It’s official. After a ponderous start to the season, during which the disappointment of a grand final loss to Sydney FC appeared to have Perth Glory beginning their new campaign in a state of nervousness and disappointment, they are now well and truly back.
It hasn’t happened overnight. With just six points accumulated from their first seven matches, Tony Popovic’s men failed to live up to broad expectations early on in season 2019-20.
But since then it’s been nothing but a stellar run of improved play that has lifted the men in purple from a lowly 11th on the ladder at the completion of Round 8 into outright third after their 4-2 win over the Phoenix last Friday night.
Now just a point behind Melbourne City, the men from the west are eyeing off runaway leader Sydney FC, plotting a strong finish to the season and a finals series in which revenge will undoubtedly be on their minds.
The charge towards the top of the ladder has included six straight wins and draws against both City and Victory. The team stands unbeaten in nine after adding a seventh trio of points against Wellington.
As Popovic will be at pains to point out, the team is far from the finished article and potentially an intimidating beast come finals. The disjointedness of their early season play was missing on Friday night despite the absences of both Diego Castro and Chris Ikonomidis.
The ageing Castro is a short to medium-term absence, yet the loss of Ikonomidis is significant. The attacking void his long-term knee injury creates is an undoubted headache for Popovic, yet it could be slightly less so if Joel Chianese can continue to impressive and blossom into the player many have believed he would for some time.
Nick D’Agostino seems re-energised and reborn after an inspirational time away with the Olyroos in Thailand. Graham Arnold and Tony Popovic appear to have finally unlocked the secret to the Sydney-born 21-year-old. The net is bulging frequently now for D’Agostino both domestically and in national colours.
It is fair to now add his name to an increasing array of talented young attacking weapons that Arnold will attempt to fine tune in the medium term. The end game is to have D’Agostino, Ikonomidis, Awer Mabil, Riley McGree, George Blackwood, Reno Piscopo and others all ready, willing and able to lead the full national team into the next phase of Socceroo history.
Just as the Glory are resurgent, so too is their striker, Bruno Fornaroli. While initially and predictably struggling with combinations in his new colours, the Uruguayan is now scoring freely. His 90th minute effort to seal the distance derby reminded all and sundry of the scoring prowess he possesses.
With the mistrust and obviously bitter feud with former City manager Warren Joyce now behind him, Friday’s strike was the 55th of his A-League career. No matter which team you support, seeing the 32-year-old playing, scoring and smiling is a great thing for our competition.
With Perth buoyant, Fornaroli appears likely to climb briskly up the golden boot standings. Although his seven goals may place him a little too far adrift of Adam le Fondre and Jamie Maclaren to actually claim the individual honour, expect the Fornaroli highlight reel to continue over the next ten weeks as Perth enter Sydney’s rear-view mirror.
Sadly for Melbourne Victory fans, after some neat and promising Asian Champions League play against Bali United and Kashima Antlers and a potential re-energising of their domestic form, the Melbourne derby ended disappointingly for them on Friday night.
City were the better side, created far more of quality and secured a 2-1 win at AAMI Park. Victory sit ninth, have lost four of their last five A-League fixtures and have managed just a lone point since 5 January.
Now, just like the Glory, they enter a difficult period during which juggling a domestic and Asian load will stretch resources, wills and personnel. What Victory lack entering this period is a buffer. Perth and Sydney FC have it and are able to afford a loss or two.
The harsh reality for caretaker manager Carlos Perez Salvachua is that his team has won just four from 17 thus far and, by my best guess, will need to win at least five of their last nine to have a chance of qualifying for the finals.
Frankly it is hard to see that happening. A finals series without the A-League’s perennial contender seems likely.
Not so for Perth. The Sandgropers will be there, with Bruno Fornaroli leading the line. They are undoubtedly back.