Wanderers look as likely as anyone to lift the golden toilet seat

Tony Tannous Columnist

By Tony Tannous, Tony Tannous is a Roar Expert

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    Tony Popovic has been consistently chopping and changing his Wanderers team. AAP Image/Theron Kirkman

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    Tony Popovic might prefer to keep a lid on the hype, but right now, with their organisation and tactical awareness, the Western Sydney Wanderers look likely as anyone to lift the golden toilet seat at the end of April.

    While there remains a third of regular season to go, the Wanderers, firmly ensconced in the top four, can start entertaining the prospect of not only being there at the business end of the season, but winning the whole thing.

    While the Central Coast Mariners and Melbourne Victory remain ahead of them both on the table and in the eyes of the bookies, it is becoming clear that Popovic’s men aren’t afraid of anyone.

    That’s because he has created an environment where his team is well conditioned and confident in the art of controlling a match, irrespective of the circumstances thrown at them.

    We saw that again on Saturday in another pulsating night out at Wanderland, the home ground that is fast becoming the hottest place to be in Australian sport.

    Confronted by the early send-off of right back Jerome Polenz and facing a penalty, the Wanderers refused to buckle.

    Indeed, emboldened by a thrilling penalty save by Ante Covic, which generated what must have been one of the loudest roars Parramatta Stadium has ever seen, the Wanderers seemed to grow even more after the send-off.

    Much of that was down to Popovic’s tactical decision after Polenz’s red card.

    While the tactical convention in a situation like that, in a 4-2-3-1, is to take off one of your front four and play with what is ostensibly a 4-2-3 or 4-4-1, Popovic went for the jugular.

    While he was warming Iaccopa La Rocca up, Popovic and his assistant Ante Milicic switched their tactical lynch-pin Mateo Poljak from central midfield to right back, leaving Aaron Mooy on his own in central midfield.

    It seemed this would only be a temporary gesture and that one of his front four, Shinji Ono, Mark Bridge, Youssouf Hersi or Dino Kresinger would be sacrificed once La Rocca came on.

    But in the few minutes it took to get La Rocca ready, the Wanderers looked a threat in the final third, controlling possession well.

    Each of the quartet not only looked influential on the ball, but had a purpose defensively.

    Popovic instead took off Mooy, one of his two anchors, returning Poljak to the centre of midfield on his own.

    He essentially went to a 4-1-3-1.

    Surely the Melbourne Heart midfield trio of Matt Thompson, Nick Kalmar and Jonathan Germano would be able to gang-up on Poljak and control the midfield and game.

    Alas, it was the 10-man Wanderers who were able to control the rest of the match, eventually getting a deserved winner when Hersi went to work in the box late and Ono converted the resulting penalty.

    Poljak was everywhere, a one-man midfield wrecking ball.

    Catching up with Popovic after the game, he suggested the move was an instinctive one, and there was certainly a hint of intuition about it.

    After all, the excellent recent run had no doubt given the Wanderers a bit of buffer and comfort in the top four, and playing at home certainly helped.

    In many ways, Popovic had nothing to lose, and it showed with him taking such a gamble.

    But beyond the intuition, the move was as much about the belief flowing through the Wanderers’ technical staff and players.

    The belief is not only in their understanding of the Wanderers’ system and what’s required in various scenarios, but in the physical conditioning of the players.

    Patently they believe they have the legs to run over any opponent, even when a man short.

    With a well organised and in-touch defensive structure, this physicality has helped them boss games this season.

    Particularly when the highly under-rated Poljak is available, few are able to compete with the Wanderers’ physicality.

    Indeed, they are the masters of picking up the second ball and applying the team press.

    While the Victory and Mariners have already posed the Wanderers a headache or two this season, there appears to be growing belief within the camp they can compete equally.

    Certainly, beating the Victory 2-1 at Wanderland on New Year’s Day, after suffering a 2-0 loss to them only a few weeks earlier, even after Sam Gallagher was sent off, appeared to instil much belief.

