Aloisi hoping to tap into a strong Western United spine against Roar

As nascent signs that his side is shaking off its championship hangover and beginning to find its feet slowly emerge, Western United coach John Aloisi is banking on a strong, and healthy, spine to take his team to another level.

Heading into 2022-23 after being crowned champions of the A-League Men in just their third year of existence, United had a horror start to their new campaign, sitting near the bottom of the table heading into the World Cup break and being downed by Perth Glory in the first game after its resumption. 

Western United has only conceded one goal – an own goal – when defender Tomoki Imai (right) is on the pitch this season.
Image Credit: Western United

However, back-to-back wins over Western Sydney Wanderers and Melbourne Victory have served to quiet, for now, any alarm bells. And while those six points haven’t done much for their position on the table – United entering the round of play eleventh on the twelve-team ladder – their points tally of ten is now just three adrift of the fourth-placed Central Coast Mariners. 

Both of these wins have been delivered by the familiar 1-0 scoreline that came to define United’s run to last year’s championship, in which Aloisi’s side became masterful at securing a lead and then defending it against opposition that consistently proved incapable of breaking them down with the ball. 

Correlation isn’t causation, but both of these triumphs have also come in the first two games that central defender Tomoki Imai, midfielder Tongo Doumbia, and striker Aleksandar Prijovic have been in the starting lineup together. Against Brisbane Roar at AAMI Park on Friday evening, Swiss defender Leo Lacroix will also be added to the mix after he served a two-game red card suspension. 

“You’ll see with our spine when they’re all fit and ready to go,” said Aloisi. “You talk about our pre-season, but even at the start of the season, we didn’t have a lot of players playing.

“Tongo hadn’t started [until the Wanderers game], and Aleks has only started three games. Tomoki, he only started the first game and was injured after 25 minutes. We’ve only conceded one goal [an own goal] with Tomoki in. 

“That gives our players confidence and belief that when our spine is there, that we’re very strong. 

“And also, they’re very large and very strong and on set pieces, I think we’ve scored now off five corners so we look dangerous every time we get a set piece. We attack the ball well. 

“So it gives you that extra bit, especially when you’ve got all those big guys in.”

After a long career that featured stops in France, England, Croatia, the UAE, and Kazakhstan, 20-time Malian international Doumbia signed in Tarneit during the most recent offseason, one of the relatively few additions Aloisi made to his side as the coach looked to maintain continuity amongst his title-winning side. 

Coming off the bench in his new side’s round one defeat to Melbourne City and round two loss to Sydney FC, the 33-year-old suffered a high-grade hamstring injury against the Harboursiders, which served to rule him out until after the World Cup break. 

But now having made back-to-back starts in back-to-back wins, Aloisi is hoping his towering midfielder will only continue to improve in the weeks ahead. 

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“I still think he’s probably only about 60% fit. I think he can show even more than he’s already shown. He’s already shown a lot because he got injured early on when he was coming off the bench. 

“He wins the ball in there, he wins second balls. He’s also very comfortable on the ball, he keeps it moving and he’s got that calmness. He’s a coach out there, so we’ve got two good leaders out there in the midfield that are coaching and leading. 

“I think there’s a lot more left in him. I think he’ll improve as the season goes on. That’s good signs for us because he’s already showing really positive signs of what he can do for us.”

On Friday Doumbia and co. will be tasked with taking on a Roar side that demonstrates an almost complete bipolarity between their attacking and defensive output. 

No team in the ALM has conceded fewer goals than their six across their opening eight games – only league-leaders City able to match that feat – but, conversely, every other team in the competition has managed to put the ball in the back of the net on more occasions than their six. 

With marquee man Charlie Austin having mutually terminated his contract in order to return to the United Kingdom for family reasons, one of the players looking to step up and fill that goalscoring void is Joe Knowles. 

The 26-year-old Perth-born attacker will be returning to Victoria as a member of the Roar for the first time on Friday night after starring for the Oakleigh Cannons throughout the 2022 NPLM Victoria season; play which earned him an ALM contract. 

“I am happy with Joe. Joe is a good player and can play a number of roles for us and that is the beauty of having him in the squad,” Roar coach Warren Moon Moon said.

“As a collective, we just need to make sure we are more ruthless in front of goal and taking the chances we are creating.

“[United] are the champions of Australia for a good reason.

“They were never going to stay down the bottom. I don’t think anyone ever thought they weren’t going to turn it around or rediscover their form and be a side that is seriously going to threaten the top six this year.”

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Header Image Credit: Western United


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