The Wanderers will conclude a long pre-season when they take on NSW NPL 1 side APIA Leichhardt on Tuesday night. Here’s what to expect from Billy McColl’s side.APIA ended what was a great season overall on a negative note, comprehensively beaten 6-1 in the NSW NPL preliminary final by Blacktown City.
Before this decisive defeat, APIA opened their finals campaign with a 3-1 loss to eventual champions Bonnyrigg White Eagles before defeating Sydney Olympic 1-0 to reach the grand final qualifier.
Ultimately, it was a missed opportunity to make a grand final berth for APIA but they will still be ecstatic with their second place finish in the regular season, especially after ending second bottom in 2014.
The side are coming off a strong performance in last Tuesday’s friendly with Wellington, taking the lead before going down 5-3 in what was captain Michael West’s last game.
Although Marc Warren and Blake Powell have taken up routes back into the Hyundai A-League with Perth and Wellington respectively, the squad boasts a decent amount of quality with the majority of the squad comprised of experienced A-League campaigners and former Young Socceroos.
Defensive reinforcements were a big priority following the disappointment of 2014 and at the back APIA are well stocked with robust defensive options, despite the unavailability West and Warren. Former Wanderer Adam D’Apuzzo enjoyed a superb season in the centre and has been a big factor in the side’s commendable defensive improvement. Western Sydney boy Nathan Millgate could feature and fullback Daniel Petkovski played in the inaugural Sydney Derby.
The well-travelled Adam Griffiths (brother of Joel and Ryan) can bolster either the defence or midfield along with ever-consistent NSW NPL performer Stephen Kayes. 23-year-old midfielder Adrian Ucchino played in the Coppa Italia for Frosinone Calcio (now Serie A) and was beginning to establish himself in Italy before injury woes forced a return to Australia.
APIA are likely to line up 4-4-2 with NSW NPL Player of the Year Franco Parisi and former Melbourne Victory forward Nathan Elasi leading the line.
Elasi was signed by Ernie Merrick’s Victory as striking back up during the side’s AFC Champions League campaign, whilst Parisi, on the books with APIA since 2007, has previously trialled at the likes of AC Milan and Tottenham Hotspur.
Leading scorers during the regular NSW NPL season with 56 in total, APIA certainly possess the attacking fluency to concern the Wanderers defence, as evidenced by their recent encounter with Phoenix. However, the loss of Golden Boot winner Blake Powell (incidentally on the scoresheet for Phoenix in last Sunday’s 3-1 friendly defeat against the Wanderers) leaves a substantial hole in the side leading into the off-season.
The former Sydney FC man netted 21 of the 56 APIA goals scored during the season and his absence could scupper Leichhardt’s chances of ending their footballing year with a very respectable victory over the reigning Asian Champions.
Kick-off is at 7:45pm tonight at Leichhardt Oval. Tickets are available at the gate.