WA-based correspondent Michael Washbourne assesses Perth Glory's season heading into Round 9 of the Hyundai A-League 2016/17 Season.
Perth Glory fans have spent the weekend pondering the question: is the current squad as good as it reads on paper?
Last Thursday’s shock 2-0 defeat to Central Coast saw Glory slip to fifth on the Hyundai A-League table with three wins, two draws and three losses heading into this Friday night's tough clash with Victory in Melbourne.
That equates to a pass mark and, of course, there is still plenty more football to be played, so it could just be a slow start to the season.
But success-starved Perth supporters expected more from Kenny Lowe’s side at this point, especially on the back of the club’s high-profile recruiting drive.
Several WA-bred players, including Shane Lowry, Adam Taggart and Rhys Williams, were enticed back to their home state. Irish striker Andy Keogh and the versatile Rostyn Griffiths also returned after brief spells overseas.
Most importantly, Johnny Warren medallist Diego Castro and fringe Socceroo Josh Risdon resisted overseas offers and penned new deals to stay at Glory.
It is possibly the strongest squad the club has put together since winning a second championship in the old National Soccer League in 2004.
But should Glory be higher than fifth after eight rounds? Given the team finished in that spot last season, the simple answer is yes.
So, what has not gone to plan? Firstly, injuries have not helped.
Taggart missed five matches with a calf injury after scoring a brace in the opening round. Lowry also missed the opening five matches as he recovered from off-season hip surgery. Both are being slowly eased back in.
Risdon missed the 4-1 drubbing to Sydney FC on Socceroos duty and suffered a quad injury minutes before the Mariners loss. Castro succumbed to a hamstring problem soon after kick-off of the same match with the Aussie out for up to a month, and the Spaniard up to six weeks. A huge blow.
Williams and Griffiths have also missed matches and/or been forced off early with niggles.
The aforementioned six are among the seven or eight first-choice selections in the squad, so inevitably their absences are felt on the pitch.
However, Glory’s depth was one of the reasons why many pundits tipped Perth to be a genuine championship contender this season.
Former captain Richard Garcia, fellow veteran Dino Djulbic and talented youngsters Mitch Oxborrow, Aryn Williams and Brandon Wilson have been left out at times this season.
Scoring does not appear to be a problem. Glory has netted the third-most goals (15) behind league leaders Sydney (18) and third-placed Melbourne Victory (16). Expect a fit-again Taggart to cause more headaches for opposition defenders.
However, Perth has leaked the most goals (16) due to an unsettled back four. Rhys Williams has been more than admirable as a makeshift centre back, but Djulbic and Marc Warren were both exposed as wing backs.
Lowry’s return is crucial and will allow Williams to step up to midfield and play a key role in the midfield.
It is easy to forget Glory’s success in the back half of last season was largely due to the influence of Hungarian import Krisztian Vadocz, who was not offered a new contract after signing on as an injury replacement.
Vadocz was able to unite the back and front halves, and did so with the coolest of heads. It is now up to Williams to fill that void.
The pieces are there for Perth to be a championship team, however, the jigsaw must come together sooner rather than later for that dream to become a reality.