Is it time for Western United to shake up its starting line-up?
Slow starts have been United’s Achilles heel so far in its inaugural A-League season.
The issue reared again in an upset 1-0 loss to Newcastle Jets at GMHBA Stadium on Saturday night.
“The mindset needs to be a lot better right from kick off,” coach Mark Rudan said. “
The intensity, the energy, it has to be there right from the outset, [otherwise] teams will punish you, irrespective of who they are.”
For the fourth game in a row, Western United stared a deficit in the face.
United was made to pay for its lacklustre start by young Jets striker Angus Thurgate, who scored his second A-League goal in the 36th minute.
It was by no means a surprise lead for the Jets, who had been the more proactive side in the first half and were keen to pounce on the sloppy defending of the United backline.
Rudan stopped short of suggesting there will be wholesale changes to the starting side because of the slow starts, but it will be up for discussion this week.
“We’ll see what the answer might be throughout the week,” he said.
“Like I said, every player has to be on their toes and if we make changes, we make changes.”
The silver lining for Western United is its response after conceding early goals.
United has shown plenty of character to get back into games, but the frustration is that it takes a jolt in the form of conceding a goal before they click into gear.
Rudan sent his team out in the second half with clear instructions and they followed them to the nth degree.
In stark contrast to the first half, United moved the ball quicker, got into position faster and played with more variety, utilising both the wings and central avenues to put the Jets defence under pressure.
If it was not for a goalkeeping masterclass from experienced Jets custodian Glen Moss, the outcome might have been different for Western United.
Western United thought it had found an equaliser when Josh Risdon headed in a goal.
However, upon VAR review, United striker Besart Berisha was rightly adjudged offside in the build-up play and the goal was scrubbed off.
There were no complaints from Rudan about the decision.
He did, however, rue the poor finishing of United’s attackers.
“I thought Connor Pain had a fantastic opportunity,” Rudan said. “He goes low there instead of high, he made it easy for the keeper, then Besart straight after, straight away from the corner.
“It was just one of those games where we did everything but score and get ourselves back into the game.”
Risdon was praised for his hard work.
Returning from Socceroos duty, the winger’s workload was monitored throughout the game and he did not wane from his usual output.
“His high speed sprints were unbelievable,” Rudan said. “We were tracking him live today, we had to be mindful of everything that he’s gone through.
“It shows a test of his character, his mental fortitude and how strong he is, he just never gave up.”
Max Burgess provided a spark off the bench, slotting into the midfield position vacated by the substituted Connor Chapman.
United sorely missed the creativity of Panagiotis Kone, who was out with a hamstring injury.
After five weeks of playing matches in Victoria, Western United will take to the skies to face a desperate Centrals Coast Mariners coming off two heavy defeats.