The Wanderers and the Evolution Revolution (Or From Windy Wellington to Protesting Parra in Four Seasons)

On last Saturday night the Western Sydney Wanderers secured their sixth win on the trot during the current 2015/16 A-League season, thanks in no small part to a wonder goal scored by the latest example of a Tony Popovic rescue mission, Mitch Nichols. His floating, curling, smart bomb of a strike flashed past the Brisbane Roar goal keeper Jamie Young, hitting the top left of the goal’s netting with all the elliptical power of a Supermarine Spitfire. That superlative effort sealed a 2-1 win at home for the Wanderers, thus placing them at the top of the current A-League table for the first time since the halcyon days of that season, the season when the Wanderers came into the competition as debutantes, newbies, new kids on the block.

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Considering the tumultuous changes and experiences since the securing of the A-League premier’s plate back in March 2013, including the narrow loss to Brisbane Roar in the 2013/14 Grand Final and the sensational victory in the 2014 ACL campaign, to the debacle of last season’s domestic season and the mass turn over in staff before the beginning of the current competition, it seems appropriate to review where the Wanderers were back in December 2012, and compare and contrast that situation with the current iteration of the team and staff.

The first and most obvious comparative element is the continuance of Tony Popovic in the coaching role. He was there at Westpac Stadium in windy Wellington for the Round 9 2012/13 loss against the Phoenix, and he was still wielding the black note book three years later at home against Brisbane. However the Popa of Season One is not the Popa of Season Four when it comes to tactical systems. The Wanderers version 1.0 was a team that held to three precepts, undoubtedly stipulated by the coach and his staff. Firstly there was a dogged and solid defensive back four. Nikolai Topor-Stanley and Michael Beauchamp would serve as the core of this wall, whilst on either side Jerome Polenz, Adam D’Apuzzo, Tarek Elrich or maybe Shannon Cole would be vigorous in both protecting the flanks, or transitioning with the appropriate flanking midfielder to create a counter attack. This was all aimed at giving the heroic Ante Covic as much cover as possible, and when he was challenged he almost always came up with quality saves.

The second tactical structure employed by Popa in that first season was the use of the midfield in two separate phases or areas of the pitch. In defence La Rocca, Poljak and Mooy were charged with adding an extra level of shielding to the Wanderers back four, whilst in the offensive Ono prowled in a fairly central position for either passes from his team mates, or spills from tackles effected on the opposition, to prime a forward attack. The right and left backs and their similarly sided forwards (Hersi and Bridge) would often interpose into this phase of midfield play, either by (as previously mention) by linking up with said backs or moving centrally closer to the midfielders. It was very much a system of swamping and pressing the opposition whilst keeping the back and central thirds compact for either absorbing the other team’s attack or readying the counter.

The final Popa ploy when it came to tactical systems was the use of the second man attack, or as I like to think of it, ‘Kick it to or around Dino and see if Bridge, Hersi or Shinji can score off the big Croat”. It wasn’t crude route one football, however with Kresinger hardly banging in the goals it made perfectly acceptable sense for Popovic to look to those beside or immediately behind him to feed off his work. With Kresinger imposing his impressive bulk in the box or near by, the more fleet-footed attacking trio combined to either collect the ball from or within the melee around Dino, or to profit from the crosses and passes put through by (most particularly) Jerome Polenz. Goals came from these counter punches and from the opportunistic chances created by this system, with an additional slab of Shinji Ono brilliance every now and again.

The bottom line? Tony Popovic in season one was a coach who did the absolute best with is hastily recruited player stocks to match them to a playing system that would deny the opposition goals, create pressures both defensively and offensively in the midfield and on the flanks, whilst up front goals were scored by second men. It was a remarkably successful system, considering (aside from the ladder position) it was the most miserly for conceding goals (21) for the 2012/13 season and the equal second most productive in scoring (41).

Coming forward to Wanderers Version 4.0, we have seen in the first nine rounds of this season a far more possession back transitional system of play that has put paid to almost all the specific elements identified above in Popa’s first tactical systems. The Leopold Method analysis of what has become the modus operandi of Popovic’s direction for the players succinctly describes it as:

Shifting to a new possession-based game has been a long-term project for Popovic, one delayed by the demanding schedule that saw them lift the Asian Champions League trophy twelve months ago. This season with a new and fresher squad he has managed to progress this evolution.