    This was particularly so after romping through Adelaide 6-1 a few days before Christmas.

    What Popovic and Milicic proved on New Year’s Day is they had learnt from the earlier loss to the Victory, devised a plan to combat Archie Thompson and Marco Rojas, and managed to execute it.

    It has been very rare in recent years to find Ange Postecoglou tactically out-thought, but he was certainly second-best on his second trip to Parramatta this season.

    While the Wanderers weren’t able to repeat this feat a few days later against the competition front-runners, the Mariners, the fact they went into that blockbuster without the likes of Kresinger, Michael Beauchamp, Poljak and Hersi will embolden them the next time they meet.

    That match, scheduled for round 23 on March 2, is likely to prove very telling in the title race, particularly if both sides are at full strength.

    Another match that’s likely to be a title barometer comes two weeks earlier, in round 21, when the Wanderers travel to AAMI Park to take on Postecoglou for a third time.

    Indeed, with Adelaide United scheduled for this week, the Wanderers will be away to all the other current members of the top four in the final third of the season.

    It’s another big test and if the Wanderers can pass it, they’ll take their momentum all the way to the finals.

    With much momentum continuing to build off the pitch (the support of the fans appeared to have a major impact on the result against the Heart), there’s no doubt few will relish meeting the Wanderers.

    While there’s still a fair part of the season remaining, right now, if you were framing a market for the championship, you’d be crazy not to have the Wanderers right in the mix.

    With their tactical flexibility and physicality, the big key for Popovic, like it will be for Graham Arnold and Postecoglou, will be to have his big guns available when it counts.

    If he does, the Wanderers will take much stopping.

    Tony Tannous
    Tony Tannous

    Follow Tony on Twitter @TonyTannousTRBA

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    The Crowd Says (52)

    • January 29th 2013 @ 6:08am
      NUFCMVFC said | January 29th 2013 @ 6:08am | ! Report

      Yep, everyone in the top four in particular has a practical chance at both Premiership and Chmpionship, though the Mariners are obviously in the box seat given they are five points ahead. Will have to see with Adelaide though now given what’s happening with Kossie leaving etc plus they may start to fade and tire given they started earlier than everyone else with their ACL commitments

      Given everyone can beat any team on their day, even the teams going for 5th and 6th can make a good go of it. Sydney will probably do better now they have Griffiths and Culina is also playing again as well

    • January 29th 2013 @ 8:36am
      Bondy said | January 29th 2013 @ 8:36am | ! Report

      I think the derby win against SFC gave the squad/unit a great sense of being a massive boost of confidence for the club all round thats where I belive they found there indentity as a football club.

      I remember a similar situation with Jens Lehman Arsenal fouling Eto’o Barca in a european cup final and R Pires had to be replaced and they lost.

      Its going to be a cracking finish to the season,c’mon you Mariners.

    • January 29th 2013 @ 10:22am
      Andrew said | January 29th 2013 @ 10:22am | ! Report

      Popovic has built a team with a great balance of youth and experience. That is not easy given the limited pre-season preparation available to Wanderers.

      He’s also demonstrated tremendous tactical intuition.

      Most importantly, his team have a belief that’s been built on some spectacular performances, particularly in the Sydney derby.

      Western Sydney certainly have the quality and the class to go all the way.

      • January 29th 2013 @ 11:08am
        NUFCMVFC said | January 29th 2013 @ 11:08am | ! Report

        There are some balance issues though, they probably need to get a clinical Smeltz/Griffiths type out and out striker up front, may not be too difficult given the season they have had

        Their progression reminds me of a comment Bozza made at the start of the season, about stirkers/attackers being able to win games as game changers but over the long course of the season its defenses that win you championships. Obviously being a defender Popovich has done this well, and after a slow start given the striker isues, has been able to string the results together nicely, especially the 6-1 thrashing of Adelaide who were second at the time and pretty much proves they are capable.

