Western United coach Mark Rudan would happily return to New Zealand if his A-League team had to face Wellington Phoenix across the Tasman this season.
United head to NSW to take on Rudan’s former team at their temporary home in Wollongong on Sunday, in a match with big implications for both clubs’ finals aspirations.
The imminent opening of a trans-Tasman travel bubble between Australia and New Zealand has the Phoenix hopeful of hosting up to two matches in their home country before the season finishes.
Rudan, who coached the Phoenix in the 2018-19 season before moving to United for their inaugural campaign, said if they were one of the teams who have to head to New Zealand they’d do so happily.
“We’re one of the teams that may potentially have to play against them if they get to play in Wellington or Auckland. We’ve got absolutely no qualms about that,” Rudan said.
“You’ve got to do the right thing by the game and by the opposition and if it means us having to play in Wellington or Auckland there’s no dramas on our side.
“They’ve done it extremely tough and I pay due respect to how hard they’ve had to do it.
“Having lived there for a year and how boisterous and vocal their crowd is, not to be able to play at home is not easy for that football club.”
Sunday’s match is a chance for United to claim three-straight victories after back-to-back wins over Melbourne City and Newcastle lifted them to eighth on the ladder, just four points outside the top six.
The Phoenix have slipped to 10th after Monday’s 3-2 loss to City and coach Ufuk Talay admitted his team needs to start winning to stay in the finals picture.
“There’s still 11 games,” he said.
“There’s still points up for grabs and what we need to do is turn these games into results and put points on the board so we can get ourselves the best chance of making the top six.”
Talay has included New Zealand international Matt Ridenton and veteran English defender Steven Taylor in his squad with both shaking off injuries.
Spaniard Victor Sanchez has been named by Rudan after missing United’s past two games with a hamstring injury.
KEY MATCH STATS
* Wellington won their past two matches against Western United last year after losing their first meeting in October 2019.
* United’s win over Newcastle on Monday was their first victory in NSW in five matches.
* Phoenix captain Ulises Davila has hit 34 shots from outside the penalty area this season, 10 more than any other player in the league.