The biggest lessons we learnt about ourselves this week came from observing how Adelaide treated us as an opponent.Adelaide happier with point, but Premiership fate in Wanderers hands
It wasn’t the result many who packed into Wanderland on Saturday evening anticipated but nevertheless a hard-earned point against Adelaide United means the Wanderers have their premiership fate in their own hands with just three rounds of the regular season remaining.
The Red & Black are deservedly favourites for the premiership and given the more obvious flaws of the challengers around them, Tony Popovic’s men look as though they are the team to beat, despite their failure to convert their total dominance into three points against the Reds.
“I don’t know how many chances the stats show, but we should’ve won that clear and simple”, said Scott Jamieson after the top of the table encounter.
The stats help tell the story of this fixture: primarily that the Wanderers fired 16 shots to Adelaide’s three whilst holding the lion’s share (57%) of possession. There have been numerous accusations of setting up for a point held against visiting teams this season but this was by far one of the clearest examples.
Adelaide were playing formula one football for 14 consecutive rounds prior to last weekend’s loss to Melbourne City but the defeat was as a setback in many forms and certainly altered coach Guillermo Amor’s tactical approach for this potentially decisive clash.
Nobody wants to lose two in a row, not especially in the thick of a premiership race, and a loss at Wanderland on Saturday would have given Amor’s exceptionally-organised team a mountain to climb should they have buckled for the second week running.
A back to basics approach was favoured for the visitors, the second time this season the Reds have arrived at Pirtek Stadium plugging every possible crack in sight. It’s now up to the Wanderers, who with the stalemate reaffirmed their initiative in the premiership race, to show the visiting Reds they were wrong to play for a point.
Popovic has faith that the goals will come
There’s been a mass inquiry into the Wanderers profligacy in front of goal recently but Tony Popovic is frankly unconcerned.
"I'd be more concerned if we crumbled under pressure," Popovic told the press.
"You look at the Mark Bridge chance at the end, it's in injury time, you have a fullback that's making a 60-metre overlapping run to get a cross in, and it falls to the player that you'd love to have that chance,"
"He did everything right and a few centimetres to the other side and we're celebrating a goal.
"But I can't fault the way they're playing. I trust the players, I trust the group that if we keep playing that football and creating those chances, we will win a game very comfortably."
It’s difficult to disagree with the Wanderers manager on this score. Although the side haven’t converted enough of their chances in the last two weeks (31 shots, one goal) the Wanderers have clearly played the most consistently excellent football all campaign and are not leading the league by accident – the manner in which Adelaide approached the match is testament to that fact.
Castelen gearing up for a big finish to the season
The final rounds of the season demand that big players step up and on the basis of his Adelaide performance Romeo Castelen is hell-bent on answering the call.
The Dutchman produced another excellent performance to add to a catalogue of fine cameos this season, constantly persisting and probing down the right hand side where he laid three big second half chances on a silver platter.
He could feel aggrieved not to have landed three assists to his name with Mark Bridge’s goal bound shot cannoning into Dylan McGowan and both Dario Vidosic and Jaushua Sotirio squandering a free header each – not to mention a sublime ball across the box in injury time that was nearly turned in at the back post by Brendon Santalab.
Castlen completed three out of his five dribbles (a match high) and supplied four key passes (equal match high with Mitch Nichols) in what at times looked like a personal quest to put the Wanderers in premiership dreamland.
Normal service resumes at the back
After nine matches without a clean sheet the Wanderers now have two in two matches and are back on track defensively.
“It’s a shame we didn’t get what we deserved but on the other hand we had another clean sheet and really restricted them to very little”, said Popovic.
Very little indeed – Adelaide mustered just three shots on goal (by far and away their lowest total this campaign) whilst Liam Reddy, who has been fairly busy since his introduction into the team, was only called into action three times all night – to claim three routine crosses!
Only Adelaide themselves have a better defensive record than Western Sydney this season.