An uncharacteristic night at the office for Western United’s back four didn’t make for a strong start to their 2022/23 A-League Men campaign.
Notoriously stingy in their inaugural championship season, giving up just 30 goals, the second lowest in the competition, those structures looked to matter little in the loss to Melbourne City.
John Aloisi’s men lined up just as they did many times in their title-winning run – Tomoki Imai and Leo Lacroix at centre-back, with captain Josh Risdon and Ben Garuccio as the full-backs.
Such was the towering Lacroix’s influence in his first season in Australia that he was named in the 2021/22 Team of the Season.
But Friday night couldn’t have gone much worse for the Swiss import, as he was caught out a number of times by the City forwards. This included Jamie Maclaren picking his pocket for the easiest of scores.
Speaking post-game, Aloisi spoke on what he hopes was just an off night for the 30-year-old.
“Maybe [Lacroix] wasn’t at his best tonight, but it’s one performance,” the coach said.
“I don’t know what to put it down to but it was unlike Leo. Let’s hope Leo is better in the next game. If he is, we know with a good Leo Lacroix we’re a very, very good side.
“They got a lift when Leo got caught dribbling the ball in an area where normally he wouldn’t.
“Second half, I thought that we came out and started to gain control of the ball. Then we gave away another goal that I thought was really unlike us. After that, we’re chasing a little bit.
“It wasn’t his night tonight, and I’m sure he’ll recover and rebound for the next game.”
In a scramble in front of the net, Lacroix also couldn’t clear an Andrew Nabbout header off the goal line, giving the home team their first of the night.
One of the few positives of his night were his contributions from set pieces, finding multiple shots on goal from corners and free kicks.
This perhaps spoke to the lack of a forward focal point in Aleksandar Prijovic, who wasn’t yet fit to return to the squad.
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It was a rotten night overall for the centre-backs, as Imai was subbed off to begin the second half after suffering an AC joint injury.
Veteran Nikolai Topor-Stanley came on to replace him, and offered a slightly more settled look in defence. United was able to play from the back significantly easier, barely finding any ball out of defence into the front third in the first half.
Aloisi touched on the loss of Imai mid-game and how it changed the defensive make-up.
“[Imai’s] AC joint popped out, so it doesn’t look too good for Tomoki,” the coach said.
“We just have to wait and see how serious, but it wasn’t good. He wanted to play on… but Topor-Stanley came in and he did well again. We felt we were playing out a little bit better in the second half.
“It’s part of football. We’ll move on and make sure whoever comes in will do a good job.”
Playing through the full-backs didn’t offer much solace either, as Risdon couldn’t find teammates in City’s half, particularly late.
Jamie Young shored up the back four significantly, saving seven shots in some truly freakish displays of athleticism.
Forward of centre, Lachie Wales looked to be building some early chemistry with new signing James Troisi, who moved from the Western Sydney Wanderers in the off-season.
But the pair ultimately couldn’t add to the scores, with substitute Nicolas Milanovic scoring after being brought on for Wales.
After finding the net throughout the pre-season, Aloisi was happy with the spark he added in a game that could have well been all but over.
“[Nicolas Milanovic] wasn’t on for too long, but he gave us a presence in the box,” he said.
“He took the goal well, he has been doing really well in pre-season. If he’s called upon we’re hoping he’ll perform.”
Western United will aim to bounce back next week on Sunday, October 16 against Sydney FC for their first home game of the season.
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