Talking Points: Have record-breaking Glory transformed into the dominant force that made them Premiers?
“I think we’re actually dominating games mores than we did last year… but we’re not seeing the rewards of that yet,” Tony Popovic said after Perth Glory’s Round 8 loss that saw the Premiers slump to bottom of the Hyundai A-League.
“I firmly believe that will happen. I have no doubt that will happen,” he added, following the 1-0 reverse against Melbourne Victory. Spin the clock forward 51 days, a club-record six-match winning run later and Popovic’s forewarning has become a reality.
Glory’s gritty 1-0 win against Western Sydney Wanderers on Sunday turned them into history-makers. Taking 18 points from 18, the reigning Premiers have risen from last spot to third, with second in their reach as Glory sit two points behind Melbourne City with a game in hand.
Bruno Fornaroli scored in his fourth straight match to clinch the win, the Uruguayan’s eighth in 13 this season, as goalkeeper Liam Reddy was relatively untroubled with only two saves to make despite Wanderers controlling 62% of possession at Bankwest Stadium.
Popovic’s solid-steel backline recorded their fifth clean sheet in six games and despite such a shocking start – one win in their first seven – they still hold the competition’s best defensive record with only 12 goals conceded in their 13 matches in the 2019/20 campaign.
Not only do they have the strongest defence in the league, but they have racked up 18 goals over that six-game winning stretch, averaging three per match, with the ageless Diego Castro finding some of his finest Hyundai A-League form during that sparkling run.
Are we now seeing the same Popovic side that delivered Perth Glory’s first Hyundai A-League silverware last season? Even when Perth were at their lowest ebb, the 46-year-old was adamant they were even better than last year's title-winners. After the Wanderers win in Round 15, Popovic dared to dream.
“We didn’t give up on anything six weeks ago when we were bottom of the table,” he said in his post-match press conference on Sunday.
“We didn’t put any limits on what we can achieve, we won’t put any limits now.”
Perhaps it’s time for Sydney FC, 10 points ahead of the Glory, to start looking over their shoulder.
Susaeta flashes his ability on historic Hyundai A-League occasion
The most significant take away form Melbourne City's 2-0 win against the Newcastle Jets was referee Kate Jacewicz's post-match message after breaking new ground by becoming the first female referee in Hyundai A-League history.
While the iconic moment where Jacewicz blew her whistle for kick-off at AAMI Park should be the catalyst for a seismic shift towards gender-equally in football, another under-the-radar moment could signal a sign of great things to come for Melbourne City fans.
City were cruising to a comfortable win against the Hyundai A-League basement boys when substitute, and new signing, Markel Susaeta collected a pass on a break away and, in the blink of an eye, put the ball on a plate for Jamie Maclaren.
The usually dead-eye Socceroos striker fluffed his lines on this occasion, but the execution of the cross was moment of class by an elite player who could quickly become one of the best in the Hyundai A-League.
“In a short time he [nearly] gave one assist. His ball was perfect, but we expect this player to do this,” said an excited-looking Erick Mombaerts post-match.
Fowler blinded by attacking riches as Roar hit form
Brisbane Roar faced a problem at the start of the season. They were creating lots of chances without scoring many goals.
They only found the net once in their first four games but head coach Robbie Fowler found a solution – to keep throwing different forwards out there until the formula fits.
First Roy O'Donovan had a scoring run, then Brad Inman strung together four goals in three games and, on Saturday, substitute Dylan Wenzel-Halls stepped up to net the winner in the 1-0 triumph against Wellington Phoenix from the substitutes bench.
Aaron Amadi-Holloway has been on the scoresheet this season, Mirza Muratovic has been handed a run in the team, and Scott McDonald made his debut from the bench at Suncorp Stadium this weekend.
With Roar hitting their best stretch of the season with four matches unbeaten, Fowler now has big decisions to make about who leads the line for his side going forward, and how to manage the game time of his hungry group of strikers.
The masters of soaking up pressure strike again
If Perth Glory are becoming the unstoppable force, then Western United are mastering the art of being the unmovable object.
The Green and Black shot off to a lightning-fast start against the Central Coast Mariners in Geelong, netting three, well-created goals in the first quarter of the game.
Besart Berisha was at his clinical best and the rest was history, as Mark Rudan's side shut down the match and repelled the advances of the opposition, proving you do not need to control the ball to pick up points.
Only twice in their six wins this season have United had more possession than their opponents. From those six winning games, they average only 42% possession – with a high of 52% against Melbourne Victory and a low of 28% against Brisbane Roar.
The outcome of Alessandro Diamanti's injury could be a big factor in Western United's Finals push. The Italian magician was hauled off after half an hour with a foot injury, as Rudan brought on the tenacious Dario Jertec to lock down the result.