The 3-2 loss was a crushing blow and it raised some questions we hadn't considered before. Here’s what we learnt.Topor-Stanley essential to the Wanderers cause
The inspirational skipper has been an ever-present in the Wanderers defence over the years so there was something uncomfortable about going into the match against Brisbane without seeing the captain’s name on the team sheet.
And it didn’t take long for Topor-Stanley’s presence to be sorely missed on a night where the Wanderers were often exposed at the back.
Make no mistake, it’s an area of the pitch that arguably the Wanderers boast their greatest depth but if anything the Brisbane match underlined how much of an important leader Topor-Stanley is and how his ability to organise and marshal from the back is a cornerstone of the team’s defensive ethos.
The captain appears to be the one player the Wanderers cannot afford to lose. In the two games that Topor-Stanley has missed this campaign (Round 16 v Mariners, Round 22 v Brisbane) the Wanderers have conceded in total four goals and 25 shots with 13 on target: for each absence, an average of 6.5 shots on target has been conceded per game.
With Topor-Stanley in the side the Wanderers concede nearly half that number, 3.5 shots on target.
Are the Wanderers dropping defensively? Six rounds ago, the Wanderers were conceding 2.9 shots on target per game, and with Liam Reddy between the sticks for the last five matches he has made 4.8 saves per match. Coincidentally, Andrew Redmayne was forced into just 1.9 saves per match in his 19 matches played this season.
Wanderers varying their approach with the ball
Although the Wanderers are playing much the same as they have done all season, the past couple of matches has evidenced a new dimension to their attacking structure.
This was more or less highlighted in Tony Popovic’s post-match press conference against Perth Glory last Friday, where the boss admitted that teams would set up against the Wanderers, particularly away from home, pack the defensive third with bodies to stifle the Wanderers and deny the Red & Black the opportunity to find space in between the lines.
In this respect, the match against Perth felt like a pivotal moment in the season because in search of a match-winner the side were forced to come up with an alternative to their short passing game and managed to break down Kenny Lowe’s bus through brute force rather than through sustaining their short passing rotations.
Against Brisbane we once again saw a more frequent inclination for the two Spaniards in midfield or a fullback to loft a clipped ball over the Roar defence, or to play a long diagonal pass to the likes of Romeo Castelen and Jaushua Sotirio who occupied the flanks. This is an approach that has worked in recent matches: Dario Vidosic’s derby strike and to a lesser extent, Brendon Santalab’s winner against Glory were both goals produced by the vertical ball.
With a front four missing several notable absentees, it was no surprise to see the side looking flat and unable to settle into their usual patterns for periods of the game but the team deserve immense credit for getting themselves into what looked a winning position, once again, by switching their approach.
Castelen applies finishing touch again
If there’s one criticism of the Dutchman this season, it’s that he hasn’t reached the level of end product his consistent endeavour has merited. But in the last two matches, Castelen has more than answered his critics with two important goals.
It’s the first time he’s notched in consecutive weeks in his Wanderers career and having demonstrated his quality going forward this campaign a more efficient Castelen could potentially mean nightmare for the opposition defence.
Wanderers must find a way to deal with Maclaren
The ex-Perth flyer has proved a difficult beast to tame for the Wanderers rear-guard with five goals in three appearances. He’s now scored six: the second highest total against Popovic’s side, one behind Besart Berisha having played half the amount of matches.
The Wanderers have been tested by Maclaren’s pace and ability to find space in between defenders this season and, should the two sides meet again this campaign, they must find a way to nip this record in the bud.