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Welcome back, Western Sydney Wanderers - the A-League has missed you

3rd January, 2024
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3rd January, 2024
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Love ‘em or hate ‘em, the Western Sydney Wanderers bring a heck of a lot to the A-League competition.

Watching 11,382 people making a heap of noise at CommBank Stadium on Monday reminded all A-League folk of just how well supported the men’s team once was.

Unfortunately, from the 2017-18 season through to the COVID-affected campaign of 2021-22, the Wanderers’ results were mostly rubbish.

Not a finals campaign was managed across that period, yet there was a glimpse of a new dawn under Marko Rudan last season, where the team qualified for the finals series before being knocked from contention by Sydney FC in an Elimination Final derby.

Now, with the team surging towards the top of the A-League ladder and building a reputation as one of the most difficult to score against across the league, the Wanderers appear to be back and with a bullet.

It is not just the improved play under Rudan since he arrived at the club after the Carl Robinson’s sacking in late January 2022 that has the fans returning to home base and firing up in numbers.

At that stage of the season the Wanderers sat in 11th position, before a better end to the campaign saw the team win five matches and draw six from their final 19.

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There were immediate signs of improvement, as minor as they may have been initially, yet it was the slowly turning narrative of success that the 48-year-old adopted that had fans attention.

Whilst not compellingly convinced at the time, fans of the red and black were certainly more hopeful than they had been since the days of Premier’s Plates, Grand Finals and Asian Champions League success.

That hope played out in the finals appearance of 2022-23, as disappointing as it was, with the team not quite challenging at the pointy end of the ladder, but with the fans actually believing that the team could do in 12 months’ time.

Marcelo and his Western Sydney Wanderers teammates thank their fans. (Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)

Roll on the 2023-24 season and within six weeks of play, the ascending level of trust in the team and its results were building week by week.

An early draw with the impressive Wellington now reads as educative, a 5-0 thrashing of Western United was a statement win, as was the triumph on Sydney Derby day, when Sky Blues fans left Allianz Stadium as losers in yet another edition of the match-up.

The Wanderers have lost just twice this season, once in a rematch with the Phoenix in New Zealand, the other a 4-3 goalfest with Melbourne Victory, where Bruno Fornaroli went bananas in front of goal.

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That is decent form from Rudan’s men, with losses restricted to the top two on the ladder. Yet it is the 19 goals scored and the mere 11 conceded that has fans starting to believe in the hard-nosed and more ruthless approach of the new coach.

Western Sydney Wanderers’ Lachlan Brook celebrates a goal with team mates. (Photo by Brendon Thorne/Getty Images)

In a nutshell, the Wanderers are able to score and becoming increasingly difficult to score against, bar Fornaroli’s four-goal haul back in early December.

After two solid attendances in recent rounds, Wanderland has begun to resemble the old days more than ever before. The venue has attracted the third highest average attendance of the season thus far and with the Mariners in town this Saturday, expect another resetting of the highest home attendance of the season in Parramatta.

Seeing the RBB back in action and swaggering; venom in its eyes and determined to make life as uncomfortable as possible for visiting teams, rediscovered an A-League puzzle piece that simply must be there for the competition to be at its best.

Rudan talks up the hatred of the Sky Blues, taps into the working-class history and fabric of his club and brings something of a street-ball approach to the contest.

Mark Rudan

Western Sydney Wanderers coach Marko Rudan. (Photo by Steve Christo/Corbis via Getty Images)

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The impression that he would back his boys and take a bullet for his team is reciprocated by the players and the squad is now littered with men you would like beside you in the trenches, unlike some in season’s past.

Perhaps that was Rudan’s fundamental task, to weed out the weak, soft and entitled, replacing them with players prepared to suffer for the club and the area it represents?

Captain Marcelo embodies those traits and new recruits Marcus Antonsson and Jorrit Hendrix have been precisely what the team needed in terms of talent and attitude.

With promising youth like Nicolas Milanovic, Alexander Badolato, Marcus Younis and Lachlan Brook representing the future, Rudan looks to have struck a balance that will see the Wanderers loom as potential champions sooner rather than later.

It is great to have you back, Western Sydney. We’ve missed you and the A-League needs you. Seeing the sea of red and black at CommBank is a sight for sore eyes.

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