Wanderers not distracted by allure of Sydney derby semi

By , Emma Kemp is a Roar Guru

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    The prospect of a Sydney derby semi-final is calling Tony Popovic, but the Western Sydney coach is adamant it won’t distract his A-League underdogs from the immediate task of toppling Brisbane.

    After finishing the regular season in sixth, the Wanderers must make history on two fronts to reach a fourth grand final in five years.

    First up is the unenviable challenge of inflicting a first-ever home finals defeat on the Roar, who’ve won all nine to date at their fortress of Suncorp Stadium.

    Do that on Friday night and they’ll play record-breaking premiers Sydney FC for a shot at becoming the first side from outside the top three to make a season-decider.

    A fiery derby is an enticing thought, not least because the Wanderers are the only rival to have conquered the Sky Blues in their near-flawless campaign.

    “It’s always in the back of your mind what could happen if you win, and who could you play,” Popovic said on Friday as the team boarded their flight in Sydney.

    “We’d be lying if we didn’t say that.

    “Brisbane will be looking at it the same way thinking, `if we win this match we probably go to Melbourne (Victory)’.

    “We both have that in the back of our minds, but ultimately it comes down to tomorrow.

    “If you lose you don’t get that opportunity, so if our minds drift tomorrow that would be a mistake.”

    There’s no chance of that happening, according to Popovic, who stressed the Wanderers are focused and composed – with a healthy shot of adrenaline.

    He’s aware external perception has painted his side as underdogs based on Brisbane’s third-placed finish and unbeaten run against Western Sydney this season.

    But he takes conviction from a sharp form turnaround since their last encounter, one that’s seen the Wanderers go through their final six rounds undefeated.

    “This time we’d love to turn it in our favour,” Popovic said.

    “We expect another close game that could go either way, but we’re ready for it.

    “This is where you want to be at the business end and we really want to make an account of ourselves.

    “You can sense there’s a little change among the players – the excitement around the place has arrived.”

    Popovic confirmed the host of regular starters rested against Adelaide would return to the squad, and top-scorer and newly crowned club player of the year Brendon Santalab would start.

    “He’s looked good in training this week,” he said.

    “This is the type of game that’s tailor-made for him, and I’m sure he’ll show his qualities.

    “We know if we get Brendon into the right areas with good service, he can do the rest. So it’s really up to the whole team to play well.”

    © AAP 2017