Crucial time for Wanderers

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The realities of success will be hitting home as the Wanderers ready themselves to host the Newcastle Jets this weekend.

A game at home on Sunday is the third in eight days after the win over Perth Glory last weekend then a sprint back to Parramatta to prepare for South Korean outfit Ulsan Hyundai to kick off the Asian Champions League group stage at Pirtek Park.

What will be buoying a weary squad is narrowing the gap to the Roar at the top of the ladder last weekend. After the well-played draw on both sides between the Wanderers and Roar a few weeks ago the competition leaders have lost two matches on the trot.

On the back of the Wanderers’ 2-0 victory last Saturday they have closed the gap to four competition points.

It is imperative the Wanderers put away a weakening Jets team that has leaked eight goals in their last four matches.

A record like that should be exploited by the Wanderers at home in front of their RBB for the second time in four nights.

The fact that the Roar play the Glory in their round 21 encounter means anything less than three points for the Wanderers will likely see them relinquish last week’s gains.

The Wanderers have been rotating players all year and Tony Popovic has been ruthless in his preparation for this part of the season. Now the time has come for results.

Mateo Poljak was a surprise omission from the Wanderers’ ACL squad. He was left out after Shinji Ono, Jerome Polenz, Iacopa La Rocca and Youssouf Hersi were named as the four international players.

After Poljak scored first against the Glory last week it seems the squad management decision was the right one.

The Croatian is rounding into form after a rocky start to the season as injuries hampered his performance.

Poljak will, presumably, be a mainstay of the A-League team as the others will need to come in and out of the squad to be fit for mid-week matches.

Given the quick turnaround and his absence from the previous A-League match it would be expected that Ono will play a minimal role in this fixture, if any.

The constraints of the schedule lead Popovic to play a new variety of starting eleven.

The availabilities forced something like a four-two-two-two shape as their normal midfield was adjusted to leave out Ono. Forward Kwabena Appiah-Kubi shared the up-field duties with Labinot Haliti.

Tomi Juric was eased back into a larger role again last week, coming on at half time.

This – and the fact he scored the second goal – suggest he may at least play a role in both the ACL match and the Jets visit as his recent injuries fade further into the past.

His goal scoring threat is feared in the A-League and the more time he gets into his legs the better he’ll be able to combine that large frame and his decent speed into a true all-round striker.

Another talking point will be whether Ante Covic is fit to start this week.

He was absent for the first time since taking over as Wanderers keeper, giving Jerrad Tyson his much awaited debut.

Cole has been a mainstay for the fledgling club and communication at the back is vital with a weary team, especially late in each half.

Look for a similar display to last week from the Wanderers at home.

They’ll play it almost like an away match; compact, suffocating and attempting to keep a clean sheet first of all and then waiting for a Jets defensive frailty.

As it turns out, the Wanderers are indeed well and truly still in the A-League title race and it’s looking like the clash with Brisbane at Pirtek Stadium in the second last week could be incredibly crucial to deciding first place.

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