NZ Knights 1 Sydney FC 3
The residents of Campsie looked on bemused as a motley bunch of twenty- and thirty-somethings, sporting a bewildering array of attire (and accents), descended on one of the landmarks of their fair suburb.
Yes, it was the intrepid Covers settling in for a night at their new home-away-from-home – the Campsie Hotel. Beer, pizza and football; what better way to spend a Friday evening?
Several thousand kilometres away, the Sydney FC players were preparing to provide these avid fans with their evening’s entertainment, on a North Harbour Stadium pitch which left much to be desired. The crowd, the first A-League figure below the magic ten thousand mark, were witness to a listless performance from the nominal glamour side of the new competition, but it was enough for a win against the dogged but ultimately inept Kiwis.
Pierre Littbarski must have been impressed enough with Matt Bingley’s cameo against Melbourne to present him with a start against the Knights, in the same right-back role he had fulfilled in the latter stages of the Melbourne game. Andrew Packer was therefore able to move back into midfield, sharing the wing duties with David Carney (also restored to the starting eleven). In the absence of Sydney’s internationals, John Buonavoglia was drafted into the squad, Littbarski understandably placing little faith in Alex Salazar after his poor showing against Perth.
Sydney, indeed, had far the better of the early exchanges. Carney, using his right foot for a change, nearly scored with a cross-shot on five minutes, and some seven minutes later there was a real flurry of opportunities; a Zdrilic shot, blocked on the line, rebounded to Carney, who headed against a post; Zdrilic’s shot from the second rebound again required an interception from a Knights defender. Soon after, Terry McFlynn took one of his typical shots from distance, which went typically wide.
Sydney were having all the play, with Corica particularly instrumental, and it was no surprise when the men from the mainland took the lead on 24 minutes. A period of pinball around the New Zealand area eventually saw the ball falling to Corica, whose clever header met the far-post run of Mark Rudan. The big defender kept the volley down well, and Milosevic was beaten.
Some of the defensive frailties evident in Sydney’s first game were starting to become apparent, however. The poor marking which allowed Sean Devine an excellent chance to equalise with a left-foot shot a few minutes after the goal drew sustained groans from Campsie (not to mention living rooms all around our fine city). The Knights winger, Caravella, had another chance shortly afterwards, Bolton getting his fingertips to a blazing shot from the edge of the area, which may have been heading wide.
From the half-hour mark, New Zealand were well and truly in the game. Bolton, having another fine match (despite a couple of bizarre goalkicks which sailed straight over the touchline) made a crucial save, this time from Rose, on thirty-two minutes. As the virtue began to ebb out of Sydney FC, their supporters were rewarded for the pilgrimage to Campsie by the arrival of two large, and very hot, pizzas. Pompey, mate, we pledge our undying gratitude and affection…
The second half saw Sydney lose much of their momentum; the first fifteen minutes were marked by a painful lack of cohesion in midfield; Zdrilic had more or less disappeared, and the defence was looking as vulnerable as they had against Melbourne. To make matters worse, much of the officiating was distinctly in the Knights’ favour, with the big Neil Emblen in particular getting away with some rough treatment of the Sydney midfield.
The equalising goal, when it came, could hardly be judged a surprise. Matthew Bingley, who had an uncertain night indeed in the Sydney back four, allowed Joshua Rose to drift away from him, and a headed flick-on following a New Zealand attack down the right allowed him to blaze a left-footed volley past Bolton.
As had happened the previous week, the equaliser forced a change, with Middleby coming on for a tiring Packer (playing his first game in midfield for some time had clearly taken its toll). This time, however, the sequel was not further frustration, but a quick restoration of the lead.
A bad foul on Carney by the Knights substitute Jeremy Christie had provoked an all-in brawl by the touchline, perhaps a fitting counterpart to the dire football we had witnessed so far in the second half. Carney himself took the free kick – an excellent floater – and Bingley’s defensive lapses were forgotten as he glided in at the back post to head the ball home, off a Kiwi defender.
Conceding such a soft goal so soon after equalising had its inevitable effect on the New Zealand team, who never looked like equalising a second time. Although Yeo, another substitute, forced Bolton into a routine save with a snap shot fifteen minutes from the end, there was little joy for the Knights up front. There was, however, time for another Sydney goal – and it was worth waiting for.
Middleby had shown abundant sharpness since his introduction, nearly connecting with a Carney cross from the right and making a number of useful runs. In injury time, with the Knights camped in the Sydney half, he received the ball in the middle of the park, expertly muscled his way past Darren Bazeley, and, with two good options either side of him, chose instead to thunder the ball past Milosevic’s right hand, into the bottom corner. A nice way to provide his side with a buffer.
So, 3-1, but still plenty of work to do, especially from a defensive point of view. Our vulnerability in that area, particularly against pace, is surely no longer a secret; opposition coaches will have this in mind when selecting their personnel and adapting their tactics for Sydney FC. Things will certainly not be easy for our glamour boys…
Still, three points is, at this stage of the season, most welcome.
And the pizzas were brilliant.
mikey @ syndeyfc-unofficial.com