ALM Match Preview: Staj expecting tight tussle with league leaders

Glory Head Coach Alen Stajcic is expecting a tight tussle to unfold when his side face league leaders Wellington Phoenix in what promises to be an intriguing Isuzu Ute A-League match-up at HBF Park on Saturday (kick-off at 6:45pm WST, tickets available HERE).

Click HERE to watch his full pre-match media conference.

With Glory unbeaten in five and Phoenix having lost just twice all season, neither team will be lacking in confidence heading into the Round 18 fixture.

And that is likely to ensure a close-margin battle according to Stajcic.

“Every game is unique, you never know what you’re going to get and you certainly don’t know what you’re going to get when we play at HBF Park,” he said.

“I’d love a nice little 1-0, our way!

“We’re probably the two most in-form teams [in the A-League] at the moment.

“In terms of the last five matches, we’ve picked up the most number of points between us and that shows that it’s going to be a really tight contest, whether that’s tight low-scoring or tight high-scoring.

“It’s going to be a tough occasion for both teams.

“They are playing to try and seal top spot in the league and we’re fighting for our lives to start banging on the door of the Finals six.

“That’s really the main driver.”

In terms of Glory’s approach to the game, the Head Coach was quick to point out that while pleased with the team’s recent performances, there is still plenty of room for improvement.

“We’ve hit a good vein of form and results are starting to follow, which is good,” he said.

“We all know that we’ve done well, but there’s still a long way to go.

“The boys have shown that they can focus on the task at hand and the task at hand hasn’t changed.

“We have to win as many matches as we can and we’re still towards the bottom of the ladder, so we have to do everything we can to start nudging that Finals race.

“It’s great to have new owners and new visions and that stability across the club, but ultimately, what we do on the training field and for matches doesn’t change.

“So it’s very important that we refocus on playing the league leaders.”

Currently five points clear at the top of the A-League table, Phoenix have not tasted defeat in 2024 and Stajcic was quick to acknowledge how impressive they have been this term.

“We know what a consistent team they are,” he said.

“They’re a hard-working team.

“Chief” [Head Coach Giancarlo Italiano] has done an amazing job to weld that team into the force they are.

“They have some exceptional players and are probably the most cohesive group in the competition at the moment.

“Full credit goes to “Chief” and the coaching staff and the whole club for putting together the season they have so far.

“Kosta [Barbarouses] has probably had his best season for the last three or four and we know what an exceptional player he’s been in the A-League for such a long time.

“Even going back to his original Brisbane Roar days, he’s always been a threat wherever he’s been and he continues to be that way.

“Behind him they have some excellent players as well and ultimately that’s why they’re at the top of the pack.

“More importantly, they’ve been a complete unit.

“Defensively they’ve been solid, the goalkeeper has had a real breakout season, their midfield is tough, hard-working and resilient.

“They’re very collective in the way they approach the game and that’s why they’ve been such a tough nut to crack for everyone.”

As noted by Stajcic, Barbarouses has spearheaded Phoenix’s Premiership challenge this year, scoring ten goals and adding four assists, although he may miss the Perth trip through injury.

Goalkeeper Alex Paulsen, meanwhile, has saved three penalties and kept seven clean sheets, Alex Rufer has impressed in midfield and Ben Old has provided some additional creative flair, finding the net twice and providing three assists.

Phoenix have defeated Glory twice this season and will head West off the back of consecutive victories over Western United and Macarthur FC.

At HBF Park overall, however, Glory have claimed maximum points on 14 occasions to Wellington’s six, with only one meeting ending all square.

Match Details

Isuzu UTE A-League 2023-24 Season Round 18

Perth Glory v Wellington Phoenix

HBF Park

Saturday 24 February 2024

Kick-off: 6:45pm WST

Referee: Daniel Elder

Perth Glory squad: 1. Oli SAIL (gk), 3. Jacob MUIR, 7. Stefan COLAKOVSKI, 9. David WILLIAMS, 13. Cameron COOK (gk), 14. Riley WARLAND, 15. Aleksandar SUSNJAR, 16. Josh RAWLINS, 17. Jarrod CARLUCCIO, 19. Trent OSTLER, 20. Giordano COLLI, 22. Adam TAGGART (co-c), 23. Daniel BENNIE, 27. Jayden GORMAN, 28. Kaelan MAJEKODUNMI, 29. Darryl LACHMAN, 31. Joel ANASMO, 34. Andriano LEBIB, 77. Bruce KAMAU

One to be omitted

Ins: 28. Kaelan MAJEKODUNMI

Outs: Nil

Unavailable: 2. Johnny KOUTROUMBIS (injured), 5. Mark BEEVERS (co-c) (injured), 8. Mustafa AMINI (injured), 11. Adam ZIMARINO (injured), 21. Antonis MARTIS (injured)

Wellington Phoenix squad: 3. Finn SURMAN, 4. Scott WOOTTON, 5. Fin CONCHIE, 6. Tim PAYNE, 8. Ben OLD, 9. Oskar ZAWADA, 10. David BALL, 11. Bozhidar KRAEV, 12. Mo AL-TAAY, 14. Alex RUFER (c), 17. Youstin SALAS, 18. Lukas KELLY-HEALD, 23. Luke SUPYK, 24. Oskar VAN HATTUM, 25. Jack DUNCAN (gk), 26. Isaac HUGHES, 40. Alex PAULSEN (gk), 43. Matt SHERIDAN, 51. Gabriel SLOANE-RODRIGUES

One to be omitted

Ins: 6. Tim PAYNE (returning from injury), 11. Bozhidar KRAEV (returning from injury)

Outs: 7. Kosta BARBAROUSES (injured)

Unavailable: 7. Kosta BARBAROUSES (injured), 15. Nicholas PENNINGTON (injured), 19. Sam SUTTON (injured)