The Wanderers are completing more passes than they ever have before. They’ve gone from completing the fewest or second fewest in their first three seasons to the fourth most this season, but importantly they have also increased their passes and open play touches in the final third – they aren’t simply rotating the ball around in defence for the sake of it. In the final third they are completing passes at the highest rate in their short history – indicative of how they are trying to build attacks in the final third rather than attack quickly and more directly.

The wholesale personnel changes wrought by Popa and the club at the beginning of season four have undoubtedly played a role in this change, and perhaps one of the most telling examples of this development has been the departure of Mateo Poljak and Iacopo La Rocca, replaced by the two Spaniards Dimas and Andreu. Unlike in season one where La Rocca and Poljak served as that additional defensive screen, now we see Andreu and Dimas tracking back, transitioning, moving the ball around far more creatively so they can link with Mitch Nichols.

Dimas, Nichols & Andreu: The Current Key Wanderers Midfielders

 As coach Tony Popovic has also directed the evolution of another key element of the first season team, current captain and central defender Nikolai Topor Stanley. It was not uncommon to see NTS rely on some physical challenges and booming long drop kicks as the leitmotifs of his play in 2012/13. Come forward to 2015/16 and he is far more willing to take the ball up either in company with Andreu and/or Dimas, or even…quelle surprise…run up to and over the half way, interposing himself into an extra attacking role. Whereas in the Wanderers first season Nikolai worked with Beauchamp like a Siamese twin, and in seasons two and three he let Spiranovic or another central partner be the transitional player at the back, NTS in 2015/16 looks to becoming a much taller, swarthier version of Philip Lahm.

So when one considers what changes have been wrought by Popovic tactically between now and the Round 9 match against Wellington Phoenix back in December 2012, the Western Sydney Wanderers have become less dependent upon the back and middle thirds holding strong defensively, whilst using some counter-punches thrown somewhat opportunistically in the final offensive third to score goals. In the first nine matches of this season Popovic has given every indication he has the goal of using a more technical, passing-based transitional system both defensively and when attacking, and so far it would be hard to deny that his aims are being met.

 One thing that does not appear to have changed since the debut season of the Wanderers in the A-League is the intensity of training and fitness requirements under Popovic. The same training regime that was recognised by the football media when reviewing the lead up to the 2014 ACL championship win, focused on an authoritarian, highly physically demanding system has not undergone revision (if these comments from current left back Scott Jamieson are to be believed):

The Wanderers are the hottest team in the competition right now. And the club’s left-back Scott Jamieson feels the success is due to the “brutal” approach of coach Tony Popovic and his staff.

“We’re in a good frame of mind but we’re also realistic, we can’t just turn up and not work hard at training,” Jamieson told reporters on Tuesday.

“Just because we’ve won six doesn’t mean we just turn up and have a joke and a laugh.

“This coaching staff is pretty brutal, and if you do that you will be sitting out training and have a few days in the gym by yourself.”

There is also some similarities between the supporting coaching staff from 2012/13 and 2015/16. Original assistant coach Ante Milicic and goal keeping coach Ron Corry were instrumental in working with Popovic, in the former’s case often being responsible reinforcing the overall philosophy of the head coach with training drills etc, whilst the latter engaged with his charges (Covic and Tyson) to try and maintain excellence whilst looking for developing skill sets. Come forward to their replacements, Andres Carrasco and Zeljko Kalac and we are seeing similar responsibilities, similar aims. Carrasco’s influence and role has been articulated this:

It’s a philosophy Carrasco held when recommended by his then-university lecturer to Barcelona and refined through the jobs as a scout and coach from their juniors up to their under-16s. 

But ideology alone doesn’t translate to the final product, that much relies on the players. 

“The smart coach knows how to take the best from the players he has. If you have players with one profile, more defensive for example with a capacity to work, maybe you have to play matches different. If you have more talented players you can work more with the ball,” Carrasco said.

A key component to the squad renovations during the off-season was bringing in those who were up to the tasks of carrying out such specific orders. Carrasco calls them “Peloteros,” the typically Spanish style of ball player who controls play almost effortlessly. 