        Same goes with the Mariners who are a well drilled unit and for a while Adelaide are perhaps stumbling slightly here and there, they have generally been solid defenders hence their abilites to make good acl runs. as far as MVFC go they aer starting to find their rythm after a slow start and are keeping a few more clean sheets despite some issues to resolve

        • January 29th 2013 @ 3:39pm
          fadida said | January 29th 2013 @ 3:39pm | ! Report

          Definitely still short a decent goal scorer. What MV and CCM have over them are scoring options and this will cost them in the end. Winner from these 2.

          Brilliant first season though. Popovic looks an outstanding coaching prospect.

    • January 29th 2013 @ 10:48am
      Ian said | January 29th 2013 @ 10:48am | ! Report

      amazingly this team in its 1st season i believe now can win the championship. i didnt think so a few weeks ago when they were top 4 but the last few wins they have showed belief and resolve. the premiership is parly owned by the mariners. its theirs to lose.

    • Roar Guru

      January 29th 2013 @ 10:59am
      Cameron Kellett said | January 29th 2013 @ 10:59am | ! Report

      I am happy for Wanderers, but if Gold Coast United had a stronger following, then perhaps, people might not forget how well they did in their first season.
      27 games, 13 wins, 5 draws, 9 losses. F:39 A:35 = 44 points overall for season, finishing 3rd and with 2 less visa, spots.

      • January 29th 2013 @ 11:30am
        Midfielder said | January 29th 2013 @ 11:30am | ! Report

        Very true…

      • January 29th 2013 @ 12:38pm
        oly09 said | January 29th 2013 @ 12:38pm | ! Report

        But how long did GCU have to prepare for their first season?
        WSW didn’t even exist 12 months ago and built the squad on a budget.

        • Roar Guru

          January 29th 2013 @ 1:05pm
          Cameron Kellett said | January 29th 2013 @ 1:05pm | ! Report

          Congrats to Wanderers!
          I don’t care how much or little time that actually had. Your question is clearly rhetorical and if it’s not i’m sure you could answer that one yourself.

          Does it need to be pointed out they had a private owner from the get go? Or that they didn’t have,a highly regarded international marquee? Or they had less experience and less visa spots?

          If you’re looking for glorification for Wanderers success, you won’t get it from me. All you’ll get is i’m a happy chap A-League supporter who is enjoying the success in whatever term for each club, including the Wanderers.

          • January 29th 2013 @ 1:43pm
            Ian said | January 29th 2013 @ 1:43pm | ! Report

            The Roar (Brisbane, not Sports Opinion) are number one of course……!!!

            • Roar Guru

              January 29th 2013 @ 1:50pm
              Cameron Kellett said | January 29th 2013 @ 1:50pm | ! Report

              Of course Ian 😀

            • January 29th 2013 @ 1:51pm
              Ian said | January 29th 2013 @ 1:51pm | ! Report

              though the roar sports opinion is VERY GOOD. maybe better than any other sports site…..

              • Roar Guru

                January 29th 2013 @ 1:59pm
                Cameron Kellett said | January 29th 2013 @ 1:59pm | ! Report

                It’s what keeps me glued to the computer screen. Always love opinions based on fact more though.

              • January 29th 2013 @ 2:35pm
                Ian said | January 29th 2013 @ 2:35pm | ! Report

                this site is defnitely better than most. most of the time there aren’t commenters trolling through articles that spread garbage just to incite reactions which have no basis in reality. (and that’s other football supporters of other teams, not talking about other codes who dislike football)

                anyway on another note – keep up your good articles.

                on another note – i’m happy with mulvey at the moment. there are some issues at the Roar presently. we can only guess – if its motivation, recruitment, not finishing off lead up work, defence…..at least MM is having a crack and has done some recruitment. perhaps this season is a write off – or the season we had to have……..your team can’t win all the time. still love them.

          • January 29th 2013 @ 2:48pm
            Crown77 said | January 29th 2013 @ 2:48pm | ! Report

            A little bitter taste there Kellett towards the Wanderers.

