Popovic eyes ACL progression

Tony Popovic says some of Western Sydney Wanderers’ struggles in the A-League this season will be forgotten if they can progress to the knockout stage of the AFC Champions League.

The Wanderers will end the weekend on the bottom of the table after a narrow 1-0 loss to Central Coast on Saturday night and they will finish with the wooden spoon unless they can win a game more than the Newcastle Jets over the last two rounds.

But they are well-placed to progress from the ACL group stage with two games to go and the Wanderers boss feels it will go some way to making up for a forgettable domestic campaign.

“Of course it would. It’s been a tough season since we won the ACL in November,” Popovic said.

“We have a lot of pride and we want to finish the A-League season on a high but the ACL is huge.

“If we can get through to that next round, it’s a great effort because it’s not easy to do. It’s a tough group but I believe we’ll go through.”

Popovic denied his side was focusing solely on the ACL by putting out a few youngsters against the Mariners, revealing Nikolai Topor-Stanley, Labinot Haliti and Mark Bridge were all injured.

Teenagers Jonathan Aspropotamitis and Alusine Fofanah both started while youngsters Steve Kuzmanovski and Shayne D’Cunha came off the bench, the latter for his debut.

Having blooded a host of promising youngsters over the last months, the future looks bright for the Wanderers but Popovic warned against putting too much expectation on them.

“It’s difficult to say a kid has a good game so now he’s going to make it in football, it doesn’t go like that,” he said.

“There’s a long way to go for these kids. We certainly hope these young kids we’re bringing through will be the backbone of this club one day.

“Will it be these boys? Time will tell.”

The Wanderers went behind inside two minutes to Josh Rose’s goal in Gosford and despite having a number of great opportunities, were wasteful in front of goal.

“We’ve been starting games very well the last month and getting on top or getting a goal and being on the front foot for the first 20 or 30 minutes,” Popovic explained.

“The difference tonight was we started very slow. We got caught, got punished and then grew into the game.

“Unfortunately we just couldn’t get that goal, we had a lot of momentum but couldn’t put them away with the final ball or final shot.”

Popovic revealed striker Tomi Juric remained an unused substitute due to a shoulder injury, but the Socceroo is hopeful of returning for next week’s home clash with Adelaide United.