Phoenix confident of ALM homecoming

Wellington coach Ufuk Talay hopes the Phoenix can play ALM home games in NZ in the near future.
Wellington coach Ufuk Talay hopes the Phoenix can play ALM home games in NZ in the near future.

Wellington head coach Ufuk Talay hopes the ray of light afforded by the New Zealand government's relaxing of its borders will allow the Phoenix to return home in the near future.

The Phoenix play their first of four "home" A-League Men games at Wollongong's WIN Stadium on Saturday when they take on the Central Coast Mariners.

New Zealand's decision to implement a seven-day home isolation period effective in January offers some hope that Talay's side could return to Wellington this season.

No exemptions have yet been given to sports teams, but Talay was hopeful that their exile in Wollongong would be short lived.

"It's good and bad, the seven-day isolation doesn't help us," he said.

"The date of April 30 (when tourists are allowed into New Zealand) does not help us too, but the way things are tracking will get us home sooner rather than later.

"We're hoping that with the protocols we've got set that we will be able to get home.

"It (Wollongong) is our home away from home, but it's not really home at all, to be honest.

"I want to get back as soon as we can. We've been away for such a long time. I don't think it's good for our club.

"We just want a bit of normality and to sleep in our own beds, and to prepare for a home game, where the opposing team has to travel to New Zealand.

"We want to just get home and play at home as soon as we can, but this group has adjusted to whatever has been thrown in front of them."

The Phoenix enjoyed a game in Auckland and Wellington last season, but have not played back to back home games since January 2020.

Fullback Louis Fenton is back in contention for Saturday's clash with the Mariners, while the club is hopeful of confirming the loan signing of a No.10 to replace Ulises Davila in the next fortnight.

"Bringing in a loan player doesn't lock us in," Talay said.

"Where as if we had to sign a free agent they are always going to want an 18-month contract."

Wellington, who started their campaign with a 1-1 draw against Macarthur FC, face a Mariners side on Saturday that got off to a winning start under Nick Montgomery.

Central Coast soaked up pressure with little possession and hit the Newcastle Jets with two suckerpunch goals and Talay was wary of a similar threat.

"They're a team that will grind out a result and they have the quality to hurt you," he added.

"We have to match them physically and nullify the spaces they like to exploit.

"It's going to be a tough game. They're very direct and like to go long with four players on your backline so we have to be mindful of that."

Australian Associated Press