It was another clean sheet and another Cup win as the Wanderers dumped tournament specialists Palm Beach out of the Westfield FFA Cup with a somewhat straightforward 2-0 victory on the Gold Coast.
Here’s what we saw.
Sotirio making a case for himself
With birthday boy and marquee man Federico Piovaccari making his official debut, Wanderers faithful would’ve expected the big Italian to shoulder much of the attacking threat.
And while Piovaccari was certainly in the thick of it for his 64 minutes on the pitch, the Wanderers’ main attacking thrust came from another source.
Winger Jaushua Sotirio was a constant threat down the right hand side all game, his speed and directness causing the Palm Beach defence all sorts of problems.
The 19-year-old had a couple of early glimpses at goal and seemed to be enjoying the space given to him by the deep-lying Palm Beach rearguard.
Sotirio would make them pay in the 28th minute when he darted to the byline to clip a well-weighted ball to Dimas at the far post, allowing the Spaniard to nod home and open proceedings.
It was Sotirio’s second assist in as many games. Against Canberra last week, it was his surging run and cutback that teed up Brendon Santalab on a silver platter.
If the winger can continue the pre-season in a similar vein, there’s every chance that he’ll be pressing for a starting spot come 8 October.
You shall not pass
For the second consecutive Westfield FFA Cup game, our defence held firm and claimed a well-deserved clean sheet.
Andrew Redmayne wasn’t called into action on too many occasions in goal but when he was the big man from Gosford was forceful and clear with his decision-making.
Goal-scorer Brendan Hamill and debutant Alberto were rarely ruffled in the centre while fullbacks Scott Jamieson and Jacob Pepper struck the right balance between pushing on and staying at home.
Defensive solidarity has always been the marker of a Tony Popovic side and the boss seems pleased that the trend is set to continue.
“At one nil, Palm Beach were pushing. When they get the ball in the box they’re dangerous, from set plays they’re dangerous, so you always feel you’re a bit on edge at one nil,” Popovic said after the match.
“But I never felt we were threatened at all through the night.”
Depth? We’ve got it covered
It may have seemed an unlikely scenario considering the off-season’s comings and goings, but there’s now hearty evidence to suggest that Popovic has put together a squad lined with real depth.
Against Palm Beach, there were three changes to the eleven that started in the 1-0 win over Brisbane with Dimas, Alberto and Piovaccari coming in for Daniel Alessi and injured pair Andreu and Golgol Mebrahtu.
All three did their jobs admirably, a sign that the team is really starting to form a rigid structure and philosophy – where anyone in the squad can seamlessly slot into a given role without any noticeable disruption.
We saw this when Mark Bridge hobbled off with a groin strain, Josh Macdonald coming on his place. The light-footed youngster was an instant threat and nearly found the net, only to be denied by the feet of Palm Beach’s shot stopper.
If the Wanderers are to assert themselves as genuine title contenders, Popovic will need to be able to call on a full roster that’s willing and able – and it appears he might just have the right mix of ingredients at his disposable.
In search of that killer instinct
The Wanderers comfortably controlled the match from to end but Popovic may be concerned about the inability of his team to kill things off.
Although Palm Beach barely threatened Redmayne, the fact remains that for 86 minutes there was only the solitary goal separating the sides.
A nick here or a cat-out-of-the-bag trick there could’ve well sent the match into extra time and Popovic will be hoping his side develops a more ruthless approach in front of goal.
There were signs though, with Piovaccari having more than his fair share of half chances, while the supporting cast of Mitch Nichols, Bridge and Sotirio all peppered the Palm Beach goal at various times.
It’s early days still, but if the Wanderers want to avoid heart-in-mouth finishes to games, they’ll need to learn to uncloak the iron fist sooner rather than later.
We now take on last season’s Westfield FFA Cup Finalists Perth Glory in the quarter final. Dates and times are yet to be confirmed.