WITH five wins in their past eight games, it’s now impossible to ignore the claims of the Western Sydney Wanderers.
While critics were rushing to anoint Melbourne Victory as a potential challenger barely more than a week ago, it’s worth noting the Wanderers, who occupy the other end of the glamour spectrum, are just one point behind.
They are fourth and look every bit capable of staying in the top six. Of course, the middling form of every team below has much to do with their position but of all the clubs outside the top three, they are the most stable.
On Friday, they take on a top-three team in Adelaide United, who have begun the year like a runaway freight train.
Expect Parramatta Stadium to be buzzing with anticipation to see if the Wanderers can make it three in a row, with early indications being that a crowd of more than 10,000 will be on hand – something they are yet to achieve at home against a non-NSW opponent.
Dutchman Youssouf Hersi, who scored the first goal of the derby on Saturday night, certainly believes they can keep their run going.
“This next game against Adelaide, at home, to get three points would be wonderful,” he said. ”We’ve got joy from this game [the derby] but tomorrow we have to think about Adelaide. Every game is tough and we must learn a lot because it will be difficult.”
Hersi, who has experienced the parochialism of derbies in Holland and Greece, was full of praise for the atmosphere at Allianz Stadium, and is loving life after spending over a year without a club.
“It’s unbelievable, it’s good,” he said. ”The club has been together just five months and you can see there’s a lot of passion. It feels like it’s been 10 years. It’s very good to see that. I want to show that I can finally play games after 1½ years, so I’m enjoying it.”
Skipper Michael Beauchamp echoed the post-match message of his teammate, saying the Wanderers needed to move on quickly from the heights of a derby win to focus on the arrival of the Reds.
“We don’t want to get too carried away with it,” he said. ”We’ve got another game on Friday and we’re looking forward to that. We’ve got a couple of days off now to enjoy it and definitely get back into it on Tuesday. We’ll see what game plan we’re going to have there but, again, if we stick to our structure and go out there and not get ahead of ourselves [we’ll be fine].
“It’s going to be a tough match but we’re at home and we’re looking to make that a fortress and hopefully we can do that on Friday.”
Coach Tony Popovic finds himself with a selection headache, having rewarded the same starting side that defeated Brisbane with places in the derby. That means Aaron Mooy, who began this game from the bench after returning from Socceroos duty in Hong Kong, either misses out again or one of the midfield four – who excelled against Sydney – will be dumped.
“I just felt those boys deserved to start the game,” Popovic said. ”It doesn’t mean I think any less of Aaron, he’s an outstanding talent and we’re proud as a football club and proud for him that he’s got a [Socceroos] cap. We hope to help him develop and get a lot more in the future. But for this match, that’s what we felt was right to start with.”
There’s still plenty to work on too, according to Popovic, who won’t let his team bask for too long: “There’s always things you can do better.”
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