By Lance Jenkinson
Western United is drifting further away from the light at the end of the tunnel.
United’s post-Christmas A-League form line makes for dire reading with just one win, one draw and five losses.
The goals have dried up for United in the past three rounds, including Friday night’s 2-0 loss to Wellington Phoenix in Wellington.
It has seen United’s top six chances significantly dwindle as they are now five points back from sixth place with eight games to play.
Western United coach Mark Rudan is trying to stay upbeat and is holding on to anything remotely positive in his side’s performances during a tough run.
After a hellish first half against the Phoenix, United at least fought it out in the second half and had moments where they looked like they could steal a point.
“The attitude and the effort in the second half was fantastic and that’s what we want to see,” Rudan said.
“We couldn’t finish off all those entries into the final third, not through a lack of trying.
Certainly the first half was a charge of the light brigade.
“They were just at us non stop.”
All that stood in the way of Western United and a heavy defeat was stellar goalkeeping from Filip Kurto.
Could Kurto take out the A-League goalkeeper of the year award for a second season running?
After making a succession of tough saves from well drilled shots, Kurto came undone by Phoenix winger Liberato Cacace in the 29th minute.
It is debatable whether Cacace’s shot was in fact a shot as it appeared as though it could have been a cross that slewed off the side of his boot and inside the far post.
Only Cacace will know his intentions and it mattered little as it put the Phoenix up and deservedly so after their dominant first half.
The second half was encouraging from Western United as it had the home side pinned to their back third for much of the half.
Tomoki Imai and Connor Pain were driving forces for United, while Max Burgess was lively after replacing the injured Panagiotis Kone, who hurt a forearm.
While United had many incursions into the front third, there was a serious disconnect with striker Besart Berisha, who barely had a sniff of goal and grew more and more frustrated with the sub-standard service.
Despite the lean times in the new year, Rudan is not one to wave the white flag and expects his team to continue pushing hard for finals.
Western United will host Central Coast Mariners – the only side United have beaten in 2020 – at GMHBA Stadium on Sunday at 4pm.
Meanwhile, local teams are starting to be drip fed into the FFA Cup.
West Point’s experience was short-lived, pummeled 5-0 by Albert Park on neutral territory in the second qualifying round at McIvor Reserve on Saturday.
Truganina Hornets will enter the competition against Old Camberwell Grammarians this weekend, while Laverton will host Chelsea, Barnstoneworth United will take on Kings Domain and Balmoral and Melbourne City will square off in an all-west affair.