Scott Neville and Tony Popovic have paid tribute to Western Sydney Wanderers forward Brendon Santalab saying his competitive streak and hunger for goals are on another level.
Santalab, who has been regularly deployed as a substitute in his four seasons with the Wanderers, has started the Red-and-Blacks’ past two matches and found the net in both.
The 34-year-old has four goals for the campaign to sit equal second in the race for the Golden Boot behind Melbourne City’s Bruno Fornaroli (6 goals), who struck twice in the opening match of Remembrance Round on Thursday night.
Speaking to reporters on Friday ahead of Saturday’s clash with Melbourne Victory, Neville revealed the hunger Santalab has to score goals.
“He’s just a natural goalscorer, you know. He’d tackle his own mum for a goal,” the Wanderers full-back said.
“That’s what he loves – scoring goals. He’s not happy unless he’s scoring goals and even at training, he’ll slide in to score a tap-in and he’ll run off and celebrate.
“So he just loves it and he’s just a fiery player that we need and we love having around. He’s a great character.”
Popovic has picked Santalab as his central striker in draws against Central Coast Mariners and Perth Glory after dropping Kerem Bulut for the latter’s output at training.
While Bulut has been added to the Wanderers’ extended squad for Saturday night’s match against Victory, Popovic remained tight-lipped on the 24-year-old’s immediate playing future.
Though Western Sydney’s boss was more forthcoming when discussing Santalab’s form.
“Yeah, he’s been great,” Popovic said.
“He’s doing everything that we expect from Brendon and we expect that to continue, whether he starts or whether he comes off the bench.”
The Wanderers will head south to Etihad Stadium having failed to win in their past three games, with each fixture ending in a draw.
Western Sydney have opened the scoring in each of those matches against Glory, the Mariners and Newcastle Jets but have failed to hold on for victory.
“First halves we start really strong and we take the lead and there’s probably a 15-minute period in every game so far where we haven’t controlled the game and it’s costing us,” Neville said.
The Wanderers’ only win of the season so far was in Round 2 when they came from behind to defeat Adelaide United 2-1.