Preview: Western Sydney Wanderers v Wellington Phoenix

The Wanderers will do well not to underestimate a Phoenix side whose recent performances belie their ladder position.

The Wanderers will do well not to underestimate a Phoenix side whose recent performances belie their ladder position.

Western Sydney Wanderers and Wellington Phoenix will meet in a Round 13 fixture of the 2013-14 A-League season at Pirtek Stadium on Wednesday, January 1 at 7pm AEDT.

Head-to-head:

Played 5 – Win: Wanderers 2, Phoenix 1, Draws 2

Previous encounter:

Phoenix 0-0 Wanderers, December 1, 2013

Form: Past five matches:

Wanderers: DWWDD Phoenix: WWLLL

The Game:

The Western Sydney Wanderers surrendered the chance to close the gap on league-leaders Brisbane after a draw against the Melbourne Victory last Saturday. Despite leading for most of the second half, Gui Finkler's stunning last-gasp free-kick meant Tony Popovic's side missed out on maximum points. But they will certainly fancy their chances of getting back to winning ways to kick off 2014. Shinji Ono and Tomi Juric were both left out of the squad against the Victory and should return while Youssouf Hersi is also likely for a recall to the starting side.

Crisis for Wellington...what crisis? A little over a week ago it looked like the Phoenix would again be battling for the wooden spoon this season but a 1-0 win over Melbourne Heart made it back-to-back wins for Ernie Merrick's side. It was the first time in 18 months the Kiwis had won consecutive games and confidence must be building throughout the squad as they close in on the top six. While they struggled for victories in the first third of the campaign, the Phoenix have played a lot better than their ladder position indicated and they are now getting rewarded for their efforts. Wellington have won just once against the Wanderers from five clashes but both encounters already this season have ended all square.

The big issue:

Wanderers – The speculation of Shinji Ono's possible departure in January has intensified in recent weeks with a host of club's keen to secure the Japanese midfielder's services. Popovic is adamant Ono is going nowhere but until the 34-year-old puts pen-to-paper on a new deal there are sure to be some nervous Wanderers fans...and players. While dealing with contract talk and player movement is nothing new, Popovic will want the matter put to bed quickly so they can focus on chasing down the Roar.

Phoenix – Keeping the home fans quiet. We never said it was easy but it would certainly help the Phoenix's chances of escaping from Wanderland with any points. There's no denying the Wanderers possess the most vocal and passionate support in the A-League and they have become a major part of the new club's success. The Phoenix would have taken some confidence from their 1-1 draw on the Wanderers' home turf earlier in the season and will hope to use that experience to eke out a similar result.

The game breaker:

Carlos Hernandez – After a mini-stoush with the club just before Christmas, the Costa Rican has started the last two games and appears to be nearing his best form. Hernandez's creativity and eye for a strike from distance is sure to be vital to the Phoenix's chances of breaking down the meanest defence in the competition. With striker Steyn Huysegums now starting to find the back of the net on a regular basis, the Phoenix certainly possess the firepower to worry the Wanderers.