Match Preview: Wellington Phoenix v Wanderers

Our A-League Women’s side travel across the Tasman in their final regular season match against Wellington Phoenix on Saturday afternoon.

Whilst their place in the finals is close to being secured – they could even have it wrapped up before they play on the weekend – the Wanderers will be looking to win a fourth match in a row for the second time this season, which could see them leap into the top four if other results go their way.

After a wobbly period through February, the Wanderers have found form at the right time, winning 10 points from the last 12 on offer, including last weekend against third place Western United.

The game didn’t get off to the best start with Hannah Keane scoring a 17th minute goal for the visitors, but the Wanderers hit back just before the break through Ella Buchanan, before a counter attacking masterclass sunk United in the second half, as substitute Cushla Rue and star striker Sophie Harding combined twice for the latter to net a brace and wrap up a crucial 3-1 victory.

The goals took Harding’s tally to 12 for the season, with the striker netting three in her last two games, and lifted the Wanderers into fifth spot on the table, ahead of the Melbourne Victory on games won.

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA – MARCH 23: Sophie Harding of the Wanderers celebrates with her team mates after scoring a goal during the A-League Women round 21 match between Western Sydney Wanderers and Western United at Wanderers Football Park, on March 23, 2024, in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Mark Kolbe/Getty Images)

The equation is simple for the Wanderers: avoid defeat against Wellington and finals football will be returning to Western Sydney for the first time since 2020; they may not even need to do that, as Newcastle failing to win in their match on Friday would also confirm the Wanderers’ place in the top six.

However, a victory for the Wanderers and a draw in the Central Coast Mariners vs. Western United match would see the Wanderers jump into the top four and secure a home final for the first time ever.

This would represent a remarkable achievement for the Wanderers considering coach Robbie Hooker only came into the job days before the beginning of the season and had to wait until round five for his first victory.

He has galvanised the squad as they went on a fantastic run of just one defeat in eight games earlier in the season, and has made the necessary tactical tweaks to help kickstart the Wanderers’ season in recent weeks, as the side has nine goals in their last four games.

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA – MARCH 23: Wanderers head coach Robbie Hooker watches his team during the warm-up before the A-League Women round 21 match between Western Sydney Wanderers and Western United at Wanderers Football Park, on March 23, 2024, in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Mark Kolbe/Getty Images)

The run of form has coincided with a change to a 4-4-2 formation with Harding leading the line alongside either Holly Caspers or Maliah Morris, and has seen Maddy McComasky return to the starting side at left back.

The Wanderers also welcomed back Alexia Apostolakis from international duty last weekend, and she will slot back into the side at right back, with Danika Matos shifting to right midfield.

There have been lots of impressive performers recently alongside Harding, with Holly Caspers scoring a double and assisting once in a 4-1 win over Canberra, and newcomer Ellie Buchanan scoring twice in recent weeks after joining as an injury replacement player.

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA – MARCH 13: Holly Caspers of the Wanderers \ctduring the A-League Women round five match between Western Sydney Wanderers and Canberra United at Wanderers Football Park, on March 13, 2024, in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Matt King/Getty Images)

For Wellington, Western Sydney’s win on Saturday officially ended their finals dreams, with the Phoenix eight points off the top six after also losing to Canberra on Sunday.

It was a season that started with promise as they sat third after nine rounds, but a run of one win in eight games in the new year period saw them fall out of the finals places, and even wins over Perth and Adelaide were not enough to keep their season alive.

Their home form has been impressive, with six wins and a draw in 10 matches, and they did win the reverse fixture way back in round two, as they hit the Wanderers on the counter-attack in a 3-0 win.

The Wanderers still have much on the line on Saturday, and coach Hooker will be demanding 110% from his players as they aim to cap off a brilliant regular season with a win.

Match Details
Wellington Phoenix v Wanderers
Saturday 30 March 2024, 2:00pm
Porirua Park