After shipping six goals in their last two matches, United’s training focus has been to plug gaps in defence, with vice-captain Michael Thwaite confident that rearguard issues have been addressed.
“One of the things we spoke about after the Melbourne game was the fact that we can’t expect to win games if we’re conceding three goals,” Thwaite said.
“We were getting numbers behind the ball but not tracking runners the way we should or marking as tightly as we should.
“But we’ve worked on our shape all week and we’re confident that we’ll be a different defensive proposition on Friday night.”
Gold Coast will be a different proposition up front as well this weekend with the return of leading scorer Shane Smeltz, who will resume his highly productive partnership with Joel Porter at the pointy end of United’s attack.
Also set for a return is midfield general, Robson, who has seen significant improvement in his injured knee this week. Key to United’s shape in the centre of the field, his return will lift the rest of the squad, says Thwaite.
“Hopefully, there will be a couple of key players returning to the side this week and that will give everyone a boost.
“Shane is a quality striker and it will be great to have him back in the side. His partnership with Joel was working really well before Joel got injured and it’s great news for us that they are both back.
“Despite the two losses we’re still top of the table so there’s plenty of positives there for us and we can get back on track this week.
“The ladder is very tight and we have an opportunity this week to secure another three points and set ourselves up for another good run,” Thwaite said.
Doubts that Dutch central defender Bas Van Den Brink would miss the game with the flu have eased with the big blond defender improving by the day and slated to train fully on Thursday afternoon.
Definitely out though are Steve Pantelidis and Steve Fitzsimmons, who are both suspended for one match. Pantelidis has accumulated five yellow cards for the season and Fitzsimmons misses out due to the red card he received last weekend against Melbourne Victory.
Dynamic midfielder Zenon Caravella is also sidelined for another week as Miron Bleiberg keeps him in cotton wool for next week’s clash with Brisbane Roar, a game in which United will have to do without skipper Jason Culina, who will be on international duty.
But the potential return of Robson is good news for the United Head Coach, who is looking to the whole team to focus more on their defensive duties.
“We have to train on Thursday afternoon and see how Robson is, but I’m increasingly confident that he can come back this week,” Bleiberg said.
He continued: “We want to be championship contenders and we can’t afford to concede three goals in a game. We have to improve in that department and that’s what we’ve concentrated on this week.
“Scoring goals is not the problem for us, so if we tighten up at the back then the sky is the limit.
“The players need no motivational talks from me about the importance of this game. They know what they have to do and their determination has been obvious all week.
“The loss to Melbourne hurt them and they all want to bounce back very quickly. The fact that we are playing on Friday is good for the players because the game can’t come soon enough for them. They are very hungry.”