“I think it is maybe easier if you have the players and all of them are with a similar style,” Carrasco said. (Source: Wanderers coach Andres Carrasco turned down Paris Saint Germain for Parramatta, SMH 20/11/15)

As for Kalac, there is undoubtedly a marked effect on his charges, with current no.1 goalie Andrew Redmayne returning more clean sheets for the Wanderers so far this season than his form at Melbourne City/Heart indicated possible. Plus, as ‘Redders’ himself says:

“[Before the season] he said I had a good base level but there were a lot of technical things that needed to be tweaked, and completely changed in some forms, so we worked really hard in pre-season and I’m continuing to learn and really enjoying the path that I’m on,” (‘Wanderers’ Redmayne benefitting from Spider’s touch’ HAL News 4/12/15)

Whilst tactical systems have evolved, ideologies refined, personnel moved on or brought in, one part of the Wanderers’ make up this season which does not look to have changed is their mental strength and motivation to succeed. Obviously all clubs and all players have the drive to win, however there is (in my opinion) unique circumstances around the Wanderers this season that mirror their psychology from 2012/13.

Obviously back before season one the mission for Lyall Gorman, Tony Popovic and other staff and players was to establish the Wanderers after a fairly short build up period. For example, here is a quote from inaugural skipper Michael Beauchamp prior to the first round of the 2012/13 season:

”We’re putting pressure on ourselves to do well and, in saying that, we’ve left no stone unturned and the boss has done everything right. We’re not here to make up the numbers, we’re here to perform, we’re here to be competitive every week.” (Write off Wanderers at your peril, warns Beauchamp, SMH 6/10/12)

After the disastrous 2014/15 campaign and the resultant shedding of so many squad members, the Wanderers have the hallmarks of almost starting from scratch, as if it was stunde null again. Yet the players both old and new are maintaining their own internal motivations, striving to achieve results through performance standards they believe they can meet, as if it was first season again, as indicated by Scott Jamieson after the Wanderers win over Melbourne City:

“We didn’t get the results at the start of the season, but we always believed in what we were doing was important,” he said. “Three wins in a row is good, but we’re only early on in the season so we won’t get carried away.”
Jamieson added: “We feel we’re a very strong team and we’ll go deep into this competition regardless of whether we’d won three in a row,” he said. “We believe in what we’re doing.” (Jamieson Backs Piovaccari, FourFourTwo Australia, 16/11/15)

There will always be the desire to promote oneself and one’s club as having such self-belief, having such a rock solid motivation. However the manner in which the Wanderers have had to develop their team spirit, their elan, has come through most dramatically as a result of either having just been formed or having been almost utterly dismantled and then re-formed. It’s well and good to mouth platitudes about team spirit when the bulk of your squad is the same as what you had last season, or when your club has years of history to draw on. The Wanderers of 2015/16 are much like that squad that rolled up as the newest club in the A-League three years ago, in that they have a belief that comes organically from a need to prove themselves in the most challenging of circumstances. The squad demonstrate a definitive psychological continuity when it comes to how they approach playing under Tony Popovic.

Perhaps the other considerable element in the Western Sydney Wanderers environment that has not changed between 2012/13 and 2015/16 is that of the relationship between the players and the fans. Foundation captain Michael Beauchamp said on retiring, after his final match in the red and black:

“We’ve shown in two years the level that we can take football to here in ­Australia, not only on the park but off the park with the community work, with the fans, with the RBB,” (source 27/5/14)

Additonally here are the thoughts of Jerrad Tyson, when asked to talk about the RBB back in February 2013:

The Red and Black Bloc have taken active support to a new level. I’ve said it a number of times but without question the RBB have been directly responsible for a number of vital points claimed in our rise up the ladder. Whether it was inspiring us to go harder in the last 5 mins against Roar and get the winner, or dominate Melbourne Heart with 10 men for almost the whole game and win. They inspire us to do the things that no other club is doing. (From The Stands, 18/2/13)

Come forward to the recent RBB led walk out of the match against Central Coast Mariners and the boycott of the Brisbane Roar home match, and the Wanderers current players offer their support, as per Scott Jamieson’s comments:

“All the fans that did come (last week) made it as good as they can, but that RBB feel is like no other,” Jamieson said on Tuesday.

“We really do need them, but we also understand that they haven’t been treated right and they deserve to stand up and speak up.

“But hopefully, this meeting tomorrow can really try and mend a few things.” (SBS – The World Game: 8/12/15)

Then there was one of the very few survivors from the first season Wanderers’ squad, current Captain Nikolai Topor-Stanley, and his thoughts regarding the club’s fans:

“We want our fans there – they’re the best fans in the league by a country mile,” a diplomatic Topor-Stanley said ahead of Sunday’s away clash with the Mariners.