            Sorry we destroyed (what I assume is) your beloved Brisbane Roar three times, we are by far the team playing the best “Continental” Football.

            Anyone remember FC Porto’s Europa Cup and Champions league with Mourinho? This is what Popovic has given the Wanderers and We just didn’t destroy the a Mariners at home because we were missing 4 major players. If we had those players on the pitch Mariners would have been trashed. That’s the only Weakness the Wanderers have small squad and if we loose 2 major players we will struggle, but that aside I do see the Wanderers go all the way easily to be honest you just need to pay attention to the way they are playing to realise that. Not to mention the Magnificent supporters that are playing the crucial role of the 12th player.

            • January 29th 2013 @ 3:05pm
              Ian said | January 29th 2013 @ 3:05pm | ! Report

              without putting words into the mouth or on behalf of anyone else – kellet just said he was happy for the wanderers……….as i did above and i am a Brisbane Roar supporter. WSW can win the championship.

              not sure about destroyed……..0-1, 0-1, 1-2 were the scorelines. wanderers beat the Roar 3 times. no arguments. we aren’t exactly great though. and one game was a penalty with 5 mins to go, another average goalkeeping and arguable offside from Ono. destroyed is a stretch too far.

              also a big fan of Popovic as player and obviously what he has done as a coach. may even get coach of the year.

            • Roar Guru

              January 29th 2013 @ 6:00pm
              Cameron Kellett said | January 29th 2013 @ 6:00pm | ! Report

              I like the taste of bitter, mix in some sweet and before you know it Roar may creep into the finals and knock out Wanderers oh how bittersweet!

              Though jokes aside, I am far from bitter. I never said one bad word about the Wanderers. I just don’t feel the need to glorify them and parade them with a shower of rose pettles. Though once they finish the season and win something you’ll know about it, might even join the chorus of Guru’s and experts who have been bemoaning about it every single week.

              I’ll be happy for them no matter end of season results.

              And i’m a Brisbane Roar fan yes, i’m not bitter or jealous for losing. We deserved it. But don’t think for one second we were easy, cause in all of the matches we dominated most aspects, just not the one that counted most.

          • January 29th 2013 @ 3:21pm
            oly09 said | January 29th 2013 @ 3:21pm | ! Report

            Jason Culina was playing in the Champions League with PSV before he returned to GCU when he was still at the peak of his career.

            • Roar Guru

              January 29th 2013 @ 6:02pm
              Cameron Kellett said | January 29th 2013 @ 6:02pm | ! Report

              Anyone else you’d like to mention Oly09?

              Or is Jason Culina the only well experienced player you can think of?

    • January 29th 2013 @ 2:32pm
      Garcia said | January 29th 2013 @ 2:32pm | ! Report

      WSW VS MVFC GRAND FINAL = Passion levels we have yet to see in the A-league 🙂 . Imagine the RBB VS MVNT in the biggest football match of the year. This face-off would be almost as interesting as the football match which would have the league’s most solid defense vs the league’s most potent attack…

      Saying this the grand final will probably end up being CCM vs AU in a half empty Allianz Stadium 😉

      • January 29th 2013 @ 2:57pm
        Crown77 said | January 29th 2013 @ 2:57pm | ! Report

        The Mariners will crumble when the going gets tuff, they have proven along the years, it becomes part of the clubs history and always in the mind of its players.

        Just look at my SL Benfica from Portugal we have been to 7 Champions League (Cup) finals and only won 2, we could be the European club with the most Champions League titles.

        The Mariners will never win the final wright my words!

        • January 29th 2013 @ 3:03pm
          Garcia said | January 29th 2013 @ 3:03pm | ! Report

          Image that AU VS CCM Grand Final the 2 biggest chokers in league history, whos up for perpetual sudden death penalties. 😉

          • January 29th 2013 @ 3:48pm
            Bondy said | January 29th 2013 @ 3:48pm | ! Report

            The Mariners do anoutstanding job under the set of circumstances,they’ll be right there in the final bringing home glory for the CCst.

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