SBS Radio App

Download the FREE SBS Radio App for a better listening experience

  • Tony Popovic is confident his team can bounce back from their loss to Sydney FC (Getty Images)Source: Getty Images
Once known as one of the most stifling defensive units in the A-League, Western Sydney Wanders have suffered an identity crisis that doesn’t seem to be going away quickly, writes Luke Sicari.
10 Oct 2016 - 3:03 PM  UPDATED 10 Oct 2016 - 3:03 PM

In Western Sydney’s first two A-League seasons, where they made consecutive Grand Final appearances, their defence was spectacular.

In the 2012/13 season, the Wanderers conceded just 23 goals, the second-best rate in the competition. The next season, they maintained that second spot, allowing 31 goals.

Even last season, when Western Sydney was runners-up, they had a rock-solid defensive unit.

Due to countless personnel changes, though, Western Sydney has a different defensive look this season. After a shaky start, an identity crisis may be in store for Tony Popovic’s men.

Out of the back four that played in the Grand Final last season – Scott Jamieson, Nikolai Topor-Stanley, Alberto Aguilar and Scott Neville – only one of them played in the 4-0 loss to Sydney FC.

Jamieson is playing in Sweden, Aguilar was relased and captain Topor-Stanley missed the derby due to suspension. Neville played a more attacking defensive role, which didn’t turn out to be effective.

Joining Neville in the defensive area was Brendan Hamill, Aritz Borda and Robert Cornthwaite.

Borda eventually got sent off after a shocking display, Cornthwaite played undisciplined football and Hamill assisted in allowing Sydney’s opening goal.

This follows a 4-1 FFA Cup defeat at the hands of Melbourne City. In that outing, the defence was controlled by Neville, Hamill, Topor-Stanley, Borda and Bruno Pinatares.

The Wanderers’ lazy and careless defence was the main reason they fell behind 2-0 after 55 minutes in the derby. Filip Holosko and Bobo were allowed bundles of free space inside the penalty box and finished easy opportunities at goal.    

“We conceded the first two goals that were very soft from our behalf,” Popovic said after the game.

It was atrocious defence from Western Sydney. The Wanderers failed to mark their men, were caught ball watching and showed little resistance when Sydney went forward.

There was no urgency or intent among the Wanderers’ defenders. If you can’t muster excitement to play in front of a record A-League crowd of 61,880, in the biggest regular season fixture of your teams’ season, it isn’t a positive sign.

“Last year we had the second best defensive record,” Popovic said.

“Today, we just got to make sure that was a one-off. We conceded four today which was not good and we got to make sure we get more solid.”     

Based on their last two matches with their new-look back four, it may be a tough task for Popovic to get his defence to gel.