“But we understand the issues that they have and we’re all in this together,”  (SBS – The World Game: 27/11/15)

The RBB and less active fans of the Western Sydney Wanderers have formed such a strong bond with the players, and the players (both past and present) that it is most satisfying to see these bonds retained from 2012/13 to the current A-League season.

In closing, perhaps the best way to sum up how things have changed at Wanderland between that first, miraculously successful season and the current 2015/16 campaign is that the changes are almost all tactical, on the field, with personnel and names altered from our inaugural A-League adventure. However the soul of the club, the psychology, the motivation and the commitment is still very much the same. The Wanderers have experienced unbelievable highs and some savage lows, yet for all these variations in fate their answer has been to try and get better on the pitch whilst staying true to their principles and community off it.

100 Moments, 100 Memories: The Wanderers in 2012/13 (Part Nine)

Today’s The Day, and it’s time for the Western Sydney Wanderers to kick-off 2013/14 by wreaking revenge on the Mariners. So just before the ball starts rolling up at Blue Tongue here are the final Top 20 moments from the 2012/13 season.

20. Ante Covic keeps out Mat Ryan at Blue Tongue

With a crucial game to define whether or not the Wanderers would win the Premier’s Plate for 2012/13 being played in the wet up at Gosford, it was no surprise that the man who probably did more than anyone else to make sure the Wanderers did the deed was Ante Covic. Facing the danger of a penalty goal, awarded after a clumsy moment from Dino in the box, the best goalkeeper of the 2012/13 season stared down his hesitant opposite, with Mat Ryan shooting straight into the welcoming arms of the tall ex-Socceroo. Covic added lustre to his efforts late in the game with a scrambling save that ensured the thousands of Wanderers fans drove back to Sydney that Saturday night ecstatic with the resultant win.

19. Mark Bridge is named as the Western Sydney Wanderers best player of 2012/13

In a well-deserved award recognising his importance to the Wanderers first A-League season success, left wing forward and club golden boot winner Mark Bridge was named as the Western Sydney Wanderers best player of 2012/13.

18. Wanderers captain Michael Beauchamp scores his first goal against Sydney FC in Derby II at Allianz

Shaping up against his ex-team and in front of a huge contingent of RBB fans occupying the southern end of SFC’s home ground, Michaewl Beauchamp sealed a fantastic win against the Sky Blues in the 77th minute of the second Sydney derby. Whilst the goal was not the most stylish or technically proficient it was a stake through the heart of SFC and a sign of the pride and leadership inherent in Beauchamp’s leadership of the Wanderers.

17. Shinji Ono signs for the Western Sydney Wanderers

If ever there was a crucial signing among the playing members of the Wanderers it was Shinji Ono’s on September 28th, 2012. The first and obvious impact was that the Wanderers had a legend of Japanese football as their marquee player, and a man who would both elevate the technical skill of the squad plus add a potentially large new market for the club in Asia. However what was equally important if not more so was that by signing Shinji Tony Popovic and Lyall Gorman indicated they were willing to make hard choices in terms of the squad (in light of all the talk about Michael Ballack) and they were not going to be swayed by anyone else’s agenda. As shown in this countdown and throughout every account of almost every game involving Shinji this recruitment is demonstrated as probably one of the top 2 or 3 during 2012/13.

16. The virtual sell-out of Derbies I & III

Wanderland a.k.a. Parramatta Stadium has a nominal seating capacity of 20,741 spectators. In its debut season the Wanderers were able to attract 19,126 people to their Round 3 clash with SFC, and 19,585 people to their Round 26 game. Tickets were well nigh impossible to buy for casual fans and these two games saw the best football crowd numbers since the 1989-90 NSL grand final (when Parramatta Stadium was not a wholly seated venue).

15. The post-season celebration in Parramatta

Whilst the Wanderers failed to win the Grand Final the overall magnificent effort from the club over 2012/13, including of course the winning of the premier’s plate gave impetus to a massive celebration of the Wanderers in Parramatta on 23rd April 2013. With thousands of fans marching with the team down Church Street to a civic reception and party at Prince Alfred Park, this was another example of how the Wanderers had won over the community they represented. Particularly powerful was Lyall Gorman’s pledge to the club’s supporters, reflecting western Sydney pride and passion.

