|There was absolutely no need for pre-game entertainment at WIN Stadium before the pre-season cup match between Sydney and Perth. A troupe of seagulls provided the spectators with a magnificent sight, flying around the ground in perfect formation as the players, in not-so-perfect formation, completed their warm-ups. |
The proximity of WIN Stadium to the beach meant that conditions were on the brisk side. The Cove, stationed on the eastern hill and badly exposed to the elements, suffered particularly. Around 200 of the sky blue faithful made their way down to the Illawarra, and they were to be rewarded with a fine performance from Terry Butcher’s team.
Sadly, the two major drawcards of the encounter were unavailable. Dwight Yorke was still nursing a groin strain, while Perth’s Stan Lazaridis had withdrawn on the day of the match, with an illness.
Nevertheless, the locals turned up in force. Half an hour before kickoff, it was impossible to find a vacant seat in the western stand, and the opening of the southern stand some twenty minutes later saw a veritable wave of Wollongong residents rushing for cover there.
It was a slightly unfamiliar Sydney FC line-up. Iain Fyfe occupied the right-back slot, displacing Mark Milligan, who lined up in central midfield alongside Terry McFlynn. Saso Petrovski started alone up front, with Steve Corica just in behind; Alex Brosque and David Carney occupied the flanks. Nikolai Topor-Stanley, Sydney’s favourite hyphenated footballer, once again started in the centre of defence.
Perth also deployed a lone striker, the ex-Wollongong Wolves player Stuart Young. He looked ill at ease in the role for much of the match, however, and the late arrival of Bobby Despotovski in the second half was welcomed by the few Glory supporters in attendance. The two Glory Kiwis, Adrian Webster and Leo Bertos, were both used on the right, in defence and midfield respectively.
The game took a while to get off the ground. Alex Brosque, lively from the outset, saw his deflected shot kept out on four minutes; in the ensuing melee, Petrovski too managed a shot, which flew wide.
Andrew Crews, the Glory’s new goalkeeper, was looking decidedly uncertain in the opening stages, but the alertness of Jamie Harnwell in the Perth defence ensured that he was rarely threatened in the opening quarter of an hour. At the other end, Mark Rudan, similarly quick-witted, prevented any mischief from the Perth attackers.
An error by Fyfe on nine minutes led to a smooth move from Perth on the break; at the conclusion of it, Naum Sekulovski’s sweetly-struck volley shaved the crossbar.
Carney, once again finding his right-wing position somewhat irksome, began drifting here, there and everywhere; after a few excursions out to the left flank, he settled on a position in the centre, just behind Petrovski. It was this move, above all, that set Sydney FC on the right path.
Alex Brosque always looked threatening on the left – his pace was far too much for the flustered Webster – and on 26 minutes he struck gold. A long ball was played up to Petrovski, who quickly laid it off for Carney; the blond midfielder’s exquisitely-weighted pass coincided with Brosque’s diagonal run from the left, and he was left with only Crews to beat. Scuffing his shot slightly, he watched with relief as it rolled, via a touch from the goalkeeper, gently over the line. 1-0 Sydney.
Only a minute later, the same three players again came up with the goods. This time it was Carney who began the move, and Petrovski who provided the ball to Brosque, again outpacing his man; this time, the finish was most impressive, a right-footed jab into the far corner as Crews advanced in vain.
Carney was revelling in his central role, and found time to send a range-finder over the Perth bar himself on the half-hour mark. Three minutes later, Petrovski took centre stage, cutting inside Kovacevic superbly before shooting straight at Crews.
Although Harnwell – Perth’s best player of the opening period – and Robertson both forced saves from Bolton in the closing minutes of the half, Sydney maintained the upper hand until the interval. Crews was not left idle either; Petrovski, from a Corica pass, stung the Glory man’s hands on 40 minutes, and in injury time Carney dribbled beautifully through the midfield again, before trying a chip, which Crews managed to hold on to.
Although the second half began with a save by Bolton from Micevski, Sydney settled into the ascendancy soon afterwards. With Ceccoli now coming forward more often, there were plenty of opportunities on the left, and on 49 minutes Petrovski headed Ceccoli’s dangerous cross just wide.
Carney was everywhere. On 51 minutes, he squared the ball to the adventurous Milligan, who blazed over; a minute later, he spotted a gap at a free kick; on Steve Corica rolling the ball towards him, Carney released a thunderous shot which forced an acrobatic save from Crews.
The crosses from the left kept flying in; Petrovski connected with one of them, from Brosque, and volleyed into Crews’s arms; two minutes later, Sydney scored their third via the same route.
Neat lead-up work from Brosque set Carney free along Perth’s right-hand by-line; twisting cheekily around his man, Carney delivered a perfect cross, and this time Petrovski headed inexorably home. One of the finest team goals in Sydney FC’s short history.
On 62 minutes, shortly after Bolton had saved well from a Bertos free kick, Corica was replaced by David Zdrilic. Much of the virtue went out of Sydney FC from that point on; once again, the veteran midfielder had provided so many options in the centre of the park.
In an attempt to fill the void, Alex Brosque drifted into the centre more often following Corica’s exit; but the game was turning sterile. “Hey, Terry, time for Robbie!” yelled a wag in the western stand, on 70 minutes.
Terry Butcher soon obliged, sending home-town boy Robbie Middleby on for Brosque with 15 minutes to go. Middleby would, however, fail to make any significant progress on the left wing. Perth were rejuvenated somewhat towards the close by David Tarka’s move from defence into midfield, but they rarely looked like scoring. Few teams have looked so blunt in attack against Sydney FC – Ron Smith will have plenty of work to do in that area before the season begins.
Petrovski received a huge, and richly deserved, cheer as he left the field on 83 minutes, to be replaced by Jeremy Brockie on his return from injury. The minutes ticked by without incident, and Srebre Delovski’s whistle finally blew on a comprehensive Sydney FC victory. Roll on the semi-final!
mikey @ syndeyfc-unofficial.com