Tough: Defender Dean Heffernan. Photo: Vince Caligiuri
The rotation policy of Western Sydney Wanderers' coach Tony Popovic might be under increasing fire but defender Dean Heffernan insists the players are behind it.
The Wanderers left a trio of stars - key striker Tomi Juric, marquee Shinji Ono and winger Youssouf Hersi - on the bench for the clash with Melbourne Victory, one which could have stretched the gap between the clubs to nine points if the visitors had won.
Instead, the 3-1 loss has shrunk the gulf to just three points, giving Victory hope of snaring a top-two position.
But while Popovic's insistence on changing players each week has drawn criticism in some quarters, Heffernan says the players understand. ''It's all part of the plan 'Popa' has for the team and we fully support him,'' Heffernan said. ''With the amount of games we have coming up, factoring in the Asian Champions League and the travel, you need to move things around.
''Every game is different in his eyes. He's got a different plan for each team and different players who he thinks can get the job done and that's what he goes with. To be honest, most of the time he gets it right.''
Heffernan said it wasn't always a matter of rotating for the sake of it.
''Some weeks people think the squad is being needlessly rotated but players are often carrying niggles or need a rest. The boss has a very clear plan, it's one we understand,'' he said. ''We're coming second, we're still doing well. All 23 players are going to be better for it when the finals come and when the Champions League comes as well.''
Some pointed to the quick three-day turnaround as hurting the Wanderers' chances in Melbourne but Heffernan felt it wasn't a factor.
''It was a pretty short turnaround [four days] for the Victory as well,'' he said.
Despite the rotations, Heffernan is actually one player who perhaps hasn't benefited as much as others, with Adam D'Apuzzo locked into left-back virtually every week, meaning Heffernan has started only twice - the second time coming against the Victory.
The 33-year-old could be forgiven for wanting more game time but he's in no panic.
''I'd love to be playing more, for sure, but at the same time I knew when I signed that I was coming to the champions, the team that broke all the records last year and all the players did extremely well,'' he said. ''It was always going to be tough getting into the back four and anywhere on the park, really.''
The Wanderers are again on the road this weekend as they head to Hindmarsh Stadium to face Adelaide United on Sunday.
The Reds appear to have overcome a difficult early season spell and are full of confidence after their shock 2-1 win over Brisbane Roar last Saturday night.