Western Sydney coach Tony Popovic has warned his side are in a much better place heading into the grand final than they were this time last year.
Western Sydney are an even bigger force to be reckoned with going into their second A-League grand final, coach Tony Popovic has warned.
The Wanderers beat a travel-weary Central Coast 2-0 on Saturday to book a spot in the championship decider, yet another remarkable achievement in the two-season history of the club.
Ending the Mariners’ hopes of a title defence, the Wanderers avenged last season’s grand final defeat to ensure they have another shot at claiming the title.
Having won the Premiers’ Plate and making the grand final in their inaugural season, the Wanderers earned their place in the knockout phase of their first Asian Champions League (ACL) campaign with a resounding 5-0 victory over Guizhou Renhe on Tuesday and now eye a maiden A-League championship.
They face the winner of the Brisbane Roar-Melbourne Victory clash in the decider on Sunday week and Popovic feels they’re in a much better place than they were this time last year.
The Wanderers had the likes of key winger Youssouf Hersi suspended for last season’s grand final and defender Adam D’Apuzzo injured, while injuries interrupted preparations for Aaron Mooy, Jerome Polenz and Mark Bridge.
Popovic admits Bridge is a “big doubt” this time after the striker injured his ankle in the second half on Saturday, but has the rest of his charges fit and firing.
The coach also feels having had to juggle ACL commitments has worked in their favour.
“This time everyone is ready and available and the ACL I think has made us mentally tougher.
“There’s a real resilience about them now.”
Popovic says his side have also mastered the big game situation.
He says their come-from-behind 3-2 victory over to Melbourne Heart in the final round, which sealed second spot for the Wanderers, proved they don’t crumble under pressure.
“With 10 minutes to go, every player knew we had to win to get second and to score two goal so late that was, not a turning point, but a statement that these boys can handle big games and big pressure,” he said.
Should Victory prevail over Roar in the other semi-final the Wanderers will earn a home grand final as the highest-ranked side, while a Roar win will mean they travel to Brisbane.
But Popovic says who or where they play doesn’t matter.
“The obvious answer is we don’t care and honestly that’s exactly how I feel,” he said.
“If it’s away then so be it, we’ll get a great contingent of our fans to the game regardless.
“If it’s in Sydney, it’s a nice bonus.”