Analysis: Phoenix daring to dream of home semi-final

Dewi Preece
Source: 1News

Sometimes, cliches are the bane of a sports journalist’s day.

"One game at a time." "Just doing their role for the team." "We just focus on ourselves."

But in the case of Ufuk Talay calling finals football a ‘different beast’, that’s because it really is.

"It's a one-off and the tactics and preparations change according to how the game will be going during those ninety minutes," Talay says.

"The group has earned their position to play in the finals series, and you know in three games you can play in a Grand Final."

No matter how much you might try to keep the lead-in week as normal as possible, it’s inevitable that the pressure gauge ticks up, when you know the remainder of your season potentially hangs on one kick of the ball.

It's a pressure magnified for a side who hasn't won a playoff game in ten years - not that you’d think it hearing the ever-cool, calm and collected coach just a day out.

"The group is in good spirits and we’re pretty excited."

As well as excited, they should rightly take a hefty amount of confidence into the game too, having beaten Western United on all three occasions this season.

And it might pay for Talay and Co. to look back at their first meeting of the season, in the early rounds of the FFA cup, as part of Saturday night’s preparation.

On that occasion, a very young, inexperienced Phoenix side defied it’s average age to advance 1-0.

"They're [Western United] a very experienced side who've had a very good season as well, and probably had more players that have played in these types of games previously, so it's definitely going to be a challenge."

Nowhere will that challenge be bigger – figuratively or literally – than at the set piece.

Wellington conceded two near-identical goals in the opening minutes against Melbourne City in their last regular season match, something they can ill-afford to repeat.

“Nothing's an easy fix, I'll tell you that much, but we'll try to make sure we do a lot better.”

Improving that area of the game will only go so far however, with the Nix needing to seriously up production on the other end of the park too.

Sunday saw their lowest number of shots [5] in a match this season.

Josh Sautirio and David Ball returning to the team should at least help in that regard, but having the confidence to take on one of the competition’s best shot-stoppers is key.

Jamie Young has the most clean-sheets [10] of any GK this season.

And if there’s not enough pressure on just scoring, when they score might also prove crucial.

Wellington have lost every game in which they’ve conceded first this season.

"The previous stats have shown when we score we win, and when we don't score we don't win," Talay said.

"So this game is a tough game against Western United who've won a lot of games 1-0 during the season, where when they do score, then they shut up shop very well."

For the Phoenix, Saturday’s not only a chance to re-balance their post-season record, but also bring a rare game back to Wellington, with the semi-finals set to be played as home and away double-legs.

"In the back of their heads they know if they get back through this game they'll have an opportunity to come back and play in Wellington. The boys would be pretty excited and ecstatic to know that. (But) if we can't get a result on Saturday then all that other stuff means nothing."

So that’s why - you guessed it - it’s just one game at a time for the Phoenix.

And they don’t come bigger than this.