Yesterday’s 3-1 loss to the Phoenix was far from an ideal return to Wanderland but let’s not get our knickers in a knot just yet.Plenty to work on – but no need to panic
Okay, let’s cut the spin and speak plainly.
Pre-season or no pre-season, a 3-1 loss at home definitely creases the brow.
No matter what the content, nobody fancies a loss, especially against a Wellington outfit that copped a 5-1 shalacking in the Westfield FFA Cup some three weeks ago.
Though it was a different Phoenix side that took the field at Pirtek on Sunday night, Ernie Merrick’s men shaded the Wanderers in almost every aspect.
Credit to the Nix – they were more composed in defence, more incisive with possession and, as the score-line would suggest, much more clinical in front of goal.
Yet that’s not to say that Wellington dominated proceedings; it was more of a case of the Wanderers drifting in and out of the game, scuffing that final-third ball and struggling to sustain a meaningful rhythm of play.
Tired legs, lapses in concentration and rusty combinations between the lines are concerns that aren’t normally built into a team’s DNA – they can all be fixed and smoothed over.
With 24 days until the Hyundai A-League season kicks off, let’s just pray the improvements come sooner rather than later.
Scott no worries
Arguably our most consistent performer throughout pre-season, new recruit Scott Jamieson put in yet another solid shift at left back.
In what was clearly a problem position last season, Jamieson has filled the void admirably, providing natural balance to the back four and a serious attacking outlet down the left-hand side.
He’s also assumed somewhat of a leadership role within the group: those at ground-level would’ve last night heard how vocal Jamieson was on the pitch, barking orders to his teammates and pulling aside the younger boys to offer advice.
When Jamieson left the field, the Wanderers rearguard was noticeably strained – a sign of what a valuable piece he is to the Wanderers puzzle.
With successful stints at Adelaide, Sydney and Perth, few left-backs can claim to know the league as well as Jamieson does.
Jamieson has set the bar high in his short time with the Wanderers and it looks as though the Western Sydney native has no intention to start aiming low.
A fit Castelen, a happy Wanderers
Romeo Castelen has endured an injury-hampered pre-season so far but the former Dutch international again showed just how pivotal he’ll be for the Red & Black this year.
The 32-year-old entered the fray deep into the second stanza and immediately gave the modest yet vocal crowd something to write home about.
He assumed more of a central, floating role in midfield, demanding the ball in even the tightest of spaces and looking to move the ball forward at every opportunity.
It was no surprise then that Castelen helped produce the Wanderers’ only goal of the evening. The winger picked up the ball on halfway, carried it the edge of the Phoenix box and slipped it into the path of Mitch Nichols who sent a scrumptious curling effort just beneath the crossbar.
Castelen’s quality and endeavor in Wanderers colours have never come into question though Tony Popovic might be concerned about the pint-size attacker’s lack of minutes leading into the season.
But one thing’s certain: if Castelen manages to keep himself out of harm’s way in 2015/16, he’ll go a long way in determining whether or not the Wanderers’ season will be a success.
Topor-Stanley back at the back
It’s been a long and frustrating couple of months for the skipper but Nikolai Topor-Stanley finally got his first taste of pre-season last night.
An in-form Topor-Stanley cuts an imperious figure in the heart of defence and Tony Popovic will be pleased to welcome back the big man from injury.
It may have only been 45 minutes but with 8 October fast approaching, Popovic will be aiming to have a full compliment of players to call on.
As one of the handful of remaining first-team players from last season, Topor-Stanley’s leadership will be crucial in settling what is essentially an entirely new playing group.
Having quite literally been at the centre of every Wanderers triumph so far and with more than 200 Hyundai A-League games of experience to call on, Topor-Stanley is primed to play a major role in season 2015/16.