Phoenix set for biggest regular season game in club's history

Publish Date
Tuesday, 2 April 2024, 8:35AM

It’s not a stretch to call Wellington Phoenix’s trip to Gosford the biggest regular-season A-League Men match in the New Zealand club’s history.

For 17 seasons, Phoenix have gone trophy-less as the sole overseas club in Australia’s professional competition.

But should Giancarlo Italiano’s side defeat the Central Coast Mariners on Saturday, they will move as close as they’ve ever been to silverware.

“They are big games,” Wellington defender Finn Surman said.

“You say they don’t mean more, but they do. They do mean a lot because they’re right there in the business end.

“Everyone really wants to contribute, help the team and be part of something special for us and the club.”

With four games left to play, Wellington have 46 points, putting them six clear of second-placed Central Coast on 40 points.

The Mariners have a catch-up game against Melbourne City on Tuesday night.

Irrespective of the Mariners’ midweek result, the Phoenix will be just four points from the Premiers’ Plate if they can win in Gosford.

For success-starved fans, it’s a tasty prospect. But it’s one Italiano, in his first season as coach, is keen to cool talk of.

“Let’s just get through Mariners first,” he said after Sunday’s 1-0 win over Brisbane Roar.

“The focus is on getting three points in the next game, doing as well as we can and then see where we end up.”

“I don’t understand how else he’s supposed to go for the ball,” Italiano said.

“In those moments, to establish intent is such a hard thing ... so for me (the sending-off) is a bit harsh.”

Surman had a great view of the contest and said there was nothing in it.

“I don’t get it, he kicked the ball away. Where’s his leg supposed to go?” Surman said.

Wellington will explore a potential appeal, but the prospect of a likely two-match ban being bumped up to three if they are unsuccessful could steer the Kiwis away from disputing the dismissal.

The Phoenix are already without key players Oskar Zawada (leg) and Tim Payne (hamstring) and won’t want to miss Rufer.

Surman was lucky to play in the Brisbane match after copping a high boot to the forehead on international duty with New Zealand last week, recovering to play with five stitches.

After coming through unscathed and with a clean sheet, he revealed the culprit behind his injury, which was suffered in training.

“I’m not sure if I should say or not, but I’m going to anyway - it was Rufs,” he laughed.

Their latest win, through an early Bozhidar Kraev goal, was one of their scratchiest of the season, with Wellington giving up 19 shots on goal and losing heart-and-soul captain Alex Rufer to a red card.

Rufer is the key man in the middle for the Phoenix and was unlucky to see red for standing on Henry Hore’s hamstring when the Wellington man appeared to be kicking the ball free.

This article was first published on and is republished here with permission

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