In-form Hooper delighting Phoenix coach

A year ago Tomer Hemed was the man charged with filling Gary Hooper’s goalscoring role at Wellington Phoenix.

Hooper had moved to India on a one-year deal with Kerala Blasters and the Israeli international was the Phoenix spearhead for the 2020-21 season.

Hooper then returned to the Phoenix in June, with Hemed subsequently signing for Western Sydney after a solitary season with Wellington.

Having Hooper slot back into his role with the Phoenix has brought instant rewards for Ufuk Talay’s team, with the experienced 33-year-old scoring in both games this season including last weekend’s 2-1 win over Central Coast.

Hemed meanwhile opened his account for the Wanderers in the 2-2 draw with Newcastle at Commbank Stadium, setting up a mouthwatering battle between the forwards in Friday’s clash between the Phoenix and Wanderers in Wollongong.

“Hoops has scored whichever team he’s played for. He’s very clinical in front of goal, he’s always in the right areas even if he’s going to tap it in, he’s in the right areas,” Talay said.

“Different type of players, at the same time they have both good presence where they can hold the ball up and bring players into the game.

“Tomer had a good back end of the season when he got fitter and stronger, for us.

“I don’t really care what Tomer does, he’s at Western Sydney Wanderers, for us it’s to stop him from scoring and on the other side Hoops scoring more often.”

To help his team handle an eight-day stretch featuring three matches including Friday’s game, Talay has added academy players Finn Surman, Jackson Manuel and Oskar van Hattum to his squad.

Already the Phoenix are sweating on the fitness of Jaushua Sautirio, who injured an ankle in the Mariners’ win, but right-back Callan Elliot is expected to start despite hurting his shoulder in last weekend’s victory.

Western Sydney meanwhile head for their first round trip of the season without a win after draws in their first two matches at home, leaving coach Carl Robinson under mounting pressure to deliver results.

If his team can leave WIN Stadium with three points it will end a club-record 13-match unbeaten run for the Phoenix stretching back to round 15 of last season.