14. Shinji Ono buries the Roar at Wanderland

With this amazing goal Shinji Ono ensured that the Western Sydney Wanderers were destined for a grand final appearance in their debut season. With a sublime arrogance of style Ono’s floating ball hit the back of a dumbfounded Theo’s net, completing a 2-0 win.

13. Tony Popovic named the A-League coach of the season.

Given the task of melding a squad together in less than 3 months before the start of the 2012/13 season, without having been the main coach/manager of any club before, and then taking that disparate band of Australian and foreign players all the way not just to a premiership but also to a grand final was simply brilliant. The A-League recognised this achievement by Popa naming him as its coach of the 2012/13 season, beating out more fancied or experienced rivals Graham Arnold and Ange Postecoglu.

12. Dino’s left boot goal of God, versus Brisbane

Perhaps not as stylish or as elegant as other goals from the likes of Ono, Visconte or Bridge, Dino’s left back heel into Brisbane’s net during the semi-final at Wanderland was still a glorious moment of Wanderers magic. Bereft of luck for much of the season the lumbering Croat displayed an instinctive skill for scoring goals his much touted bald head couldn’t. The reaction from the home supporters was commensurate with the achievement (i.e. out of this world with joy). Whilst Dino never really delivered all we hoped his efforts like this one will always be remembered by the Wanderers faithful.

11. 25th July 2012 – The first ever Western Sydney Wanderers football game

The Wanderers debuted against NSWPL side Nepean FC at St Mary’s Cook Park on this chilly winter’s evening. With Joey Gibbs netting four times and Labinot Haliti once, the 5-0 win was a propitious event for the fledgling club. Among other future stars for the coming A-League seaosn were Aaron Mooy and Mark Bridge.

10. The Round 12 Wanderland Bloodbath of the Reds

Coming into this game the Wanderers were looking to demonstrate that they could hold their own against top six clubs. The Adelaide Reds with a long and proud history in the A-League, possessing some major talent and sitting in the top four at the time were daunting prospects for the home team. Instead of being a dour and hard fought game it turned out to be a goal-fest, with the Wanderers slipping 6 past a hapless Eugene Galekovic and his defensive screen. With Mark Bridge snaring a hat-trick and Dino, Shinji and Joey Gibbs each getting a goal it was easily the biggest win for the Wanderers all season. The only minor blemish was a late goal to the Reds, however that mattered not a jot. From this game on the Western Sydney Wanderers juggernaut took flight.

9. The birth of the RBB

Just as the Wanderers made their debut at Cook Park against Nepean FC on July 25th 2012, so did the Red & Black Bloc. From a small but fervent group of committed fans grew the most exciting and passionate active fan group in A-League history.

8. Tony Popovic named the inaugural coach for the Western Sydney Wanderers

May 17th 2012 was the date when the wanderers began the journey that took them to the premier’s plate in 2012/13 and a Grand Final in front of over 40,000 fans (mostly wearing red and black). In appointing Tony Popovic the club made the first of many very correct decisions, and this bore fruit over and over again in the following months.

7. The very first A-League game played by the Western Sydney Wanderers

Wanderland, 6th October 2012. The opposition, Central Coast Mariners. The result, 0-0. The crowd, 10,458. History was made.

6. Shinji Ono scores the best goal of entire Wanderers season

Sublime, spectacular, stylish, brilliant, the apogee of control, skill and class. Watch and marvel at Shinji Ono against Melbourne Victory at Wanderland, Round 8. The final result, Western Sydney Wanders (and Shinji Ono) 2-0 winners

5. Western Sydney Wanderers first ever A-League victory

Coming into this Round 4 game against the A-League champions for the past two season, the Wanderers were underdogs away from home in Brisbane with no goals in their preceding games. However in what was a remarkably gritty win Mark Bridge made history with the first goal for the Wanderers, and with no answer from the Roar the final victorious score was 1-0.

4. The Second Derby and the Destruction of Sydney FC

There is nothing sweeter than beating your cross-town rivals. However it is even better yet again to crush both a cross-town club on the field and their supporters at their own home grown after both elements of the opposition demonstrated little respect for the new boys on the block. When the Western Sydney Wanderers and the RBB with other supporters ventured to Allianz Stadium for the Round 11 Derby game against Sydney FC the team nailed a historic victory with 2 goals (one each to Hersi and Beauchamp) and the RBB out-sung the Cave. It was a great time to be a Wanderer!

