Falling further adrift of the top six after their 1-0 loss to Brisbane Roar, the challenges facing A-League debutants Western United are becoming increasingly stark.
Mirza Muratovic's 61st-minute winner on Sunday drove the dagger through a dour United performance and compounded what has been a tough stretch for the green and black and left them four points back of the finals places.
Following their 2-0 triumph over Brisbane in round 10, United have only won – and perhaps only looked good in – a single game; their 3-0 victory over bottom-placed Central Coast Mariners.
After a promising start to life in which their talented – but ageing – squad brought both a fresh style of football to the A-League on their way to securing a number of impressive early results, it's a disappointing letdown.
The grind of the campaign, short as it may be in comparison to other competitions around the world, seems to be taking its toll.
Since their December 13 win over Roar, Ersan Gülüm, Scott McDonald, Connor Chapman, and assistant coach John Hutchinson have all left the club, while regulars Alessandro Diamanti, Andrew Durante, Brendan Hamill, Aaron Calver, Panagiotis Kone, and Dario Jertec have all battled various degrees of injury.
Tomoki Imai, Tomislav Uskok, and Oskar Dillon were all added during the January transfer window, while youngsters such as Dylan Pierias, Joshua Cavallo and Thiel Iradukunda were given greater roles.
“We’re a different team than we were at the start of the season, that goes without saying,” Rudan said post Roar defeat.
“But that’s not to say we shouldn’t be competitive, especially against a team that’s fighting for that finals position.”
Of course, guiding an expansion side was never going to be an easy proposition.
On short notice - United received a licence in December 2018 and Rudan officially came aboard in May 2019 - an identity needs to be formed, a vision created, game style and tactics implemented, cohesion found, and chemistry amongst a disparate group of newly signed players built
Such circumstances are going to come with some form of trial and error, especially when a number of the players on the books arrived at the club prior to the coach entrusted with overseeing their exploits.
But even Rudan didn’t expect it to be quite this difficult.
“It’s been a lot harder,” he said. “I’ve spoken to coaches who have been part of new organisations and start-up clubs, you didn’t kind of envision it would be this hard.
“There’s been a lot of changes, and there’s been a lot of changes at the top as well - structurally. With that comes new ideas and different ways of doing things, we’ve had to readjust.