139 days since they last played together in a league match, the Wollongong Wolves will finally take to the field for their FFA Cup Round of 32 match on Saturday.
After the state was plunged into lockdown, Football New South Wales made the difficult decision to cancel all NPL competitions at the start of August.
With the Cup fast approaching, Australia’s knockout tournament between the best teams country wide, question marks were raised. Could it still go ahead at all?
Those worries were laid to rest when the Peninsula Power and Brisbane Roar went head to head on September 14, with the FFA committing to seeing out the tournament.
Victorian and New South Welsh teams were still left without definitive dates, however. It has given way to a November fixture jam packed with high calibre match ups between the best of the A-League and NPL competitions.
For striker Lachlan Scott and the Wolves, the break between matches just provides an additional challenge to overcome.
Opponents Mt Druitt Town Rangers are in the exact same position. Playing out of season has rubbed some the wrong way, but the Wolves are ready to embrace it.
“Everyone’s pretty excited about it,” Scott told The Inner Sanctum.
“I think you can tell in training too that everyone’s buzzing to be back, and everyone knows the task at hand.
“FFA Cup’s a good opportunity for us as players, especially for myself and some of the other younger boys in particular, we get a chance to go up and maybe win this and get an A-League team and put our skills on show a bit more, and maybe create an opportunity.
”It’s been about three or four weeks since our first initial training session [back]. Since then we’ve been training pretty full on and training pretty hard getting ready for this.”
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Key to Wollongong’s preparation leading into the match outside of training was a friendly with Sydney FC.
The Sky Blues and the Wolves did battle last Saturday, with the A-League side taking the spoils 2-0 in regulation time. A third 45 minutes was played to allow the whole squad to receive playing minutes, including a goal from Ben Giason.
While they would ultimately go down 4-1, Scott (captaining the side) saw it as an important step against one of the nation’s best.
“It was definitely a good game to kick us off intensity wise,” he said.
“They came out, and they knocked the ball around pretty well. I thought after the first 10-15 minutes we did pretty well to adjust to it too. We’ll take that high level of intensity and hopefully a bit of fitness going into this week.”
An unfriendly history
The recent history between the Wolves and the Rangers has been one of bombastic results on field in recent years.
Meeting twice in the NPL season before it was cancelled, they swapped 3-0 demolition jobs. Wollongong claimed the first of the two matches, with goals from Scott, 22-year-old Hamish Lamberton, and Darcy Madden.
But it’s the second and more recent result fresh in the minds of the Wolves, with Rangers forward Jack Stewart scoring a brace.
The two had even met in the preliminary qualifying rounds in 2019, with the Rangers claiming victory there too.
All this recent history sets the stage for a cutthroat match up come Saturday. Scott himself still has fresh wounds from an opportunity gone begging in their May hit out.
“That game [against the Rangers] probably wasn’t one of our best games in general,” Scott admitted.
“I thought we dominated early, we held the ball well and we did create good opportunities but we couldn’t score. Unfortunately that was a game where I missed a penalty at nil all, so I think that was a big factor as well.
“From there we just let it slip and gave away a few costly goals. We weren’t able to peg them back. In terms of footballing wise, I think we played the better football and we’ll hope to do that again on Saturday.”
While it continued to weigh on his mind at the time, focusing on leading his side and playing the best football he can is now Scott’s priority.
“I think it’s important just to forget about [the penalty] really. You’ve just got to move on from it and think about what’s the next task at hand.
“The longer you dwell over it, it might cost you another opportunity or you might not be in the right headspace to continue playing with confidence.
“I think it’s important to move on from it straight away and get yourself back into the game, and take the next chance.”
Though Scott outwardly presents a settled approach to Saturday, just getting there at all is a huge achievement for the club.
After qualifying but being unable to progress in 2014 and 2016, the match will be just the third time Wollongong has advanced to the Round of 32.
The first was absolute heartbreak against the Central Coast Mariners, giving up a goal in the 13th minute and never being able to peg it back past 1-0. The second, a 3-0 picking apart at the hands of Sydney.
Matched up against a fellow NPL side, this is their best chance to advance yet. Win, and the next task is the winner of a Victorian NPL match up between Hume City and Port Melbourne.
Scott is looking all across the pitch for players to make a name for themselves. Up front, players like Peter Simonoski and Leroy Jennings are raring to go, he says.
Japanese import Banri Kanaizumi has become an unbeatable fixture of the Wolves defence. No one is taking what this match means for the club lightly.
“Everyone realises that the FFA Cup is a pretty big thing,” Scott said.
“Reaching the Round of 32 is no easy feat, as you can tell by the history of it. I think we’ve got a bit of a chip on our shoulder, we want to show that we’re a team that can compete at this level, and a higher level as well.
“All the boys will be ready for that opportunity. We’ve been training hard and hopefully we go out and get what we deserve on Saturday, and in further rounds as well.”
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