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Phoenix defender Tim Payne battles for possession with Sydney FC’s Chris Zuvela during one of their meetings last season.
The chance to get one over his former club will serve as extra motivation for Wellington Phoenix coach Ufuk Talay heading into Sunday’s clash against the out of form Sydney FC at Netstrata Jubilee Stadium.
The Sky Blues are the only club the Phoenix have failed to beat since Talay took over from Mark Rudan ahead of the 2019-20 A-League Men season, but this could be their best chance to snap the drought.
“I’ve been motivated since day one to beat Sydney,” Talay said. “I think it’s been our bogey club.
“The games that we’ve played against them have always been very good, very intense games.
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“The closest we came was the game in Wellington where we conceded early, went up 2-1 and then conceded an own goal with Tayls [Steven Taylor] scoring that one.”
Both teams will be desperate to get the three points. The Phoenix are coming off two straight losses in the A-League Men while five-time champions Sydney have experienced their worst start in a decade and are winless after four games.
The Phoenix have not lost three in a row in the A-League Men since the very beginning of Talay’s tenure, when they dropped their first four games before making a late surge and qualifying for the finals series.
Wellington Phoenix beat 10-man Avondale to reach FFA Cup quarterfinals.
“I’m expecting them to come out all guns blazing in the first 15-20 minutes. They haven’t won as yet, but they’re still a very experienced squad.
“It’s going to be a difficult game. They are desperate. They probably haven’t been in this position for a long time. I’ve been in this position, so I know how to get out of it.
“They need the points, they’re a big club and they’re used to being on the other side of the ladder, so it’s going to be a challenge for them to get out of this situation.”
Talay has close ties to Sydney. He spent three seasons with the club during his playing career and then served as an assistant coach under Steve Corica for season before he landed the Phoenix job.
Ava Pritchard proud to score Wellington Phoenix’s first A-League Women goal.
Talay also has adopted the same 4-2-2-2 formation that Sydney play with.
“I like the way it looks and I’ve always been a ball-player as a footballer myself. I like having the ball and I try to instil that into the game play.”
The Phoenix will be without striker Gary Hooper due to personal reasons, while defender James McGarry is a “question mark” after injuring his knee.
Fit-again Sam Sutton should start at left-back should McGarry be ruled out.
“We’ll make a decision today, see how he goes in training and if he’s available for the game then it’s a plus for us but if not we’ll manage him to make sure he’s right for the cup game.”
Sydney will be without key midfielder Luke Brattan and All Whites forward Kosta Barbarouses due to long-term injuries but defender Rhyan Grant is due back from Covid-19.
Although they have lost their last two games in the A-League Men, the Phoenix are coming off a morale-boosting 4-1 win over NPL club Avondale in the FFA Cup.
They are scheduled to play Melbourne City in the quarterfinals on Wednesday.
Talay said Sydney FC had their full focus.
“We need to focus on getting the three points because the end product is making the top six.”
A-League Men round 5
Wellington Phoenix v Sydney FC
Netstrata Jubilee Stadium, Sydney; Sunday, 8.45pm