This time last year Western United were on the verge of reshaping the club, having missed the finals and following the final two months of the season which they went without a win.
However 12 months on and the club are a contender to take out the A-League Men’s 2021-22 championship, with attacker Lachlan Wales a major contributor to getting the side back on track.
Coming across from Melbourne City in December 2020, the 24-year-old has impressed this season with United. Finishing the home and away season having registered 26 appearances and nine goal contributions, Wales says he’s enjoyed his time at United thus far and is eager to be part of a grand final in the coming weeks.
“It’s been good coming in and having a good season, and for the team to be doing really well it’s been a good year,” Wales told Kick360.
“It’s been a bit unfortunate we’ve had a few injuries at the back end of the season and we couldn’t quiet get the Premiers Plate in the end. But hopefully we can just recharge now and get a few boys back and push for the grand final.”
Having experienced a large player and coaching turnover during the offseason, many expected United to miss the finals as the club looked to rebuild. Though the side have bounced back massively this season.
Wales saying while pundits wrote United off, he and the playing squad believed they were good enough to play finals.
“Last year at one stage I think we were sitting third, we lost eight or nine games in a row at the back end of the year which [caused] a bit of rebuild for the club,” he said
“But I knew we had top players here, the coaching staff with [John] Aloisi and Hayden Foxe coming in was a fresh start for a lot of the boys. We believed, and I don’t think anyone picked us to play finals, and even when were up there [on top of the ladder] this season no one talked about us.
“We like that sort of underdog tag, [the] two other teams in Melbourne sort of seem to take the spotlight, we’re happy just going under the radar when we play these big games.
“It’ll be a good test against Wellington, they’re a good team, they beat us last time we played and we’ll watch tape and make sure [this time] we get the win.”
Playing an entirely different attacking line-up, it was expected to to take time for Wales and Connor Pain to gel with new boys Dylan Wenzel-Halls and Aleksandar Prijovic. Though the four wherever positioned, have proved to be dangerous players, complimenting each other well.
Wales says being familiar with some of his teammates sped up the gelling process.
“I’ve played with Wenzel-Halls in the Olyroos set up, so to have a few camps with him I knew what he was like as soon as I got here. I played with Connor Pain at the Mariners and played with him for the three or four seasons I was there,” he said.
“I knew a lot about them, but Prijovic [also] came in and he’s done pretty well in his first season and hopefully he can score some goals in the finals.”
Despite his impressive form in attack, Wales wouldn’t score his first goal of the campaign until late into the season. Though when he did, it would come in his greatest performance of his career thus far.
Playing against the Perth Glory in Round 24 down in Tasmania, Wales would net a hat-trick in the opening half. Reflecting back on the game, Wales said it was nice to get rewarded for effort, having been in good form up to the point.
“I think I’d been playing pretty well even last season without having a bit of luck [scoring] in front of goal, and [I was] more creating chances for the team,” he said.
“That first goal against the Glory created the confidence to [continue to] get off the mark and the next couple flew off the boot and got myself a hat-trick.
“It’s funny how football works, you can go without a goal and once you get one goal it seems like you can’t miss. It’s what you want as a striker or as striker-winger, is to be contributing whether it’s assists or goals. Hopefully I can continue that coming into the finals.”
Having spent two seasons with Melbourne City, Wales would come close to becoming a champion having been part of the 2020 side which lost to Sydney in extra time in the grand final.
Heading into the finals series, Wales says the heart breaking loss will be a massive motivational factor.
“To get so close to winning an A-League Championship was pretty heart breaking [especially] to lose in extra time,” he said.
“It’s definitely motivation, I also lost a cup final when I was with City as well, so hopefully third time lucky and we can go on a bit of a run during the finals.
“If we win the grand final it will be an awesome experience and I think we’ve got a good group here that put in all year…I think we’re in the best possible place we can be in.
“You’ve got to enjoy these moments because it doesn’t happen every year [that] you’re going to be in the finals and get a great opportunity to write some history and be in the first [championship winning side] for Western United.”