Action from Melbourne Victory v Wellington Phoenix.
Finely poised: Melbourne Victory and Wellington Phoenix battled out a goalless draw at AAMI Park. Image by Joel Carrett/AAP PHOTOS
  • soccer

Victory aim to ruin Phoenix fairytale in Wellington

Anna Harrington May 12, 2024

Held to a scoreless draw at home in the first leg of their A-League Men semi-final against Wellington, Melbourne Victory will turn their attention to attempting to ruin the Phoenix’s home fairytale.

Victory travel to Sky Stadium with it all to do next Saturday after failing to genuinely trouble Phoenix goalkeeper Alex Paulsen in Sunday’s 0-0 draw at AAMI Park – despite their 20 shots, of which five were on target.

Most of those efforts were either from distance or straight at Paulsen, while Phoenix captain Alex Rufer did a mountain of work in midfield to minimise the threat.

Wellington had six shots of their own, but none on target in front of 16,313 fans – including a sizeable number of travelling supporters.

Wellington goalkeeper Alex Paulsen.
 Wellington’s Alex Paulsen kept a clean sheet despite Victory’s 20 shots in the ALM semi-final. Image by Joel Carrett/AAP PHOTOS 

It gives the Phoenix the upper hand ahead of their debut home semi-final as they attempt to reach a decider for the first time.

When asked how Victory would approach being the “bad guy” in that clash, coach Tony Popovic said: “It’s beautiful.

“I feel very humbled and privileged that we: me as a coach, my staff and players, we get to do what we love doing.

“And credit to Wellington to have a big crowd – they deserve it. They’ve had a wonderful season.

“The stadium should be full to support them, and we should embrace the hostility, enjoy every moment on the park – trust ourselves and know that we’re good enough.”

Popovic conceded his attack needed more “spark” but gave credit to Wellington’s miserly defence, and remained confident despite being winless against the Phoenix in four attempts this season.

“We’ve just got to just fine-tune a few details and get the job done over there,” he said.

“We have to be willing to go the full distance, go to extra time, go to penalties,” he said.

“If we have to suffer, we have to suffer. That’s part of getting to a big game, to a big final.

“I know that we will get in those positions again around the front third and I’m confident we can make some of those count.”

Victory coach Tony Popovic urges his side forward against Wellington.
 Victory coach Tony Popovic urges his side forward against Wellington Phoenix. Image by Joel Carrett/AAP PHOTOS 

Popovic made four changes after last weekend’s gruelling elimination final win over Melbourne City, including benching Daniel Arzani, Ben Folami and Jake Brimmer.

His Phoenix counterpart Giancarlo Italiano was thrown by the changes, but Popovic insisted he hadn’t been playing tactical games.

Wellington, who had last week off after finishing second in the regular season, were threatening inside the opening 15 minutes on Sunday.

From there, most chances fell Victory’s way but Wellington’s sturdy defence held out.

Italiano joked he would have preferred a 4-0 win but would take the stalemate.

“The most important thing is that we have our own fate and destiny in our hands,” he said.

“That was the most important thing going into this game.

“I didn’t want to be one or two goals down and then we’re chasing our tails.

“I wanted to go home, with just a simple victory at home being enough to get us through. We’ve done that.”

The winner will face either Central Coast or Sydney FC, with the Mariners up 2-1 after the first leg of their semi-final.