It was billed as the match of the round and it certainly didn’t disappoint. Here’s what we can take away from Saturday’s heavyweight battle in Melbourne.
Battle-ready Baccus takes his chance
This was a big test for Kearyn Baccus. Other players might well have crumbled under the pressure of the occasion and the responsibility to slot into the team without disturbing the rhythm of the midfield.
And although the mechanics between Baccus and Dimas didn’t function immediately, the Kings Park local composed himself brilliantly next to the Spanish conductor, demonstrating his class and potential in the absence of Andreu.
After the Spaniard’s departure, Baccus instantly looked to seize the initiative and drive the team forward. Whereas others might struggle with this responsibility, Baccus relished it.
Tidy in possession with 90% of his 51 passes completed (the highest rate in the team and second highest overall), Baccus’ roving midfield performance was hugely influential in the side’s dominance.
Just two of the six passes misplaced by the 23-year-old on the night were giveaways or ‘bad’ passes, with the other four passes attempts to either create a shot for a teammate outside the penalty area or a switch of play in an attempt to tire a stoic Melbourne Victory resistance.
However, the tigerish Baccus would truly leave his mark on the game in phases of Victory transition: completing three out of five tackles and winning five timely interceptions; an very impressive outing and one that could be the breakthrough for the talented midfielder.
With Andreu set for a spell on the sidelines, this could be just a glimpse at the role Baccus might play in the Wanderers’ push for the title.
Santalab pushing his claim for a starting position
There are super subs, then there are super subs. Brendon Santalab is of the latter; an injection of pure adrenaline.
After coming off the bench for all but one his 12 appearances this season, the temptation to hand Santalab a starting berth must be getting harder to ignore.
And despite appearing so sporadically, the number 11 has continually set the benchmark for his teammates with each arrival.
Following the super sub’s latest rescue act he’s now not lost a game all campaign and boasts a strike rate of a goal every 49 minutes. And in each appearance the number 11 has toiled with a busted shoulder. He would run over broken glass to get on the pitch.
If Santalab can replicate the impact he delivers from the bench into a starting role, the Wanderers may have a shiny new number nine.
The Red & Black faithful couldn’t possibly ask any more of him.
Same old story avoided
Had the Wanderers not managed to salvage a much-deserved point from Melbourne Victory, old criticisms regarding the side’s ability to convert territorial dominance into goals were sure to dominate the headlines once again.
Instead, Santalab’s late stunner might be looked back upon as a season-defining moment.
In the opening three matches of the new campaign against Brisbane, Adelaide and Sydney, the Wanderers were unable to capitalise on their dominance. It might have arrived late here, but they eventually made their superiority count.
It’s this type of last-minute heroism that will only harden the sense the Wanderers are destined for silverware this campaign.
Injuries and suspensions could bring back rotation
A strong squad is often viewed as a prerequisite for success in the Hyundai A-League and this could well ring true in the coming weeks.
With no Asian Champions League on the agenda, there has been less of a need to rotate the squad in the style of seasons gone by.
Yet as the battered and bruised team arrive back in Sydney with injuries and suspensions in key positions to consider, the Wanderers are set to be confronted with a new challenge in the next couple of matches as they compensate for their losses.