Breakdown: How Kenny kept Glory one step ahead
They seemed especially keen to play quick, direct football, trying to hit the space in behind Wellington’s back four whenever they had the ball.
Keogh naturally sprints in behind, while Hersi, now back in his familiar right-sided role, also chased balls over the top, both able to out-sprint the Wellington defenders.
If it weren’t for the poor timing of their runs (Perth were caught offside 10 times in this match, nearly an A-League record for this season) they might have added to their goal tally.
As it was, Perth did take the lead from this exact ploy.
In the second minute, Dino Djulbic’s long pass over the top freed Hersi in behind, who dribbled to the byline and then put across a dangerous cross that Daniel De Silva somehow bundled over the line.
Significant, too, was the fact that Djulbic was even free to play the pass.
In recent weeks, a recurring tactical feature of Wellington Phoenix has been Ernie Merrick’s unusual asymmetrical formations, which here had Jeremy Brockie playing high up as a right-sided forward but Roy Krishna dropping much deeper on the left.
Here, as Krishna tracked right-back Josh Risdon, and Brockie essentially marked Michael Thwaite – Perth’s left-sided centre-back – it left right-sided centre-back Djulbic free on the ball.
With the #10 in the lopsided 4-4-2 diamond, Nathan Burns, focusing on marking Rostyn Griffiths, the onus fell on Roly Bonevacia to move forward from a deep, left-sided central midfield position to press Djulbic.
Often, though, the distance was too great to cover and Djulbic was responsible for several penetrative forward passes, taking advantage of his freedom just as Mark Milligan, Matthew Spiranovic and Osama Malik have done so in recent weeks.
Recognising the problems in his lopsided system, Merrick made a half-time adjustment.
Krishna was asked to defend higher up, basically making it a proper 4-4-2 diamond – a strike pairing of Krishna and Brockie closing down on the Perth centre-backs, and Burns tucked in behind and still marking Griffiths.
Now, though, the ‘free’ players were Perth’s full-backs, and both Scott Jamieson and Risdon took advantage of the lack of a direct opponent to get into advanced positions. The latter, in particular, got forward to overlap past Risdon and create 2v1 situations against Wellington’s left-back Tom Doyle, exploiting the lack of natural width in a diamond formation.
Crucially, Risdon provided the assist for Perth’s second – Keogh’s volley – which eventually proved the winner after Wellington mounted a fightback following Ruben Zadkovich’s farcical red card.
Although Mitch Nichols has suggested Kenny Lowe doesn’t do any opposition scouting or preparation for upcoming fixtures, the Perth coach revealed his pleasure post-match at the nature of the two goals, suggesting both came from moves worked on at the training ground.
Through clever exploitation of the weaknesses in both Wellington’s original formation, and their tweaked system in the second half, Perth continued their undefeated start to the season with a 2-1 victory.
Tim Palmer writes extensively on A-League tactics at AustraliaScout.com