Goal ace Santalab faces selection battle

He delivered Josep Gombau’s first victory in charge of Western Sydney Wanderers last week, but striker Brendon Santalab could find himself dropped from the starting line-up for their trip to Newcastle on Friday night.

The veteran scored one goal and set up another as the Wanderers snapped their winless streak to beat Central Coast Mariners 2-0 on Saturday night, but Santalab is no certainty to retain his place in the first team.

He scored the opener with a powerful drive from outside the box before creating a goal for Alvaro Cejudo in the second half to seal their first three points since the opening day of the season.

In spite of his form, the 35-year-old could be forced to start from the bench, with Spanish marquee Oriol Riera back to full fitness and in contention to return to the starting line-up.

A decision won’t be made until match day, but Gombau says the battle between the two centre-forwards is among the toughest choices he will make over his starting line-up.

“Look, it’s a good problem to have, two No.9s in a good way. The season is very long, the game has 90 minutes. We’ll see tomorrow who will start, but I am happy to have these two players as a No.9 in my team,” Gombau said.

“It’s something that we’ll see today in training and we’ll make a decision tomorrow. He [Riera] is fit, he’s 100 per cent, he can do the job also, and he’s available to play tomorrow.”

Wanderers have identified Dimitri Petratos as the man to stop on Friday night, and goalkeeper Vedran Janjetovic says the coaching staff have prepared to target Newcastle’s attacking midfielder.

Given Petratos’ ability from set pieces and distance, Wanderers’ goalkeepers have been put on notice about Petratos’ threat and have trained specifically to stop the 25-year-old.

“Petratos has been unbelievable for them, so I think we just have to keep him in lockdown,” Janjetovic said. “You look at him and collectively the whole team. But like you said, he does have a good strike on him, so we’ll do our homework, so we’ve been watching a few videos this week.”

The Wanderers goalkeeper is coming off contract at the season’s end but is yet to open talks for a renewal. Janjetovic is one of 13 players in the final six months of their deal with Western Sydney and is hoping to begin discussions in the new year to stay next season and beyond.

“Shortly we’ll come to some sort of agreement. I’d love to stay, I love the club, so I’m not fussed at the moment,” he said.

Meanwhile, Western Sydney won’t join several other A-League clubs in refusing to release players for the AFC Under-23 Championship in January, after Gombau assured Football Federation his three players will take part with his blessing.

Adelaide United and Central Coast Mariners are leading a fight against FFA to retain their players for January, on the grounds the tournament falls outside an international window and is not significant, in their opinion.

However, the Wanderers coach has no issues with Jonathan Aspropotamitis, Keanu Baccus and Jaushua Sotirio travelling to China, even though they will miss between three and five games.

“I am happy as a coach that they have this experience, they will come back here with more experience,” Gombau said.