3. The 2012/13 Grand Final (with over 30,000 Wanderers Fans in attendance and performing a stadium wide Poznan)

No one had a sane expectation that the Wanderers would finish the 2012/13 season in the top six at the start. However by season’s end the newest club in the A-League would not only win more games than any other team, defeat the champion team from the last two seasons four times, beat their cross-town rivals 2-0, slaughter a past Grand Final runner-up and Asian Champion’s League finalist team 6-1, and then after winning the premier’s plate for topping the Western Sydney Wanderers went to a sold out Grand Final against the Central Coast Mariners. Whilst the game was eventually lost 2-0 over 30,000 Wanderers fans went to see their club achieve something truly historic, and when the 80th minute of the game came the whole stadium rocked to an arena-wide Poznan.

2. The Wanderers beat the Central Coast Mariners 1-0 at Blue Tongue

Without doubt the best game for the Wanderers all season, with a gritty against the odds win for the team, securing their leadership on the table. On a soaking wet Gosford evening there was high drama on the pitch and in teh stands the RBB and other Wanderers fans simply owned their rivals. A defining moment in our club’s history.

1. The Western Sydney Wanderers win the 2012/13 A-League Premiers Plate

After 27 regular home and away games and less than a year after they were first founded the Western Sydney Wanderers made history by winning the Premier’s Plate in their inaugural season. Nothing was better than this moment, this achievement, this time.

100 Moments, 100 Memories: The Wanderers in 2012/13 (Part Eight)

70 memories from 2012/13 down, only 30 to go. I plan to have the last post in this series just before kick off on Saturday arvo

30. The march to Blue Tongue stadium before the away game against Central Coast Mariners

If ever there was a moment when the Wanderers’ fans (including the RBB) took over another club’s venue and indeed town and showed the power of their passion, it was in the march from the Settlers Tavern, Gosford, to Blue Tongue stadium. With thousands of men, women, boys and girls all in the colours of the team, they made established their domination of the local fans before this pivotal round 23 game, and kept it until well after the referee blew time.

29. Nine wins on the trot, and the Wanderers break the record

In Round 24 a tough win at Wanderland against the Wellington Phoenix, the final score line of 2-1 ensured that the previous A-League record of eight consecutive wins, as recorded by Melbourne Victory  was surpassed.

28. Labinot Haliti bags a brace in the rain against Melbourne Heart

For the final away game down in Melbourne on a rain-sodden AAMI stadium pitch impact forward Labinot Haliti chimed in with two goals, with one in each half of the game. After a stop-start early season Labinot impressed in the final few Wanderers games with some classy and pivotal strikes.

27. The ‘Who Do We Sing For’ chants between the RBB, the east and west standards at Wanderland

Being part of the call and response for ‘Who Do We Sing For?’ at a Wanderers home game is one of if not the best experience for a football fan in the A-League. Unfortunately it’s impossible to recapture the spirit and passion in a blog, so this video will have to serve as a pale imitation. To really appreciate it you have to get to a game.

26. Jerome Polenz and Youssouf Hersi; a combination par excellence

The ex-Bundesliga right back Polenz and ex-Eredivisie right forward Hersi were possibly the best combination not just in the Wanderers, but across the entire A-League (with perhaps only Rojas and Thompson competing). Every game the two played together saw them  play in amazing harmony. When Polenz was pressured in defence Hersi would know exactly how and when to interpose himself into the back line, then on the attack Polenz was always aware of Hersi’s positioning.

25. Mark Bridge scores a solo goal in the community round game against the Newcastle Jets

In a textbook example of how to use control and strength to score a goal, Mark Bridge out-muscled Newcastle Jets defender Josh Mitchell in the second half of the Round 20 game, then sent the ball into Birghitti’s net taking the Wanderers to a 2-0 lead, and ended up with a 2-1 win.

24. Shannon Cole’s equaliser in Derby III

With a team that was understrength due to injuries and discipline issues the Wanderers were looking down the barrel of a bad loss against Sydney FC at Wanderland in the third derby of the season in Round 26. However ex-SFC player and replacement back Shannon Cole put the game to rights with a stunningly good free kick that zoomed into the away team’s net. The final score of 1-1 left the home fans slightly disappointed and honours even after the three derbies in 2012/13.

23. Ante Covic keeps a clean sheet with a stunning save against the Heart in Round 18.

 With Jerome Polenz sent off for a careless challenge in the Australia Day game at Wanderland it was up to Ante Covic to keep the Victorian team from taking a 1-0 lead. With a falling dive to the left he made sure that the shot from the penalty spot was kept out, setting the platform for what ended up being a solid 1-0 win. Covic backed up his 56th save of the season with a brilliant scrambling save in the dying minutes of the game.

