Newcastle Jets 2 Sydney FC 1
| One win, one draw and now a loss for the Oceania Club Champions in the A-League. |
Evidently, this ain’t going to be as easy as some predicted.
The two-hour journey to Newcastle was no deterrent for the Cove faithful, and the support from Bay 10 (the furthest bay in the ground, requiring a half-kilometre walk from the western gate…such is the fate of the away supporter at Energy Australia Stadium) was tremendous. The “Squadron”, located on the southern hill, were perhaps the first supporter group in the league to suffer the ignominy of being outsung by the opposition fans – and in a game their team ended up winning, at that!
When your correspondent arrived, in fact, the first sound that greeted him was a concerted vocal effort from one of the queues at the gate (for four tiny ticket booths that closely resembled jail cells). Some locals getting in some pre-game practice? No, it was the ever-boisterous Cove, showing the residents of the Hunter that, off-field at least, the boys from the big smoke would be in the ascendant.
Much of the Newcastle organisation, it must be said, left a little to be desired. Apart from the aforementioned queues moving with all the speed of an arthritic tortoise at times, the signposting inside the stadium was, in a word, minimal, requiring either ESP or close questioning of the curiously-positioned ground staff in order to find one’s bay.
The Sydney FC team was announced – no Yorke, not surprisingly; more of a surprise was the omission of David Carney. Again, it would be Ufuk Talay operating on the left-hand side of midfield, with Robbie Middleby’s fine goal against New Zealand earning him a starting place on the right. In the continued absence of Mark Milligan, Matt Bingley again filled the right-back slot. The Newcastle team was announced soon after…giving the Cove a perfect opportunity for a prolonged boo as the name and image of Ned Zelic appeared on the screen.
The start of the game was marked by the hilarious sight of the sprinklers on the northern side of the ground springing into life after only a minute’s play; the always inventive Cove broke into an immediate ditty to the effect that our friends from the Hunter always adopted ploys like this. Half-serious? After all, Sydney FC were defending the northern goal in the first half…
The Cove were, as it happened, doing all the singing until a quick goal for Newcastle, after an inconclusive first few minutes, made the locals erupt into life. Ned Zelic, perhaps fittingly, was centrally involved, along with Nick Carle – who had a superb evening – but the goal was scored by Ante Milicic, showing admirable poise and deftness as he executed a quick one-two with Carle before chipping expertly over Bolton. 1-0, and the Cove fell temporarily silent.
Not for long, though. The residents of Bay 10 found comfort in the fact that at least “We don’t have to live here”!
Sydney FC’s players tried to cheer their supporters up, but their efforts met with little success. A few corners, one or two good moves, but yet again the lack of width in Littbarski’s side was glaringly apparent. Middleby, the only putative winger, was engaged in a right royal battle with the Newcastle fullback Corbo; their first “encounter” had resulted in a brief all-in semi-brawl; their second, on thirteen minutes, resulted in a yellow card for Middleby.
Newcastle had looked the more dangerous side, and on eighteen minutes they broke through once more. Carle was centrally involved again, sliding the ball down the left for Milicic, who cut the ball back for Johnson. The Sydney midfield were scattered to the four winds, and Johnson’s shot beat the diving left hand of Bolton.
The rest of the half was joyless, from a Sydney FC point of view. Zdrilic put a volley well over the top on 22 minutes, Petrovski’s snap shot seven minutes later went well wide. The mood of the Cove was not helped by occasional beer showers from the corporate box above, nor by an incorrect 3-0 scoreline on the northern board.
Although Newcastle too lost some cohesion towards the end of the half, Littbarski became concerned enough about Sydney’s play to make two changes before half-time; Packer came on for Bingley, who had failed to dampen the Cove’s affection for the absent Mark Milligan, while Middleby, largely ineffective, was replaced by Dwight Yorke. Cue instant cheering from Bay 10.
The kickoff for the second half saw Mark Rudan, bizarrely, stationed in an outside-right role. Although it was only a temporary ploy, the big defender would indeed be used in a forward role later in the half. Dwight Yorke was immediately in the thick of things; after a pleasing but fruitless exchange of passes with Petrovski in the box in the opening minute of the half, he went close with a header from a deep cross from Andrew Packer. The subsequent shouts of “Yorkie, Yorkie!” from the Cove will no doubt be heard quite regularly this season…
Sydney were showing far greater purpose in the second half, although Newcastle looked intermittnetly dangerous on the break; Bolton was called into action in the 55th minute, making a smart save from Thompson after a cross from the left by the ever-dangerous Carle. A minute later Petrovski, who had been toiling valiantly up front again, was booked for a “dive” inside the Newcastle box. “Yer not in England anymore!” yelled one of the Newcastle fans, betraying either ignorance of Petrovski’s club career or extremely poor eyesight.
Steve Corica had once again been one of Sydney FC’s better performers, but on 70 minutes a moment of madness saw his night end prematurely. A crunching challenge on Mark Bridge – a substitute for the tiring Milicic – resulted in a straight red card. In the ensuing melee, Mateo Corbo, already on a yellow card thanks to his niggly battle with Middleby in the first half, foolishly earned himself a second yellow, to the undisguised fury of Richard Money. 10 vs. 10.
The arrival of Carney on 75 minutes, replacing the hard-working but inconsistent Ufuk Talay, sparked a brief Sydney revival which yielded a fine goal. The Cove, very quiet on the seventy-five minute mark, roared back into life as a result.
Dwight Yorke’s main contribution up to that point had consisted of a number of crossfield passes whose aesthetic appeal was not matched by their effectiveness; however, after a knockdown by Petrovski on the edge of the six-yard box, Yorke found time for a fine cross-shot, which flew past Reddy’s right hand.
Although Carney’s status as winger went out the window in the tactical chaos of the final ten minutes, his impact was palpable. On 82 minutes, he was fouled just outside the Newcastle box; Yorke’s subsequent free kick, sadly, slammed into the Jets’ wall. McFlynn moved into the centre of defence as the tall Rudan joined Petrovski and Zdrilic up front in the hunt for a cross to latch on to; unfortunately, Sydney’s delivery from the wings had been too predictable all night, and the centre-half pairing of Zelic and Picken had dealt adequately with high crosses throughout the evening.
Sydney’s challenge petered out. A free kick from Carney from the left in the final minute was wasted, and Newcastle had no problems dealing with the Sydney attempts thereafter. 2-1 it finished; a loss which could, in fact, have been heavier, as Newcastle had failed to make the most of many good breakaways in the second half.
A serious rethink of Sydney’s midfield organisation is required, in your correspondent’s opinion. We have looked too narrow in all three games so far, and have not managed to switch the play to the flanks with any fluency. Our defence is still vulnerable to pace, and David Zdrilic, although deserving of some sympathy (he is still, clearly, not fully fit) has not looked up to scratch of late.
Your move, Pierre.
Sydney FC: Bolton; Bingley (Packer), Rudan, Fyfe, Ceccoli; Talay (Carney), McFlynn, Corica, Middleby (Yorke); Petrovski, Zdrilic.
mikey @ syndeyfc-unofficial.com