Football: Wellington Phoenix coach Giancarlo Italiano urges knockout mentality heading into final stretch of regular season

Coach Giancarlo Italiano wants his team to take a knockout mentality into the rest of their men's A-League season, starting with Friday night's match against Melbourne Victory.

With three rounds remaining in the regular season, the Wellington Phoenix sit second behind Central Coast Mariners, the teams separated by goal differential.

Five points back in third are Victory. Italiano is wary the visitors will be highly motivated to pick up three points in Wellington, prompting his call for the Phoenix players to treat the match "like a grand final".

Victory are the only team who can deny the Phoenix a top-two finish, and Italiano expected another close game after the sides played out two 1-1 draws previously.

"I think it's going to be about that little edge, that small difference that no one sees," he said.

Wellington Phoenix.
Wellington Phoenix. Photo credit: Photosport

"It is like a grand final, so they'll be looking for that edge as well.

"We're going to face six of those matches if we get all the way through to the grand final. They're going to have to get used to that feeling of playing through a cut-throat sort of game."

Italiano is expecting his players to bounce back from the "gut-wrenching" 2-1 loss to the Mariners in Gosford.

"We'll find out, but the spirit's pretty good in the group at the moment," he said.

"It's so cliché but you do learn a lot from defeat, and it's the best time to address any issues that you have.

"Where we were disappointed in that game last week was we gave off two very soft goals, uncharacteristic goals. We addressed it this week… we're aware of those things, and if we can curb them then hopefully the result looks after itself."

While initially downcast, Italiano said he felt more positive by the time the Phoenix landed back in Wellington.

"Sometimes you have to take a step back and go, alright, how far the group has actually progressed to get into this position? When I reflected on the plane back from Central Coast I was quite proud.

"The same people that were saying we were going to finish last are now saying 'it'll be disappointing if you don't finish it off', so we've come a long way."

The Phoenix have yet to suffer back-to-back defeats this season, something Italiano attributes to their resilience.

They welcome back captain Alex Rufer from suspension, with the central midfielder having scored Wellington's stoppage time equaliser in their last meeting with the Victory in January.

Experienced fullback Tim Payne is also in line to return to the Phoenix starting side, after coming off the bench against the Mariners in his first match back from a hamstring injury.