Abraham

TV Broadcast: Live coverage on Fox Sports 505 from 5.00pm (AEDT) and Sky Sport 3 (New Zealand)

Radio Broadcast: ABC Radio Central Coast, Online & via the ABC Radio Mobile App – A-league Live, Coast FM 96.3

Join the conversation on Twitter using the hash-tag #WELvCCM

To purchase tickets visit www.aleague.com.au

Wellington Phoenix squad: 1.Glen MOSS (gk), 2.Jacob TRATT, 4.Roly BONEVACIA, 5.Ryan LOWRY, 7.Gui FINKLER, 8.Alex RODRIGUEZ, 9.Kosta BARBAROUSES, 10.Michael McGLINCHEY, 11.Hamish WATSON, 12.Adam PARKHOUSE, 13.Marco ROSSI, 16.Louis FENTON, 17.Vince LIA, 19.Tom DOYLE, 20.Lewis ITALIANO (gk), 22.Andrew DURANTE (c), 23.Matthew RIDENTON, 99.Shane SMELTZ

**two to be omitted**

Gui Finkler juggles the ball in Wellington's win over the Mariners in Round 6.

Ins: 7.Gui FINKLER (returns from leave of absence), 10.Michael McGLINCHEY (returns from injury), 17.Vince LIA (returns from suspension)

Outs: 21.Roy KRISHNA (suspended – 1 match)

Unavailable: Nil

Central Coast Mariners Squad: 1.Ivan NECEVSKI (gk), 2.Storm ROUX, 3.Scott GALLOWAY, 5.Harry ASCROFT, 6.Blake POWELL, 7.Fabio FERREIRA, 8.Nick MONTGOMERY (c), 9.Roy O’DONOVAN, 10.Mickael TAVARES, 11.Connor PAIN, 12.Trent BUHAGIAR, 13.Kwabena APPIAH, 14.Adam BERRY, 16.Liam ROSE, 17.Josh BINGHAM, 20.Paul IZZO (gk), 21.Michael NEILL, 22.Jake McGING

**two to be omitted**

Jacques Faty, Mikael Tavares

Ins: 10.Mickael TAVARES, 17.Josh BINGHAM (promoted)

Outs: Nil

Unavailable: 19.Jacques FATY (hamstring – 1 week), 23.Jake ADELSON (ACL – indefinite)

BLUFFER’S GUIDE

These two sides have already met twice this season, with Phoenix dominating with comfortable wins in both (2-0 and 3-0).

But after a strong first month under new coaches Des Buckingham and Chris Greenacre, Wellington’s resurgence took a hit in round 14 with a 2-1 loss to Perth Glory, their first defeat in five matches.

It’s left them four points adrift of the top six ahead of what is a massive week in their season.

Following the clash with the Mariners, Phoenix also hosts Melbourne Victory on Tuesday night – in a rescheduled clash from Rd 7 – followed by the visit of Brisbane Roar on Saturday.

Three wins out of three and they can go from competition strugglers to a safely nestled spot in the top six. It’s that big for the ‘Nix.

Wellington Phoenix players celebrate a goal in their Boxing Day clash with Newcastle Jets.

In contrast, the Mariners haven’t tasted victory in their last six games.

Only Adelaide United are below them on the ladder and Paul Okon’s side is running out of time to make their own charge for the playoffs.

While their recent record makes for grim reading, their last couple of performances are cause for optimism.

They pushed runaway league-leaders Sydney FC to the brink last weekend – losing 3-2 - while they were excellent in the 2-2 draw with Melbourne City on New Year’s Eve.

Concentration lapses and silly defensive mistakes have proved costly. If they can fix those problems, the Mariners are every chance of turning encouraging performances into wins.

While Phoenix will be without leading scorer Roy Krishna through suspension, Gui Finkler, Michael McGlinchey and Vince Lia all return in a huge boost, while Mickael Tavares is the Mariners’ key inclusion.

Who will come out on top in a battle of two desperate sides eager to kick-start their finals charge in 2017?

The Mariners celebrate Trent Buhagier's equaliser against City in Gosford.

OPTA DATA

  • Wellington Phoenix have won their last two games against the Mariners, keeping a clean sheet each time, and will be shooting for a third straight win against the Central Coast side in the Hyundai A-League for the first time since October 2010.
  • Central Coast Mariners have won just two of their last 22 Hyundai A-League away games outside New South Wales (D3, L17) and have conceded seven goals across their last two such fixtures.
  • Phoenix enjoys a shooting accuracy of 51.9% so far this Hyundai A-League season, better than any other team and the only club to be on target with more than half of their attempts.
  • The Mariners have made 6,672 passes this season, more than any other team in the Hyundai A-League, while only Melbourne City (81.4%) boast a better passing accuracy than the Mariners (80%).

ROUTE TO GOAL

Shane Smeltz’s Hyundai A-League return didn’t go totally to plan but he’ll be better for the run and will relish his first game back in NZ.

The Kiwi international showed some encouraging signs against Glory last week and showed he’s still very capable around the box.

And he may need to shoulder much of the attacking load on Saturday with leading scorer Roy Krishna missing through suspension.

Shane Smeltz

The Hyundai A-League’s favourite Fijian (eight) has netted more than half of Wellington’s 14 goals for the season.

Krishna’s absence may tempt the coaching staff into reverting back to a front three this week – with Smeltz as the focal point – after playing 4-4-2 against Glory.

It’s a system that should not only suit Smeltz better but also the side’s wide players like Kosta Barbarouses and Adam Parkhouse.

And it’s the wide areas which is undoubtedly Central Coast’s strength.

The speed of Trent Buhagiar and Fabio Ferreira caused Sydney FC all sorts of problems last weekend, while substitute Connor Pain was almost unplayable when introduced in the second half.

Connor Pain netted a stunner as the Mariners downed Adelaide 2-1 at Coopers Stadium.

That display might just convince Okon to throw Pain in from the start and his battle with the consistent Jacob Tratt down the Mariners left will be important for both sides.

But it’s at the other end where the Mariners must improve. They possess the worst defensive record in the competition having conceded 31 goals from their 14 matches.

A lot of those goals have come from their own doing, making errors at crucial times. 

If they can limit those issues, there’s no doubt they have the firepower to cause the Phoenix defence problems to score their first goal against the Kiwi club this season.

WHO’S BEEN IN THE SPOTLIGHT THIS WEEK?

Shane Smeltz. The Kiwi striker returns to the ground that launched his Hyundai A-League career almost a decade ago. Will he make a scoring return at the start of what looms as a huge week for the club?