Glory's depth rises to the fore as Popovic manages resources
It was a case of no Diego Castro, no problem for Perth Glory as head coach Tony Popovic praised his side’s resilience without some key players against Wellington Phoenix.
With Castro carrying a knock, Chris Ikonomidis sidelined for up to a year with an ACL injury, and Juande and James Meredith also missing, Glory surged to a 4-2 win as third toppled fourth in the Hyundai A-League.
Tomi Mrcela's towering header opened the scoring, Nick D’Agostino’s double made it three goals in three games since his return from leading Australia U-23 to qualify for the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games, and Bruno Fornaroli wrapped up the win with a stunning strike to notch his 10th goal of the season.
D’Agostino slotted in seamlessly alongside Fornaroli and Joel Chianese in Glory’s three-pronged attack, while Jake Brimmer and Kim Soo-Beom deputised with distinction at HBF Park.
Gary Hooper’s double either side of Tim Payne’s red card gave Glory a scare but Popovic’s patchwork line-up navigated choppy waters to claim victory in the Distance Derby.
With Perth soon to embark on an AFC Asian Champions League campaign, managing fitness levels is priority for Popovic and Glory’s head coach is confident he can lean on the depth in his squad.
“What’s pleasing is we didn’t have Diego [Castro], Chris [Ikonomidis] is out for a long term injury, Juande is not there, so a lot of experienced players are not in the team, the combinations are still very evident,” Popovic said in his post-match press conference.
“That second goal was a wonderful goal. It was a fantastic goal that we scored and then the combination play for the third goal - really good to see.
“Of course, I would have preferred that we saw the game out a lot easier. We didn’t and that’s something we have got to keep improving and we have got to learn.”
Popovic is looking forward to having Castro in a more active role in training next week but the Glory head coach could not put a timeline on the Spanish maestro’s return.
“[Castro] has been fantastic for us so far,” Popovic said. “He played two games with a knock and did a great job for us in two tough away matches.
“This is little bit about looking after him and making sure that when he plays, he plays at 100%.
“That’s what we’ve always done at this club, regardless of who it is. Diego is no different.
“We put the player first and if that player is not available then other players step in.
“That’s what Nick [D’Agostino] has done, Jake [Brimmer] has done, young Kristian and Gaby [Popovic] when they have come in have done it, so it’s pleasing.”
Phoenix head coach Ufuk Talay rued a late first-half collapse which saw the match slip out of the visitors’ grasp.
Mrcela headed in Neil Kilkenny’s corner on 43 minutes before D’Agostino pounced in first-half stoppage time, leaving Wellington with a mountain to climb in Western Australia.
English striker Hooper netted twice within 20 minutes of coming off the Phoenix bench in a spirited comeback that was cut short by Payne’s dismissal for a second yellow card.
“I think we made it difficult for ourselves conceding two goals in three minutes later in the first half,” Talay said.
“We made changes in the second half an obviously we got a goal and then the send off made it a lot more difficult.
“For me the boys showed a lot of pride in themselves and courage and still went for the game and tried to get something out of the game.”
Wellington Phoenix v Melbourne City
Saturday, 15 February 2020
Eden Park, Auckland
Kick-off: 5pm AEDT, 7pm local
Perth Glory are on a bye