Tony Popovic and his Western Sydney Wanderers appear to be living groundhog day, with a first-half injury and a spirited performance that failed to yield a result.
The Wanderers’ streak of players sustaining early injuries continued on Friday night during the 1-1 draw with Melbourne City as Nikita Rukavytsya’s hamstring gave way.
The pacy forward was on a breakaway, having stolen the ball from City right-back Paulo Retro before his shot was blocked by Tando Velaphi.
A clever change of direction before shooting might have fooled Kew Jaliens but it also left Rukavytsya in pain. He was substituted immediately.
“It was serious enough for him to come off and we’ll know more soon [about] the extent of the injury,” Popovic said. “It’s another unfortunate one where we keep losing players in the first half through injury.
“But that’s just the accumulation of five months of playing and if you have a look at the schedule, it’s been six or so games in two weeks with travel. We tried to rest him for the Newcastle game but in the end it always catches up.”
Rukavytsya is almost certainly out of Tuesday’s crucial Asian Champions League clash against FC Seoul, a match the Wanderers probably need to win if they are to maintain their hopes of qualifying to the knockout stages.
“We’ve put ourselves in a good position to go through from a very tough group and we have two home games coming up,” Popovic said. “This one is a crucial one for both teams and we’ll make sure the team we put out on Tuesday gives it their all and can get a positive result.”
The Wanderers felt they were denied the opportunity to win the match when Jaliens, having made a match-saving tackle moments before, appeared to block a shot with his arm while shielding his head.
Much to the disbelief of Popovic, who animatedly remonstrated from the sidelines, the referee waved for play to continue.
“It [Jaliens’ arm] was in an unnatural position. If that’s a natural position I’d like someone to explain to me how it is,” Popovic said. “The officials are well and truly close enough in that situation to make that decision. But he’s made it, we can’t change it but it’s just disappointing.
“I don’t want to harp on that for being the reason we didn’t win because you have to score the penalty. In the end, it was a game we should have won.”
The Wanderers arguably had the better of the occasion and had multiple chances but were either denied by their poor finishing or the fine goalkeeping from Velaphi.
The glovesman was unconvincing with his feet, but some of his shot-stopping showed why he has overtaken Andrew Redmayne as the preferred choice for John van ‘t Schip.
“I’m happy with the performance but disappointed to play so well and get nothing,” Popovic said. “I think we lost two points.
“I think there was some good goalkeeping from City, last-ditch tackles and chances missed by us. We dominated a very good side that’s just won three straight. So to walk off and see 1-1 was disappointing.
“You can see the way we’re trying to evolve our game through midfield; we’ve pretty much dominated a side that’s won three straight.”
One of the standouts of the night was Wanderers defender Jonathan Aspropotamitis, who again looked composed in the heart of defence despite playing only his fifth game.
“We’ve thrown him in the deep end,” Popovic said. “He doesn’t have A-League fitness but he has composure. When was the last time he would have played four games in 10 days at this level and in these conditions?
“He’s dealt with [Andy] Keogh in Perth, he’s now dealt with another good player in [Josh] Kennedy and the boy’s done very well.”
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