Ufuk Talay’s young Wellington Phoenix side are embracing the challenge of facing last year’s A-League champions on their home patch.
The Phoenix have travelled to Melbourne to face Melbourne City in their rescheduled FFA Cup quarter-final tomorrow night.
The match was supposed to be played before Christmas but was postponed on gameday as a result of a number of positive COVID-19 cases in the Melbourne City camp.
The quarter-final is Wellington’s first in club history and comes amidst a disappointing run of results in the Isuzu UTE A-League.
“We’ve been struggling a little bit, but what better way to turn it around than to knock over the reigning champions in the Cup,” Phoenix defender Tim Payne said.
“We’re excited to play against good quality opposition. You want beat the best so we’re looking forward to it.
“We want to go all of the way to the final and win the final, it’d be a fantastic achievement for the club.”
Payne is one of just a handful of players in the current Nix squad that are over the age of 25.
“It’s a great opportunity for these players to grab the jersey while they can,” Phoenix head coach Ufuk Talay told media on the eve of the match.
“This is one of those seasons where we’ve been hindered by a lot of things and opportunities have arose for younger players coming through our academy to step up.
“We’re playing this season with a thought of what we’re going to do next season as well so there’s a lot of opportunities there for these players to grab their jersey and continue on.”
Talay believes “they’ve got a lot to gain and they’ve got nothing to lose”.
“If this is what they want to do as a career and be a footballer for the next 20 years, what a great opportunity.
“What more would you like as 18-year-old or a 19/20-year-old to go out there and do something that you love?
“Go out there and play football. We’ll try to guide them in the right direction to get the best out of them but…go out there and play.”
Knocking over City and advancing to the FFA Cup semi-finals would also be a great fillip for the squad as they endeavour to turnaround their fortunes in the A-League.
“It’ll be a massive confidence boost for our younger players to be able to show that they can step up and play against last season’s champions.
“Hopefully we can get the job done in 90 minutes rather than 120 and penalties because we’ve got a game at the weekend we need to think about as well.
“We’ll go there with the mentality to win. We’ve come this far in the Cup and we’re going to go as far as we can go.”
But Talay isn’t looking beyond tomorrow night’s match.
“If we look too far ahead, I don’t think it’s a good thing.
“We just need to focus on getting the result that we need to get into the next round and then we go back to a league game in the weekend.”
The Phoenix are able to call on experienced English forward Gary Hooper for the rescheduled quarter-final, after border restrictions prevented him travelling to South Australia last week.
But young forward Oskar van Hattum is in doubt for the match after he experienced tightness in his hamstring late in the match against Adelaide.
The two squad members who tested positive to COVID-19 after Christmas remain unavailable for selection. They are still isolating and have yet to re-join the squad.
The FFA Cup quarter-final between the Wellington Phoenix and Melbourne City is scheduled to kick-off at 7:30pm AEDT (9:30pm NZT) at Kingston Heath in Melbourne and broadcast live & free on 10 Play in Australia.
And for those in New Zealand and around the world, the game will be live streamed via our official YouTube channel.
FFA Cup 2021 Quarter Final
Melbourne City v Wellington Phoenix
Date: Wednesday, 5 January
Time: 7:30pm AEDT kick-off, 9:30pm NZDT
Venue: Kingston Heath Soccer Complex
Broadcast: Live & free on 10 Play
Tickets: Free - register here
Wellington Phoenix squad: 3. Matthew BOZINOVSKI, 5. James MCGARRY, 6. Tim PAYNE, 8. Ben OLD, 9. David BALL, 10. Reno PISCOPO, 11. Jaushua SOTIRIO, 12. Luka PRSO, 13. Nicholas PENNINGTON, 14. Alex RUFER (c), 16. Louis FENTON, 17. Callan ELLIOT, 18. Ben WAINE, 19. Sam SUTTON, 21. Joshua LAWS, 23. Clayton LEWIS, 30. Henry GRAY, 31. Kurtis MOGG, 32. George OTT, 33. Finn SURMAN, 34. Jackson MANUEL, 40. Alex PAULSEN (gk), 43. Oskar VAN HATTUM, 88. Gary HOOPER
Unavailable: 20. Oli SAIL (gk) (injured)