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Injured Santalab sidelined for Reds clash

NZN 3/03/2017 Emma Kemp

Western Sydney have been dealt a sizeable blow in their bid to balance their precarious A-League finals position, losing their leading goalscorer Brendon Santalab to injury.

Crestfallen from their midweek 5-1 Asian Champions League pummelling in China and exhausted from four games in 11 days - three of those losses - the Wanderers must back up against Adelaide on Saturday.

Continental misery aside, last weekend's loss in Perth leaves no margin for domestic error with Newcastle, Wellington and Central Coast all vying for the coveted sixth spot.

The Wanderers hold it but only by two points and the battle is sure to intensify over the final six rounds.

In the same breath as coach Tony Popovic warned his squad that any hope of rescuing their impotent campaign hinged on a more ruthless attack, he revealed his only reliable source of goals would not be at Spotless Stadium to provide them.

Santalab watched from the sidelines as the Wanderers were torn apart by Shanghai SIPG's star Brazilian trio, with most assuming the veteran striker was simply being rested after going the full 90 minutes against the Glory.

It was only on the eve of the meeting with the Reds that the 34-year-old's condition became clear.

"We won't have Brendon Santalab, who will unfortunately miss this game due to a very minor injury," Popovic said.

"It's one that kept him out in China as well.

"There are always bumps and bruises from a busy schedule.

"We've got to check on a couple of players, but all in all I think everyone should be available apart from Brendon."

Santalab's absence opens the door for youngster Lachlan Scott to lead the line, given Ryan Griffiths played on Tuesday, Australian football's worst-ever night in Asia.

Despite going down 4-1 within the first half-hour, Popovic insisted the Wanderers competed with the Chinese Super League giants, citing an equal number of shots and entries into the box but lamenting a lack of cutting edge once there.

In their favour on Saturday is that the Reds have a day less to recover after their own 2-1 ACL loss at Jiangsu Suning on Wednesday night and are in a sorrier state than the Wanderers.

Guillermo Amor's last-placed defending champions are the only side with fewer goals (17) than the Wanderers (24) and Popovic stressed now was the time for a sharp turnaround.

"We have to," he said. "Only a couple of weeks ago we had a great performance in the Sydney derby, so we know it's within us to do that.

"We haven't been consistent enough, we haven't put the performances together.

"We've got to start again after the Perth defeat, which was a tough game for us away.

"We have an opportunity now with some home games coming up where we can get some momentum and results."

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