18 Apr 2024

Zawada expected to figure off the bench for Phoenix on Friday

4:32 pm on 18 April 2024
Phoenix player Oskar Zawada celebrates a goal.

Oskar Zawada celebrates a goal for the Phoenix against Brisbane Roar last season. Photo: Photosport

Wellington Phoenix star striker Oskar Zawada is expected to get game time against the Newcastle Jets on Friday in a major boost as the side aims for their first A-League men's crown.

Zawada has not played for the Phoenix since February because of a thigh injury, and there were fears his season was over, with coach Giancarlo Italiano saying at the time he would at best return to training by the semifinals.

But the 28-year-old has surprised with his recovery and showed up at training on Tuesday.

He has since been passed fit and Italiano intends to give him playing time off the bench against the Jets at McDonald Jones Stadium on Friday night.

"I'll put him on if I feel like he is needed in a game,'' Italiano told a media conference on Thursday.

He described Zawada as being ''in good shape'' but obviously lacking in hard practice and game time.

"Over the last couple of weeks, his rehab has gone a lot better than expected and towards the end of last week he ran uninhibited and was able to get full function and no pain in his leg after the session. So that was quite promising.'

"After discussion with the physio, we thought he could be integrated back into training, and if he had a good week of training, he could be available for some minutes against the Jets.''

Oskar Zawada of the Wellington Phoenix.

Zawada's return is a boost for the other Phoenix players, says coach Giancarlo Italiano. Photo: Photosport

Italiano favoured bringing Zawada back now rather than keeping him in cotton wool until the semifinals, for which the Phoenix have already qualified.

"I'm not going to throw him in a game if he's not conditioned, especially an important game like a semifinal, but because we're still playing for top honours it's a very delicate one to manage.

"If I have the opportunity to play him against the Jets, it means he has 10 minutes of conditioning in his legs. That means against the Macarthur Bulls if I need him I can push him to 20 or 30 and then for the semifinal he's not underdone and he can contribute if he's available."

The Bulls game, in Wellington on Sunday, 27 April, will be the Phoenix's last for the regular season.

Heading into Friday night's game against the Jets, the Phoenix are on 49 points, equal with Central Coast Mariners, who hold the lead courtesy to their superior win count.

Italiano said Zawada, who tallied 15 goals last season, had scored the match-winning goal the last time the Phoenix played Newcastle. He said his return was a boost for the other players.

"The fact that he's back, it gives the boys confidence that if things get a little bit hard that we do have an option off the bench."

Zawada had been ''very driven'' in his quest to get back into action and contribute to the team.

"He had plenty of interest to leave, but one of the big things he wanted to do this year was to create a legacy at the club, and I think he's still in a position to do that."

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