Wellington have turned to a pair of teenagers to hold the goalkeeping fort after No.1 gloveman Oli Sail was cut down by a hip injury.
Sail will miss up to eight weeks with the hip flexor injury he suffered in the 2-1 loss to Sydney FC.
It means academy graduate Alex Paulsen, who made his A-League Men debut off the bench when Sail went off injured, will make his first start in Monday’s clash with the Central Coast Mariners at Central Coast Stadium.
The Phoenix have drafted in 16-year-old Henry Gray as back-up for 19-year-old Paulsen.
The loss of vice-captain Sail for an extended period is a huge blow for the Phoenix, who are struggling in 10th spot with only one win and a draw from their first five games.
Gray is the 12th member of the current group to have come through the club’s academy.
“We’ve relied heavily on our academy this season … so AP (Paulsen) will got out there and we’ll rely on him to do his job and Henry will be sitting on the bench,” Phoenix coach Ufuk Talay said.
“It’s one of those seasons where unfortunately with COVID and not being able to bring visa players into New Zealand, (it) has obviously been a big challenge for us from the start of the season.
“But it’s an opportunity for these guys to show what they can do. Whether they sink or swim, it’s up to them, we’ll try to push them in the right direction and give those opportunities.”
Central Coast have shot up to fourth spot following 2-0 wins over Sydney and Western Sydney.
The Mariners lost to Wellington 2-1 in round two, but Central Coast coach Nick Montgomery doesn’t have revenge on his mind.
“We probably had enough chances (against Wellington) to win two games, but we didn’t put the ball in the back of the net and we copped a nasty deflection in the second half when we were on top,” he said.
“That game is in the past, and the future is tomorrow’s game. We are starting to put chances away and the confidence is flowing through the boys.”