Western United exit FFA Cup, but unearth a diamond in the process

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It’s not often that the losing team has much to smile about, but that was the case for Western United fans.

Tuesday night’s undeserved 1-0 loss at home to Wellington Phoenix saw the re-emergence of young gun Christian Theoharous.

The Phoenix managed to score with their only shot on target for the entire game.

On the flip side, United dominated every statistical category for the first time this season. Despite a starting 11 that featured no players from the win against Melbourne City on Saturday, the home side looked ready to progress into the FFA Cup round of 16.

However, it was not meant to be.

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Head coach John Aloisi was full of praise for his young team, despite the defeat.

“Obviously we’re upset about not progressing, but the young boys performed really well. We dominated the first half, we controlled the game and had a lot of chances. We created a lot of good openings” he said.

“I’m really pleased with a lot of the performances of our young players. A few of them haven’t even tasted any A-League football, so for them to perform like that was very pleasing.”

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Despite the loss, the biggest takeaway for the small crowd in attendance will be the return of Theoharous. The 22-year-old had spent the past two-and-a-half years at Borussia Monchengladbach in Germany, after a standout season with Melbourne Victory.

Playing 18 times for the A-League Men champions during the 2017/18 campaign, the winger made a name for himself and managed to secure a dream transfer to Germany.

Whilst injury interrupted his final season overseas, he managed to play 26 games for the club’s second team, resulting in four goals and two assists.

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His return to form will be a massive boost to hopes of a return to finals this season. Ageing superstar Alessandro Diamanti has been relied on too heavily to create chances, which has been reflected in performances.

Despite the win against Melbourne City, Diamanti was well-marshalled by Aiden O’Neill. In that game, Western United only had one shot on target.

It is similar tale to round one against Melbourne Victory. In a game where Diamanti was only free to roam inside his own half, United were limited to just three shots on target in the loss.

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This is why Theoharous’ return to the starting side is so critical.

In what was his first game of the season, he was the mastermind behind the majority of attacks in the first half.

The sixth minute saw the skillful winger pick up the ball near the half-way line, beat two men and cut the ball back to Dylan Pierias at the penalty spot, whose shot was well saved by Oliver Sail.

For the first time this season without Diamanti, United looked just as dangerous. They managed six shots on target, their second most so far this camapiagn.

“In the first half he was really impressive,” Aloisi said of Theoharous.

“He caused Louis Fenton – who’s a top A-League player – some issues and created some really good chances for our players. It was good to see him play and he’ll only get better.”

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The challenge now revolves around finding him a spot in the starting eleven. With an abundance of attacking talent, Aloisi has a difficult job on his hands and stopped short of guaranteeing him a place in the first team this weekend.

“We’ll have to wait and see. He needs to keep performing and keep working and developing his fitness. I’m sure that if he keeps performing like this in training, then chances will come in the first team,” he said.

With the FFA Cup campaign over and stars – Aleksandar Prijovic and Rene Khrin – set to return from injury, the pursuit of game time will be difficult for Theoharous.

However, his return to form should settle the nerves of all Western United fans that are concerned about the team’s reliance on an ageing 38-year-old Italian superstar.

Wellington may have won the game, but United look set to have a future superstar on their hands.

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Dillon Izon
Marketing graduate at Monash University. Sports addicted, fan of Manchester United and Melbourne City. My gran “knows” Gareth Bale.

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