Brendon Santalab feels the Wanderers have come closer than any other team to ending Sydney FC’s unbeaten run this season and believes remaining composed will be key to winning Saturday night’s Sydney Derby.
More than 50,000 fans are expected at ANZ Stadium as the two sides of Sydney collide in what is the blockbuster game in Round 20 of the Hyundai A-League.
It’s a crucial match for both sides, although for largely different reasons.
The Sky Blues are looking to take on step closer to the Premiership and an unbeaten season, while the Wanderers desperately need three points to boost their hopes of making the finals.
“You can’t avoid the hype of the derby, it’s a special game for the players, fans and everyone involved,” Santalab told reporters on Thursday.
“It’s about staying cool and getting on with the job.
“When the whistle blows it's win at all costs. It’s about keeping emotions intact and keeping cool and calm,” he added.
“It’s not always easy with 50-60,000 people which will be amazing again.”
Santalab, who scored the winner the last time the Wanderers won the derby in 2014, was suspended in the most recent Harbour City clash last month.
On that night in front of a sell-out crowd at Allianz Stadium, the Wanderers produced one of the best performances of the season as the sides played out a 0-0 draw.
“We take great confidence from that performance. That was the closest anyone has come to beating Sydney this year,” the 34-year-old said.
“The way we played was great, we probably should have had a penalty as well which didn’t go our way and on another night we could have stolen the points.
“We’ll definitely take confidence from that.”
Having been left on the bench in last weekend’s shock 2-0 loss to the Mariners, Santalab is expected to come into the starting XI and lead the Wanderers attack.
And with their opening ACL clash against Urawa Reds in Campbelltown to follow on Tuesday night, coach Tony Popovic has hinted at a few changes to his starting XI.
"Everyone is fit and healthy and everyone wants to play in the derby. You have to respect every player for that,” the Wanderers boss said.
“They all want to play, they are all training well. There'll be some tough decisions this week.
“Of course in this period [with the ACL as well] every player will play, whether it’s the A-League or ACL, and we have to be good enough to compete in both competitions.
“It’s an exciting period of the football club, going into a big derby, huge crowd and then for the next two months we have massive games week after week in the A-League as well as the ACL.”
Skipper Dimas is suspended for the Wanderers, with Bruno Pinatares favourite to take his defensive midfield role, although ex-Sky Blue Terry Antonis is another option.
Asked how to beat the Sky Blues, Popovic said: “It’s tough. They are very good, they are very consistent and a very good team.
“It’s proven difficult for everyone to beat them but if our motivation is to be the first team to beat them, we’ll come unstuck.
“We know we have the game to beat Sydney and we need to put it together on the night.”