Why ‘Nix star is treating historic SF ‘differently to other people’ while Victory address ‘Achilles heel’

History will be made by Wellington Phoenix, one way or another on Saturday, and Kiwi sensation Ben Old is embracing the blockbuster occasion.

Wellington’s fairytale season will see them host their first Isuzu UTE A-League Semi-Final at Sky Stadium since 2012, where the first sell-out in club history crowd is expected for the second-leg showdown with Melbourne Victory.

The tie is deadlocked at 0-0 with a place in the May 25 Grand Final up for grabs.


Led by rookie head coach Giancarlo ‘Chiefy’ Italiano, the Phoenix have defied the odds having been tipped to finish bottom of the standings by some pundits. They have gone on to end the regular season second in the standings while breaking club records along the way.

“Everyone says you need to treat it like another game but it’s different for everyone,” said Phoenix star.

“For me, I’m super excited about this being probably the biggest game of my life. So I’m going to take it a bit differently to other people.

“I’m just excited to be playing in front of hopefully a sold-out crowd.”

Old added: “You don’t get many of these opportunities in your life.”

“This is something that I wouldn’t have expected to happen for us.”

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Standing in the way of the high-flying Phoenix are four-time champions Victory.

Victory finished 11 points behind Wellington in third position during the regular season, but the Melbourne club are no strangers to the big stage having won four Championships previously, though they have not claimed the crown since 2018.

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Victory have lost the second leg of a two-legged finals match in the A-League Men only once from four attempts (W2 D1); though, that defeat came in their most recent second leg against Western United in 2022.

But Tony Popovic’s Victory have not beaten Wellington in their four meetings this season (L1 D3), and midfielder Ryan Teague told reporters: “We’ve had this belief with us through the whole season that we are going to win the Championship and take home this league.

“Nothing’s changed since day one, we all have the belief that we will go there and win.”

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In the two previous meetings before last week’s first leg stalemate, late goals decided the contests.

A 90th-minute penalty from Alex Rufer salvaged a 1-1 draw for 10-man Wellington in January, while a 95th-minute own goal gave the Phoenix a 1-0 triumph in April.

“It’s been the story of the year, dropping points late in games,” said Victory full-back Jason Geria.

“It’s been an Achilles heel of ours and something we’ve tried to rectify over the year and something that’s been a little problem for us.

“But it’s a Semi-Final, a second leg and a different type of game. I don’t really think history of prior encounters come into it. If that’s on your mind, you’re already behind the eight ball. That’s in the past for us. We know what we need to do. By focusing on our process, that will get us over the line, not necessarily by the 85th minute or 95th minute (smiling).

“If they want to rely on that getting them over the line, that’s fine. For us, it’s something we’re going to thrive on and enjoy that atmosphere and hostility. Enjoy trying to spoil the party.”

Head-to-head this season

Round 4: Melbourne Victory 1-1 Wellington Phoenix

Victory played host to Wellington in Round 4 and the two sides shared the spoils in the first of three regular season meetings between the two sides this season.

Olyroos midfielder Ryan Teague scored his first A-Leagues goal in a dream start to his maiden Victory campaign as the hosts opened the scoring at AAMI Park – but the ‘Nix struck back before half-time when Damien Da Silva bundled Kosta Barbarouses’ cross over his own goal line. The points were then shared in a 1-1 draw.

Round 13: Wellington Phoenix 1-1 Melbourne Victory

Victory travelled across the ditch to take on the ‘Nix in Round 13 and just like their Round 4 encounter, the game ended 1-1 with the points shared at Sky Stadium.

Phoenix defender Tim Payne was sent off late in the first half and Victory looked set to take all three points when they took the lead through Connor Chapman’s third league goal – but the 10-man hosts fought back, with captain Alex Rufer scoring a late penalty to level the score.

Round 24: Wellington Phoenix 1-0 Melbourne Victory

The Phoenix welcomed Victory back to Sky Stadium in Round 24 and 95 minutes elapsed without either team breaking the deadlock, before late drama sealed the hosts all three points.

A stoppage-time free-kick delivered into a dangerous area by Oskar van Hattum was met by Finn Surman, and deflected off Roderick Miranda on its way past Paul Izzo as Wellington snatched all three points and sparked special scenes in the ‘Cake Tin’.

Semi-Final first leg: Melbourne Victory 0-0 Wellington Phoenix

Wellington Phoenix’s AAMI Park streak went on but their 100th Isuzu UTE A-League clean sheet frustrated Melbourne Victory as the first leg of their Semi-Final ended 0-0 last week.

Victory could not breach Phoenix’s stubborn defence in Melbourne, where Wellington’s winless run at AAMI Park extended to 21 matches.

However, Giancarlo ‘Chiefy’ Italiano’s Phoenix stifled the home side thanks to their milestone clean sheet – the club’s 12th of a record-breaking season in Wellington.


  • Wellington Phoenix are unbeaten in their last four A-League Men games against Melbourne Victory (W1 D3) and have kept a clean sheet in each of their last two encounters; indeed, they’ve lost only one of their last six games against Victory in New Zealand (W3 D2).
  • Wellington Phoenix have won their last five straight A-League Men games at Sky Stadium, keeping four clean sheets in that frame, and have won three of their four previous finals games at the venue.
  • Melbourne Victory have won only one of their last six A-League Men games away from AAMI Park (D3 L2) despite holding their opposition goalless in the first halves of five of those six encounters including a 1-all draw with Wellington Phoenix at Sky Stadium in which the teams were nil-all at half-time on the day.
  • Melbourne Victory have lost the second leg of a two-legged finals match in the A-League Men only once from four attempts (W2 D1); though, that defeat came in their most recent second leg against Western United in 2022.
  • Sydney FC (6.2) are the only team to have made more shots from outside the box per game than Melbourne Victory (5.9) in the 2023-24 A-League Men season while Wellington Phoenix (2.9) have made the fewest of any team; though, no teams have conceded fewer goals from outside the box this season than Wellington Phoenix (2) and Melbourne Victory (3).
  • Scott Wootton (Wellington Phoenix) has a 96.1% accuracy from his 1,528 passes in his own half this A-League Men season, the second highest of any player in the competition (min. 300 attempts).
  • Oskar Zawada (Wellington Phoenix) has scored eight goals across his last seven A-League Men games at Sky Stadium as well as making one assist in that term; though, he has not scored a goal in his last two games against Melbourne Victory after scoring one goal in each of his first two games against them in his career.
  • Daniel Arzani (Melbourne Victory) has made 5.9 take-ons per game this A-League Men season, the second most of any player in the competition behind only Central Coast Mariners’ Ángel Torres (7.2).