22. Rocky Visconte seals the Preimer’s Plate with a brilliant goal against Newcastle

Brought in from the Roar as a replacement for the injured Tahj Minniecon, Rocky Visconte had to cool his heels for almost the entire season. His moment in the sun for the Wanderers was in the very last game of the regular season up at Hunter Stadium in Round 27. With the Wanderers leading 2-0 and looking very comfortable Visconte chimed in with a wonderfully controlled and aimed left boot missile to put the ball into the Jets net a third time that evening.

21. Labinot Haliti’s clinical finish against the Mariners at Blue Tongue

With the game almost entirely played in the Mariner’s favour and barely ten minutes to go substitute forward Labinot Haliti made sure that the Wanderers came away as 1-0 winners from their third game against Central Coast. This video tells the story…

100 Moments, 100 Memories: The Wanderers in 2012/13 (Part Seven)

Another day closer to the 2013/14 season kick off, and another ten magic memories from last season.

40. Shinji Ono scores his first A-League game for the Wanderers

When Ono arrived at the Wanderers everyone expected him to be a vitally important part of the new club’s campaign in 2012/13. Unfortunately it took him a few games to find his match fitness, but when he did in front of goal for a penalty against the Roar at Wanderland in Round 10 it was exactly what the team needed. His goal gave the Wanderers their second win of the season over the 2011/12 champions.

39. Youssouf Hersi scores two goals against Adelaide at Hindmarsh

The club’s Dutch forward picked up two goals in the second away trip for the Wanderers to Homebush in Round 19. His biggest haul in one game, his second goal in this match was another example of his skillful ball control, a prominent feature of his game throughout the season.

38. Jerome Polenz and Youssouf Hersi show off the Harlem Shake

Words aren’t needed…just look at this:

37. Wanderers go top of the A-League table beating Perth 1-0

In Round 22 the Wanderers achieved something very few people would’ve expected before the beginning of the 2012/13 season. Defeating Perth Glory 1-0 at Wanderland in the wet put the Western Sydney Wanderers into the top position on the A-League table, where they stayed until the regular season’s end.

36. The RBB helping out a sick fan after the away game at Gosford

After the Round 23 away game at Blue Tongue Stadium, the celebrating fans and RBB were able to render invaluable assistance to a fellow fan who experienced a medical emergency. By marshaling and organising passers-by they helped facilitate the response of the medical personnel, and it is moments like that that underscore the true nature of how (active) Wanderers supporters help each other.

35. The RBB and other away fans descend on Melbourne and AAMI Stadium

In one of the largest showing of interstate away fan support in A-League history approximately 1000 RBB and regular Wanderers fans turned up at AAMI Stadium for the Round 21 game against Melbourne Victory. Challenged by the largest and most vocal active supporters in the A-League the RBB didn’t take one step back, acquiring a grudging respect from many MVFC and neutral observers

34. Being at the Woolpack Inn in Parramatta before a home game for the Wanderers

The energy and camaraderie at the ‘Woolie’ in 2012/13 was always good value, and in such a close and friendly  environment the RBB found their voice before every home game (and for most away games too)

33. Tony Popovic named PFA Coach of 2012/13

In an incredibly successful season for Popa he took out the PFA coach of the year award, beating out his arguably more well credentialed rivals Ange Postecoglou and Graham Arnold. This was not the only honour he would collect.

32. Dino Kresinger’s Passion and Drive

Whilst he may not have been the most fruitful provider of goals for the Wanderers, throughout every game he was involved in Dino was always a fan favourite thanks to his tireless running, his endeavours to get in the face of his opponents, his ability to draw some very useful fouls, and most importantly the legendary ‘fist pumps’. No one could fault his work ethic.

31. Nikolai Topor-Stanley and his clearances from centre back

Whilst his clearances could be seen as the source of great humour, Nikolai Topor-Stanley rarely kicked the ball away without some thought behind his booming hoofs up field. Whilst Covic had prime responsibility for forming the long ball basis for the second man counter-attack NTS would often play this role before the goalie grabbed the ball.

100 Moments, 100 Memories: The Wanderers in 2012/13 (Part Six)

Another ten moments that helped define the magic that was the first full A-League season for the Western Sydney Wanderers.

