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Santalab vows caution but no fear for WSW

NZN 21/01/2017 Emma Kemp

The "horrible" feeling of receiving his first A-League red card will be firmly in Brendon Santalab's mind when he returns from suspension for Western Sydney.

But while pledging to never again give any referee cause to show him a second, the polarising striker won't approach Sunday's must-win clash with Newcastle at Campbelltown Stadium in fear of being booked.

Santalab is back in the Wanderers' line-up after three frustrating weeks on the sidelines, his punishment for violent conduct against Brisbane defender Jade North, along with an accrual of five yellow cards.

While his passionate, no-holds-barred style and penchant for goals make him a fan favourite, the 34-year-old's aggression has at times been dangerously close to the edge.

And a day after Tony Popovic challenged his veteran star for better control of his "over-exuberance", Santalab admitted his coach might have a point.

"It was my first red card in the A-League and the feeling was horrible - I never want to feel that again," Santalab told AAP.

"I'm a very passionate player - we all know that.

"There's never any intent or malice in my challenges, even though sometimes it might look like that.

"I won't lose that passion and aggression, but it's about making sure I give the referee no option.

"That's up to me and the way I go into challenges.

"But I won't go into the game in fear of receiving cards because that would distract me from my performance."

Santalab's return will be sweet relief to last season's grand finalists, who have dropped to eighth and desperately need to topple a confident Jets side two points ahead in seventh.

The absence of the Wanderers' leading scorer this campaign has only heightened the club's goal woes - they've scored once in their past three games.

Santalab is duly anxious to add to his six-goal tally, whether in the starting XI or off the bench.

Either way, he concedes a win is non-negotiable given a loss could put them as many as five points outside the top six.

"Definitely, it's a huge game," Santalab said.

"We're in a position where no club wants to be and we need to dig our way out of that.

"With the Jets being on the fringe of the six as well, it makes this match all that more important.

"We need to push ourselves into the top six, and hopefully top four, come the back end of the season, then really peak during the finals."

STATS THAT MATTER:

* Western Sydney are undefeated in their past four games against Newcastle

* Only once has either team managed to score more than two goals - a 3-0 Wanderers win in March 2013

* Dimas is the only player in the league to have made more than 1000 passes; his 1034 is nearly twice as many as the highest-ranked Jets player (Steven Ugarkovic 552)

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