The Lonesome Wanderer

The Western Sydney Wanderers currently sit bottom of the league at the midway point of their Hyundai A-League season. Without a win and at times without a clue, after two and a half years of success, the men of the West have come crashing back down to Earth. With Australia’s triumph at the Asian Cup now well and truly behind us, Australia’s football conscience resumes on the A-League front. Coach Tony Popovic still remains upbeat about his team’s chances come finals football, but judging by the 15-point gap separating his side from sixth, the wins will need to come thick and fast.

Last weekend the cellar dwellers resumed their A-League campaign away to top-six hopefuls, Melbourne City. After a positive start to the contest saw the Wanderers go ahead thanks to a fortuitous long-range free kick from new recruit Yojiro Takahagi, the home side then took control in dominant fashion. Aaron Mooy produced a perfect performance against his old club as he provided the assist for Jacob Melling’s equaliser in the first half before grabbing a gorgeous goal of his own midway through the second to give City the 2-1 victory. In focus with Tony Popovic’s team, it was a performance that lacked any resemblance to the side that has reached back-to-back Grand Finals in their first two years of existence. There was no potency in the midfield, no cohesion amongst the back four and of course, no killer instinct in front of goal. In all honesty, on another night perhaps John van’t Schip’s men would have had four or five.

While January’s Asian Cup action swept the attention of the nation, Popovic and co. were making good use of the transfer period as the club chose to part ways with Daniel Mullen, Kwabena Appiah Kubi, and crowd favourite Vitor Saba. In return the team has welcomed the acquisitions of young-Socceroo Kerem Bulut, defender Sam Galloway, Japanese fullback Yusuke Tanaka, and his compatriot midfielder Yojiro Takahagi. While most of these new signings did feature in the aforementioned loss to City, perhaps more of a valid assessment of their contribution to the team’s fortunes will be evident in the coming weeks. The signings of Galloway and Tanaka are direct solutions to the poor options that the red-and-blacks possess at present. The latter will be the first pure right-back to line-up for the Asian Champions since Jerome Polenz and will no doubt play a key role out wide in transition. Japanese international Takahagi comes into the team as their new playmaker tasked with producing more opportunities for the ball to hit the back of the net.

With only eight goals scored between the team this season, hitting the back of the net is something that will need to come more than ever this weekend when the Wanderers take on the Wellington Phoenix. The match will be the first football event to take place at Penrith since 1985 and if ever there was an incentive to grab that elusive win: now is the time. The Nix are coming off an unfortunate 3-2 defeat to the Roar and will be looking to get back on track in their top-two pursuit with a win. Western Sydney can take comfort in the fact that they have scored a goal in each of their last three home meetings with Ernie Merrick’s men and will look to add further gloss to this statistic at the weekend. The Wanderers will be boosted by the return of Matthew Spiranovic and Tomi Juric from Socceroos international duty and the pair should start. However, and as is the case with Tony Popovic’s infamous rotation policy, Wellington nor the Western Sydney faithful will find out which players will play until game day.

Granted, you would be forgiven for feeling a little frustrated with the way things are going for the Wanderers this season. Now that major strides have been taken to change these woes, surely the monkey should jump off the back this Sunday at Penrith. A top-six finals berth is not completely, realistically or mathematically out of the question just yet and should the Asian Champions grab an elusive three points at the weekend, consider the rest of the competition on high alert. At the midway point of their dismal Hyundai A-League season: it’s now or never for the Western Sydney Wanderers.