Phoenix park ALM premiership dreams in trip to Jets

Alex Mitchell |

Wellington Phoenix coach Giancarlo Italiano has told his ALM charges not to look too far ahead.
Wellington Phoenix coach Giancarlo Italiano has told his ALM charges not to look too far ahead.

Wellington coach Giancarlo Italiano says his second-ranked side isn’t getting carried away with thoughts of an A-League Men premiers’ plate despite their recent hot form.

The Phoenix have headed back to Australia where they face Newcastle on Saturday night, and will stick around to take on Brisbane the following Friday.

Games against the 10th and ninth-ranked sides respectively shape as a perfect opportunity to rack up maximum points and keep the pressure on league-leading Melbourne Victory, but Italiano said small targets were on their mind for the coming away trip.

That includes taking more points from the series of encounters they have with individual teams through the ALM season.

“It’s important if you want to be No.1 (but) we’re not at that stage now where we’ve focused on that as a target,” he said. 

“We played Newcastle … we want to be ahead on the points table (in matches) between just us two. 

“(Against) Melbourne Victory, we’ve had two draws, now we’re equal, so by the end of the season for our three matches we want to be ahead, even if it’s on goal difference.

“If overall, eight or nine of those match-ups we are ahead, we’re doing very well.”

The Jets got back on the winner’s list on Tuesday night with a 3-1 result against Brisbane, with centre-forward Apostolos Stamatelopoulos inspirational with two goals and an assist.

They’ve also handed Wellington their worst result of the season, whacking them 3-0 in New Zealand on December 9.

Italiano said stopping Stamatelopoulos was more about limiting supply than anything else.

“It’s not so much his threat in particular because he still needs to get service,” he said.

“Obviously we do work on final third entries but for us it’s more about prevention higher up the pitch … they’re actually a very efficient team in the way they get the ball forward into the space behind the full backs.

“We need to make sure we protect the space where we feel like they’re most dangerous and then that means they go to plan B.”

Talented striker Oskar Zawada will travel with the Phoenix and he closes in on a return from a thigh injury, although he’s not expected to face the Jets.