A short trip away to play the Newcastle Jets may be the tonic needed for the Wanderers to repair a flaw and find the balance needed to be a title contender.
After nine rounds of A-League completed the Wanderers find themselves at the head of a tight group chasing Brisbane Roar’s lead in first.
Upon first glance it appears the Wanderers are sitting pretty in second place, after all they’ve been at or near the top for a number of weeks now. But the reality is, like the rest of the teams around them, the Wanderers are displaying flaws that need to be addressed if they want to topple the Roar.
Wanderers have a defensive record that matches their lofty status on the A-League table. Their seven goals conceded only trails Brisbane Roar for the best result in that category.
However even the most rudimentary tactical explanation of football includes scoring your own goals, not just preventing the opposition from doing so, to win more games.
After nine games the Wanderers have found the back of the net just 10 times. Newcastle Jets, Sydney FC, Melbourne Victory, Perth Glory and Adelaide United have all bettered or equalled that total – something that needs to be addressed if the Wanderers hope to stay above those teams.
So where is the problem?
Much focus has been on the time Shinji Ono has spent on the injury list this year, and that has certainly been a factor in the Wanderers’ attacking struggles. The extra time he seems to have on the ball and the weight of his passes unlocks defences almost as well as any single mid-fielder in the A-League.
Apart from the marquee man missing time the biggest problem is the striker position. They just haven’t scored enough goals there.
A big reason for that is the injury to Tomi Juric. In the first five rounds of the competition he scored three goals and was a 90-minute threat that drew defensive attention. He scored by foot and off his head.
In recent seasons great progress has been made across the league in many areas – off the ball movement and first touch control especially – but one area that could still do with improvement is forwards with quality finishing.
Having a real front man who’s an every-week threat isn’t a common asset in the A-League and the simple fact is you’ll probably only have one in the squad. So when he’s injured the goals dry up.
The Wanderers extended Labinot Haliti’s contract during the week but this year he definitely hasn’t shown the nose for the goal that Juric has.
The Wanderers need Juric back.
Where else can the goals come from?
During the week coach Tony Popovic talked up Aaron Mooy’s goal against Melbourne Heart and hoped it would be a sign the attacking mid-fielder could regularly add that skill to his other duties.
Popovic addressed the issue very directly, “Hopefully now we can see [Mooy] really kick on and get more goals. With his ability he really should be getting more goals.”
Obviously Popovic is aware of his team’s Achilles heel at this stage of the season and is looking for contributions around the park, starting with the talented Mooy.
Round 10 presents a good opportunity for the Wanderers to work on the goal-scoring aspect of their game.
The Jets wait up the F3 and are a team with a penchant for defensive lapses, positional mistakes and a habit of falling asleep for periods of the match.
That isn’t to say the Jets don’t present a threat, they are coming third on the ladder and are a hardworking team, but there are moments they become shaky. This week could be a confidence builder.