• Patrick Brischetto

Some positive signs - yet still work to do for Robinson and the Wanderers

The Western Sydney Wanderers’ game against Adelaide United on Saturday should have been the game where the Wanderers kicked on and put a marker down for their season. They were back at home, with the returning RBB bringing the noise and colour, up against an Adelaide team without their captain who had so far failed to set the league on fire.

Instead, as the final whistle sounded singling a 3-2 victory for the away side, a pervading sense of frustration seeped around Bankwest Stadium. Another match of squandered opportunities from the Wanderers had cost them at least a point, and quite possibly all three when taking into account the amount of chances created by the home side.

And things did not get any better in midweek as the Wanderers slumped to consecutive defeats for the first time this season as Melbourne City came away with a 2-0 victory, in what was clearly their worst performance of the season thus far.

Tuesday’s losses the Wanderers’ 10th game this season, a season that has had many promising moments yet also marred by inconsistency and wastefulness.

After promising starts, the youngsters Tate Russell, Thomas Aquilina and Keanu Baccus have regressed in the last few games. The solidity brought from the defensive signings of Daniel Margush and Ziggy Gordon has been contrasted with the struggles of the attacking reinforcements James Troisi and Bernie Ibini.

Despite scoring in the Derby, James Troisi has flattered to deceive in Red and Black so far

The Wanderers currently have 13 points, three more than at the same stage of last season, and have by and large played better football than under Markus Babbel and JP de-Marigny. They can also count themselves slightly unlucky with 4 draws and two losses by the odd goal; they could (or should) have more points on the board.

However, Carl Robinson’s side are still very much a work in progress. Their profligacy in front of goal is well documented, however their defending at set pieces has cost them dearly; with 5 of their 13 goals conceded coming from dead ball situations.

Robinson has also struggled to find a structure that accommodates all of the Wanderers attacking assets, with continual changes between games in both shape and personnel. This has led to chemistry issues - not helped by the late signings of Ibini and Troisi - that has meant the Wanderers tend to start games rather slowly. Adelaide and Melbourne City took full advantage of this, with both teams scoring within the first two minutes of each game.

Robinson has also not been helped by injury, which has sidelined exciting young defender Tass Mourdoukoutas and left their most creative player Nicolai Muller in and out of the squad. He has also been hamstrung by the underperformance of several players, with Kwame Yeboah, Simon Cox and Dylan McGowan all struggling to impose themselves on the season.

The A-League in normal times is unpredictable, and with the financial and logistical impacts of a COVID world thrown into it, this is a season where it is really anyones guess who could finish in the finals places. This season has been a thoroughly entertaining one where there are no runaway teams and anyone can really beat anyone.

Most Wanderers fans were not expecting miracles from Robinson in his first season; given the players at his disposal and the chaotic nature of the recruitment, which left most of the signings being finalised just before or after the season had started. This season was always going to be one of rebuilding at Wanderland.

Yet this crazy season has also offered the perfect opportunity for the Wanderers to surprise everyone and make a run at the top 6. But to do so Robinson has to be open minded. Robinson has to tinker with the tactical set up.

A move to a 4-3-3 could be a huge help. In too many games this season, the Wanderers have been left badly outnumbered in the midfield. And without a proper defensive enforcer after Pirmin Scwegler’s departure, the Wanderers are more often than not losing the midfield battle. This may make it difficult to fit all of the Wanderers attacking players into the side, but it could be the rev up they need to start performing.

And, more importantly, he needs to find a more settled line up and leave out the players who are not performing. The heavy rotation is partly enforced due to midweek games enforced by COVID, yet too often the team is being let down by underperforming players. He has to be ruthless in his team selection; even if that means not playing the new signings he lobbied hard for, even if it means not playing the international striker, even if it means not starting your captain.

Bruce Kamau's recent for suggests he deserves a spot in the starting line up

Because last season the Wanderers were let down by a manager who was too stubborn to change his ways (in fairness, even when he did it often went horribly wrong) and by players who knew no matter how badly they performed, they would still have regular game time.

The Wanderers have failed to finish in the top half of the table in four seasons. This lack of success and a multitude of other factors has led to the slow deterioration of a once passionate and large fanbase. With membership numbers far below those in the first few seasons, the Wanderers are in danger of completely losing touch with what they used to have. They cannot afford to have another one or two seasons of mediocrity or what might have been.

It could be one step too far in the goal of reaching the heights of their glory days once again.

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