Ruben Zadkovich is backing his young squad to go toe-to-toe with Melbourne Victory in Wednesday evening’s ISUZU UTE A-League clash at HBF Park (kick-off at 7.05pm, tickets HERE).
Tony Popovic’s men will arrive in the west looking to extend a seven-game unbeaten run and in doing so, cement their place in the top four.
But despite a host of senior players again set to miss out due to injury, Zadkovich believes his squad are well and truly up for the challenge.
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“As a group, we’re going to stick together really tight; I’m big on that,” he said.
“The boys have been fantastic, the mood, the energy and the mentality have been super and we won’t take a backward step.
“We’re at home… we’ll go into the game as massive underdogs and we’ll take that tag and run with it.
“There’s 12 or 13 boys unavailable and they’re top-class, starting players at this level, but we’ve been dealt this hand and we’re going to deal with it as best we can.
“It’s a difficult time for the group and they’re hurting.
“They’re working really hard, the ones that are there on the pitch and the ones that are injured are working extremely hard to get back, but this is a product of circumstance.
“It’s been an extremely difficult year for the group and for the club and now we’re in this position where we just have to keep picking up the pieces and go into battle each week, or every four days.”
The Head Coach confirmed that attacking trio Andy Keogh, Daniel Sturridge and Bruno Fornaroli will all miss out once again, while the likes of Kosuke Ota, Luke Bodnar and Brandon O’Neill also remaining sidelined.
Their ongoing absence, however, has paved the way for PGFC Academy graduates such as Trent Ostler, Joshua Anasmo, Tyler Vecchio and Joseph Forde to debut in recent weeks and Zadkovich is set to continue giving the club’s promising youngsters opportunities to shine on the senior stage.
“We’re going to keep blooding as many young ones as we can towards the end of this season and not just because we want to, but because we have to take player welfare into consideration,” he said.
“The fixture-list is almost beyond a joke in reality and the best way to manage that is to make sure we don’t send anyone out there who isn’t fit to play.
“So we’ll keep having a tinker with the squad and there are some other quality young players at this club that will put their hands up.
“I’ll roll my sleeves up, give them the information and the detail they need to go out and there and try and be successful and there won’t be any excuses from me.”
Zadkovich went on to stress that there have been encouraging signs in the side’s last three performances against Newcastle, Wellington and Macarthur.
“What I want to create is a high-performance environment and I don’t think we’re there yet,” he said, “so I’m trying to change as much as I can as quickly as I can.
“With the ball we can be a lot better, we need to have a clear identity and a clear playing style and we’re trying to do that.
“We definitely improved with the ball against Macarthur, but the habits of some of the players in the group are still to play long when they don’t need to and they turn the ball over needlessly.
“So I’m going to keep stressing to them the playing style that I want and I’m going to keep implementing that in layers, bit by bit, but it’s going to take time.
“If you talk about the defensive stuff, there are habits engrained in some players that need to be broken and you don’t break habits overnight and you certainly don’t break them with one training session every four days before a game.
“I have realistic expectations about how difficult it is for the playing group without spending the time on the grass and not having the time to implement that change.
“That’s part of the long-term plan.”
Victory, of course, will contain a number of familiar faces in their ranks given the number of ex-Glory players whom Popovic has reunited in navy and white and Zadkovich is under no illusions about the threat they will pose at HBF Park.
“They’re one of the biggest clubs in Australia with a coach who knows exactly what he wants,” he said.
“He’s gone and signed players who play the way he wants to play, so again, they’re going to be well-structured and well-disciplined, they’re hard-working, they’re fit and they have high-quality players in key areas.”
Wednesday will mark the 50th A-League meeting between the two clubs who have each recorded 19 wins apiece.
Popovic’s side have claimed three wins on the road this term, against Western United and Adelaide United (twice) and they boast the best defensive record in the competition having conceded only 20 goals in 18 games.
Former Glory man Nick D’Agostino is their leading scorer with seven goals, while Marco Rojas has provided four assists and Ivan Kelava has kept four clean sheets.
As a group, we’re going to stick together really tight; I’m big on that.
The boys have been fantastic, the mood, the energy and the mentality have been super and we won’t take a backward step.
We’re at home… we’ll go into the game as massive underdogs and we’ll take that tag and run with it.