Hooper finally gets his second start

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Gary Hooper was the big name signing for Wellington Phoenix. He was the man to get fans on the edge of their seats, to score the goals, to be the star. Yet his start in Saturday’s 2-1 win over the Central Coast Mariners was just his second of the season.

For Hooper and Phoenix fans, it has been an unbelievably frustrating journey as injury has kept the marquee man on the bench for most of the season.

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Hooper’s sole other start came back in round four where he was forced off at half time with the injury that has kept him on the bench since.

Well, no longer. The former Celtic player started against the Mariners and did not disappoint, opening the scoring in the 13th minute.

With a fantastic performance and no issues in his comeback from injury, things could not have started better for Hooper.

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Nix head coach Ufuk Talay reflected on this and said he did well.

“He’s got his goal and if he’s scoring when he’s coming back from injury and not at full fitness, that’s a very good sign for both him and us,” he said.

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“But more importantly Hooper got through the game unscathed, which is the most important thing.

“We’ll keep building him up, he’s played 45 minutes for the reserves previously, today he played 60. Hopefully next game he’ll be able to play 60-75 minutes.

“Because he’s finally going to be getting that game time, hopefully in the back end of the season he’ll be more influential.”

Despite his limited appearances Hooper has already been fairly influential in Wellington. He has had only had two starts but has scored in both of them.

He has also been a threat in his substitute appearances, having a goal harshly ruled out for offside last week.

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Regardless of whether he has been on the scoresheet or not, Hooper has made life difficult for opposition defences.

Hooper was playing in place of Reno Piscopo, who is away at the AFC U-23 Championship. Despite Hooper and Piscopo being quite different players, Talay’s tactics remain the same.

“He [Hooper] just has to do the work like every other player,” he said.

“There’s no one individual player that we need to adapt for – the role is the same whether Hoops, Jaush [Sotirio], or [David] Ball does it.

“He [Hooper] has to do the running when we don’t have the ball and get in the right areas when we do have the ball.”

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David Ball, Ulises Dávila and Hooper are all similar yet integral players to Wellington, so Talay may have to change things to get them all to fit into his system.

“The good thing about these guys is that they’ve got versatility,” Talay said.

“Ulises can play as a nine or ten and Ball is the same while Hooper is more of a traditional nine.

“The way we set up means that we have a lot of movement and rotation where players move in between the lines, so we’re given flexibility with those players.”

Featured image credit: Wellington Phoenix

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Dan Moskovitz
The Football Sack's resident teen kiwi football nut. Loves everything football except defeats.