Brendon Santalab of the Wanderers (centre) tangles with Andrew Durante of the Phoenix as Glen Moss of the Phoenix dives at his feet.
Brendon Santalab of the Wanderers (centre) tangles with Andrew Durante of the Phoenix as Glen Moss of the Phoenix dives at his feet. Ross Setford

Tactical changes pay dividends for Wanderers

THE Wanderers have been in dire need of a change-up this season.

After a heartbreaking late capitulation to Brisbane, Tony Popovic was well and truly prepared to make a statement, firmly believing his team could still have an impact at the pointy end of the season.

Against Wellington in New Plymouth, Popovic made huge changes - and they paid off.

Popovic rang in the changes in terms of personnel, with Mitch Nichols, Lachlan Scott and Scott Neville (suspended) among those out of the starting XI.

The reshuffle meant Terry Antonis started his first game for the Wanderers, playing in front of Kearyn Baccus and Dimas, while Brendon Santalab, Jumpei Kusukami and Nicolas Martinez started up front.

But along with the change-up in personnel came a big switch-up in tactics.

The Wanderers have been immensely possession-based this season, tending to dominate play in the middle of the park while struggling at either end.

The Wanderers were prepared to sacrifice possession in favour of high-risk, high-reward moves and fast-paced action on the break.

For the first half, the visitors had just 40% of possession, but it was what they did with it that counted.

With Baccus and Dimas providing a screening presence in front of the Wanderers' back four, Antonis was free to press forward and look to create.

Crucially, the change perfectly suited the talismanic Martinez, who was able to use his speed and guile to cut through Wellington's lines and create opportunities, with Santalab the primary beneficiary.

Against a sluggish Phoenix, the Wanderers' pace and willingness to break the offside trap paid dividends on multiple occasions, with Martinez capitalising to score the second goal in a 3-1 victory.

"That's got to be their best performance of the season," Fox Sports analyst Mark Bosnich said.

"Terry Antonis was outstanding and Nicolas Martinez was very good."

The Wanderers have been searching for their best forward line combination all season, with no real luck.

That search led them to sign Ryan Griffiths and former City youngster Stefan Zinni, in an attempt to bolster their attacking stocks.

But against the Phoenix, Popovic turned to a tried-and-tested option: Santalab.

The veteran more than delivered.

After having an early goal incorrectly ruled out for offside, the forward could easily have dropped his head.

Instead, he made the Phoenix pay.

Santalab popped up again in the 22nd minute, receiving a clever through-ball from Nico Martinez before powering a shot past Glen Moss.

He wasn't done there either.

Known as a supersub, Santalab made his mark again in the second half, scoring in the 65th minute with a clinical finish.

It was just what Popovic needed to all but kill off the game.

News Corp Australia

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