Two form teams will meet at Wellington’s Westpac Stadium as Victory head to Wellington. This is a tough match to predict, with so many variables to play out.
It’s been almost a head-spinning tale of comings and goings as Mark Milligan will miss six weeks of football after a clean-up operation on his knee, while it has been widely reported that a $400,000 offer from Cerezo Osaka for Mitch Nichols has been accepted and he has played his last game for the club. Victory have been strongly linked to a loan deal for Tom Rogic this past week, it would cap off a successful week after a defeat of their ‘bogey side’.
Despite a poor start leading to many writing them off for the season, Wellington Phoenix have surprised many as they have remained undefeated over the past month. They are coming off a draw with Central Coast, and need to improve their record at home, which is bizzare to be pondering considering how strong they have been at the “Cake Tin” in the past.
The Ins and Outs
Both Kevin Muscat and Ernie Muscat have named extended squads, with two and one players to be omitted on gameday. For Victory, Pablo Contereras returns from suspension and will likely replace Dylan Murnane. Andrew Nabbout will miss after suffering a concussion on Tuesday’s fixture against Western Sydney, with youth player Chris Cristaldo his replacement.
Despite two long-term injuries to Paul Ifill and Louis Fenton, the Nix are the complete opposite of Victory in terms of squad availability. Wellington look stable and have added only Leo Bertos to their squad.
The 90 minutes
Merrick is a shrewd coach and now all of the early season disruptions have subsided, has got his side in form with Wellington netting ten points of a potential twelve from their past four matches.
They will need to be better and maybe that little bit more cynical than when they played Victory last time, playing a high line backfired spectacularly as Victory’s dominant first half set up a 3-2 win. Victory, however, will need to be much more tougher and focused than they were in the last fixture.
Victory’s attack is in fine form, and the same goes for its holding midfielder in Rashid Mahazi after his performance against the Wanderers. Much of Victory’s attacks and play set up the play for the attackers in James Troisi, Kosta Barbarouses and Archie Thompson. Mahazi’s emergence hopefully ensures Milligan’s short-term absence won’t hurt Melbourne as much as initially thought.
A Steyn Huysegems-led attack remains Wellington’s trump card, and they will get a chance to turn around their home ground struggles. If they sit back a little deeper to combat Victory’s fluent attack and creating through Huysegems, Carlos Hernandez and Jeremy Brockie, they will be in the drivers seat.
Victory’s busy schedule hasn’t caught up with them yet, but will it in Wellington?
The players to watch
Rashid Mahazi: In form and increasingly important to the squad, Mahazi is part of the club’s talented youth that has been able to showcase their ability on the A-League stage. More of the same defence-splitting passes will be needed if Victory is to have any chance of being on the right end of the scoreboard.
Steyn Huysegems: Four goals in four games from the Belgian striker has been at the forefront of the Nix’s emergence. Merrick has gotten the best out of him and Huysegems has appeared to relish the responsibility. Being a dead-eye when in the box, Huysegems has not needed much time or space to score and will give Contreras and Leijer problems.