Preview: Wellington Phoenix v Sydney FC

Sydney have had the better of the clashes between these two clubs, winning eight of the 14 encounters.

Date: Wednesday, January 4 Kick-off:1pm AEDT, 3pm Local Venue: Westpac Stadium

Head-to-head Played 14: Wins: Wellington 5, Sydney FC 8, Draws: 1

Previous encounter Wellington 2, Sydney FC 1, November 27, 2011

History: Sydney have had the better of the clashes between these two clubs, winning eight of the 14 encounters. The biggest game between the two was in the preliminary final in 2010 when the Sky Blues beat the Phoenix 4-2 in Sydney before going on to win the title over Melbourne Victory a week later.

It was the Phoenix that got the points in the side's clash earlier this season, with goals to Paul Ifill and a Tim Brown stunner helping the Kiwis to a 2-1 win in Wellington.

Form: Past five matches: Wellington: WWLWL Sydney FC: WDWDL

Just when you think Wellington have hit their straps and could cement their spot in the top six, they come out and disappoint. The Phoenix were largely listless in the 2-0 defeat to Adelaide which saw them miss the opportunity to jump up to third spot.

The fact it came after their most impressive performance of the season - the 5-2 thrashing of Newcastle - shows just how up and down their season has been. If Phoenix fans can take anything from that it's that they are due for a good game against Sydney.

Sydney's four-game unbeaten run came to an abrupt halt when they were hammered 4-0 by the Melbourne Heart at the SFS last week.

Despite the heavy defeat - the Sky Blues' biggest ever on home turf - coach Vitezslav Lavicka believes it was one of their better performances of the season, particular in front of their own fans.

While Sydney have had plenty of trouble at home, they have been sensational on the road losing just once, although it was against the Phoenix earlier this year.

Match Committee: The Phoenix will be without midfielder Tim Brown who is suspended after picking up his fifth yellow card of the season against the Reds.

Ricki Herbert will be hoping that talisman Paul Ifill and American utility Alex Smith will recover in time to take their places after the pair missed the trip to Adelaide through injury.

Sydney welcome back skipper Terry McFlynn after the Northern Irishman missed the Heart loss due to suspension. Lavicka will also be hoping influential midfielder Nicky Carle can shrug off his hamstring injury to make a return.

Mark Bridge impressed off the bench against the Heart and may force his way into the starting side while don't be surprised if there's a change in defence after the Sky Blues' lack of pace was brutally exposed.

Danger men: Leo Bertos - By his own admission Bertos has been fairly quiet so far this season but if there was a time for the New Zealand international to break out and have a blinder it's now. The Sky Blues struggled to cope with the pace of the Melbourne Heart youngster's last time out and if there's one thing Bertos has plenty of, it's speed. His crosses also need to be cut out to stop the delivery to Chris Greenacre and Ifill.

Terry Antonis - The teenager hasn't played much football in the last month but it didn't look like it as he was one of the few Sydney players to come through the Heart debacle with his reputation intact.

If Nicky Carle is still unavailable, much will fall on the shoulders of Antonis to create play from the middle of the park. If there's one thing the youngster could be criticised for it's his lack of goals and this would be the perfect time to break his duck.

At the end of the day… This looms as a crucial game for both sides. Sydney currently sit fourth (19 points) with Wellington just a point further back in fifth. With a host of teams just a few points behind, the loser of this one could find themselves in a real logjam at the bottom of the top six.

Wellington come into this on the back of a poor loss in Adelaide but are always very difficult to beat at the Cake Tin. Ricki Herbert's side have taken 16 points from eight matches at home this season, including a well-deserved win over the Sky Blues earlier this season.

As strong as Wellington have been at home, Sydney have been equally as good on the road with just one defeat on their travels all season.

The Sky Blues' confidence will have taken a battering from the heavy loss to the Heart last week but they will be desperate to get out on the park and put that right. The return of skipper McFlynn - and possibly Nicky Carle - will be a big boost for Vitezslav Lavicka's troops. With so much at stake for both sides, don't be surprised if these teams cancel each other out in a tight affair.