50. Dino Kresinger’s first A-League goal

In the massacre of John Kosmina’s Adelaide United in Round 12 at Wanderland the big Croat up front at the pointy end of the Wanderers attack finally scored his much desired first goal in red and black. After 11 rounds of every fan wondering if, let alone when our bald headed number 9 would convert he finally nailed the back of the net to rapturous acclamation. I can proudly say I was there that night and saw Dino score!

49. Shinji Ono re-signs to the Western Sydney Wanderers

In a great affirmation both of the Wanderers’ belief in Shinji and his willingness to continue his mission with the red and black the great Japanese no.21 re-signed by the end of April 2013.

“Yes I want to [stay] but actually I have just a one-year contract, and we have to speak about next season. I don’t care how much the contract [is worth], but if they give me a chance to play . . . I want to do what I can possibly do.”

48. Youssouf Hersi re-signs to the Western Sydney Wanderers

Another vital cog in the red and black machine, Youssouf was the first major overseas signing to re-commit to the club:

“It was difficult because I wanted to go somewhere else, maybe, But I thought no, it’s better to stay here, follow my heart.”

47. The Mark Bridge and Adam D’Apuzzo combination on the left flank

The manner in which these two players were able to work together was one of the best combinations in not just the Western Sydney Wanderers but also the entire A-League during 2012/13. Bridge particularly shone understanding how and when to respond to the defensive challenge faced by D’Apuzzo whenever the opposition threatened their flank. D’Apuzzo was also able to distribute many balls up to Bridge which put the left wing forward into strong offensive positions. With D’Apuzzo injured late in the season there was a noticeable drop-off in the team’s capabilities on the left.

46. Aaron Mooy scores his first goal for the Wanderers

In the only home game against Perth Glory during 2012/13, in round 22 Aaron Mooy finally delivered on his promise throughout the preceding games. His shot from outside the Glory’s box took a fortuitous deflection however considering Mooy’s lack of luck in earlier games this was fair recompense. IN a very tight and defensive game Aaron’s goal was the difference between the teams.

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45. A ten-man Western Sydney Wanderers’ team beats Perth Glory 0-1 away from home

In the early stages of the Round 7 game at nib Stadium in Perth the Wanderers went a man down thanks to a red card being show to Youssouf Hersi (the victim of some nasty niggling from Scott Jamieson). In a demonstration of the team’s character and stamina, a successful combination of Iacopo La Rocca scoring in the first half and Ante Covic saving numerous shots resulted in a fine win away from Wanderland. This victory ended Perth’s early unbeaten run at home of 3 games and put the Wanderers into fifth position on the table.

44. The reaction of the Wanderland faithful to Dino Kresingers’ goals

In both occasions during the 2012/13 season Dino’s goals set off wild celebrations within both the RBB and the other stands at Wanderland. From personal experience I can verify that no other player electrified the Wanderers faithful than Kresinger when he put the ball in the back of the opposition’s net.

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43. Ante Milicic…Popa’s Right Hand Man

Whilst other clubs had problems with their coaching staff during 2012/13, the Wanderers had the ideal pair to lead the squad through its debut season. Milicic had already shown his talents as an assistant coach at Melbourne Heart, and preceding that he had  experience as a head coach at the NSL club Sydney United, and in joining with Tony Popovic he formed the best pairing of coaches in the A-League since the Roar’s Postecoglou and Vidosic. There is every expectation that Ante will coach A-League club in the near future (hopefully after Popovic moves on to a European club).

42. Michael Beauchamp named as first captain of the Western Sydney Wanderers

A true son of Western Sydney football, Beauchamp went through many clubs over his first twelve seasons of senior football before becoming the inaugural club captain for the Wanderers. Bringing experience ranging from the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, through Bundesliga appearances and A-League stints with the Mariners, Heart and Sydney FC, Beauchamp formed a highly effective pairing with fellow centre back Nikolai Topor-Stanley in the Wanderers’ first season. Hard to get past and always on the look out for transition passes out of defence, Beauchamp also set a great example for the team off the field in media and community engagements.

41. The Wanderers squad appearance at Westfield Parramatta

From the willingness of the squad to meet, greet, talk with the fans and sign autographs, through to the amazing passion shown by hundreds of RBB supporters in the middle of Sydney’s largest shopping centre, the Wanderers’ day at Westfield Parramatta was one of the best community/club engagements all season.