Football: Wellington Phoenix coach Giancarlo Italiano plays down his role after historic win in capital

Wellington Phoenix coach Giancarlo Italiano is heaping praise on his players rather than himself after his side's miraculous 1-0 win over Melbourne Victory in Wellington on Friday night.    

Finn Surman's 96th-minute winner not only propelled Wellington to the top of the A-League standings and guaranteed a top-two finish with a playoff bye, but also pushed the Nix past their highest points total in a season with 49.   

Despite all these accomplishments coming in Italiano's first season as head coach, the Australian was quick to shift the focus off himself post-match.    

"The accolades deserve to go to the players, not myself," said Italiano.   

"I want the group to do the most they can do as a group and there's a lot of belief with these guys. I just want to keep pushing them and making sure they don't regret this opportunity.    

"Am I stoked? Yes, I am. But again, it's not about me, it's more about the club."  

However, to understate Italiano's influence would be a mistake.  

After working tirelessly behind his predecessor Ufuk Talay over four seasons, Italiano was still relatively unknown when he was handed the reigns by Phoenix management at the beginning of the season.  

His inexperience combined with Wellington losing key starters such as Ollie Sail, Clayton Lewis and Yan Sasse had many analysts picking Wellington to finish at the back end of the table.    

Instead, Italiano has completely changed Wellington's game - opting to play out from the back and fiercely defending the box while using the counterattack to create goalscoring opportunities.   

The first-year head coach has also brought his own style to player signings, locking up younger academy players such as Lukas Kelly-Heald and Finn Conchie on long-term contracts.   

His choices both on and off the field have clearly resulted in success, with the Phoenix now enjoying a historic run. 

Giancarlo Italiano talks to his players during a training session.
Giancarlo Italiano talks to his players during a training session. Photo credit: Getty Images

Remaining humble, Italiano did take a moment to reflect on the season so far after the win over Melbourne.   

"It's a little bit surreal," he said.   

"This is the highest amount of points the club has ever achieved [and] the highest position they've achieved, and I'm stoked now that we're going to have an opportunity to play at home in front of a Wellington crowd to get to a grand finale."   

Both Italiano and his players' focus will now shift to their finals run. They are guaranteed a bye in the opening week of the post-season and a home fixture in the two-leg semifinals.   

Sitting three points behind the 'Nix, pressure is now back on the Central Coast Mariners in the race for the Premiers Plate. The Mariners visit 11th-placed Western United on Saturday.    

If Wellington are still top at the end of the season, they will secure a home advantage for the Grand Final if they progress and win the club's first silverware in the form of the Premiers Plate.