The Western Sydney Wanderers play the blockbuster match of A-League round 25 when they visit the Central Coast Mariners on Saturday night with the home side a chance to snag second place on the ladder if they win.
Last weekend saw the Wanderers fully return to the kind of form their fans have been hoping for over the last couple of months.
A rough trot that saw them lose a few matches in a row – as well as second place on the ladder for a short time – was turned around on a trip to China.
That narrow victory over Chinese side Guizhou Renhe turned into a sturdy draw against a hot Adelaide United side. The next progression was a gusty win over Japanese giants Kawasake Frontale.
A 3-0 thrashing of Perth Glory was the acceleration into the final curve the Wanderers needed as the A-League season reaches its climax.
A goal from Jerome Polenz, who has been one of the players most in need of some form, got the party started early just before half time. The fantastic strikes of Mark Bridge and Tomi Juric rammed the advantage home.
Close observers will note the Wanderers didn’t dominate possession, coming in with just under 48 per cent, but still managed 23 shots on goal. Glory only managed nine.
This indicates the Wanderers are settling back into their counter-attack; letting the opposition come into their half, remaining compact and then springing into action once possession is secured.
The likes of Youssouf Hersi and Shinji Ono were very smart on the ball. Ono was finding people in space and Hersi was often the man in space.
Hersi and Polenz combined down the right like in the glory days of 2012/13 – it’s a hard life being a Wanderers fan.
Suddenly it doesn’t seem like the off-field distractions – Brendon Santalab’s hearing, the club sale and the daily tribulations of the Red and Black Bloc etc – are weighing on the side.
In truth, all of those things must have some impact on the club.
There are many players of various ethnic backgrounds in the Wanderers set-up; surely once the professionalism is stripped away there would be feelings toward Santalab and what he allegedly said to Ali Abbas during the Sydney derby.
Selling the club would have to create ripples through the club, especially when it comes to the subject of new contracts.
Hersi is still looking for some more money and the club knows Ono won’t be coming back next year and will need to consider seriously whether they try to sign another marquee player to replace him. The ownership structure and available funds need to be put in place before those decisions can be made.
Once again the RBB are in the news. That may be because the media want them in the news, but claims that the police are being unnecessarily harsh on their members have been leaking out this week.
There’s never a dull day in Wanderland.
As close as the Central Coast is to Parramatta this is the first A-League match the Wanderers have played outside of Sydney in more than a month.
The Mariners are one of the hottest teams in the competition right now. As good as the Wanderers were against Glory, the Mariners’ 2-1 victory over Melbourne Heart might have been better considering Heart’s recent great form.
If the Wanderers take a step back against the resurgent Mariners it’s likely they’ll lose the match and second place. The Mariners always seem to peak at the right time of year and will need to be matched.