Melbourne 3 – Sydney FC 2
|The decision to stage this game at the Telstra Dome proved a wise one; nearly 40,000 turned out to see a game full of incident and controversy, but, if truth be told, little football of quality. The state of the pitch, still slippery and uneven thanks to recent AFL exertions, was partly, though not wholly, responsible.
It will always be remembered as the game in which Sydney FC was held back by the Melbourne Shield.
The World Cup referee made a horrible hash of the game, making a number of crass decisions (and non-decisions) which, sad to say, all favoured the home team.
Ernie Merrick shifted Alessandro into midfield after his adventurous but defensively naïve efforts last week. Otherwise, it was a familiar Melbourne line-up, with Daniel Allsopp partnering the mercurial Archie Thompson in attack.
Sydney’s line-up, by comparison, was unrecognizable. David Carney and Saso Petrovski, ever-present last season, were consigned to the bench, as Jeremy Brockie made his first A-League start for Sydney FC. Mark Milligan lined up in an unfamiliar left midfield role, and Robbie Middleby started on the right.
Odd indeed, but the formation would soon, in any case, be drastically altered…
Sydney began where they left off last week – with plenty of long balls. Few of these posed much danger, and it was Melbourne, exploiting the high line of Sydney’s defence, who had the first chance of the game; Allsopp was put clean through, and his goal-bound shot was only blocked by the legs of Clint Bolton.
The resulting corner produced the opening goal. Kevin Muscat moved Grant Brebner’s corner on, Daniel Piorkowski’s flick was saved by Bolton, but Danny Allsopp, lurking at the back post, tapped in. Off the ball, Robbie Middleby had been nastily body-checked by Adrian Leijer…and Mark Shield had not noticed.
Only a few minutes later, Melbourne went further ahead via a most debatable penalty. Sydney’s back four had pushed forward again, and Alessandro steamed down the left onto a through ball. Challenging with Bolton just inside the Sydney area, he collapsed theatrically to the turf.
Replays would later indicate what most had surmised initially…that there was little or no contact.
Muscat banged his penalty down the middle. 2-0.
Surely it couldn’t get worse for the team in sky blue? Unfortunately, it did.
Alessandro, worming his way down the left once again, was stopped by a superb tackle from Mark Rudan. More simulated agony followed from the Brazilian, and an incensed Rudan unwisely kicked the prone Victory man. A red card for our stalwart skipper.
As he had against Adelaide in the pre-season, Terry Butcher re-modelled the side. Mark Milligan took Rudan’s place in central defence; David Carney, who had already replaced the indisposed Middleby, headed for the left wing. Steve Corica and Ufuk Talay were now in charge of the central midfield area, with David Zdrilic left to battle alone up front.
Football being the perverse game that it is, Sydney proceeded to take control of the game. Melbourne, perhaps not knowing whether to push on for more or sit on their lead, played abysmally for the next twenty minutes, allowing Sydney’s ten men to dictate the game.
Only a few minutes after the goal, Alvin Ceccoli had a volley on target, which was deflected for a corner. Talay whipped in a dangerous one, and Iain Fyfe, quite unmarked, rushed up to head the ball home.
Sydney almost equalized two minutes later, when a flick from Zdrilic allowed Corica a run on goal. He was fouled almost instantly, and his subsequent free kick went over the bar, via the defensive wall.
Not until the final five minutes of the half did Melbourne regain their composure and start playing decent football again. Archie Thompson, using his pace to good effect, was only foiled by Bolton’s smart dash off his line on 43 minutes.
TV viewers were treated to some earnest Kabuki-style movements from Terry Butcher in the Sydney FC sheds at half-time, as he desperately tried to demonstrate his preferred modus iocandi to his players.
It was Melbourne, however, who looked to have benefited from the break. In the second half, they finally began to play the ball along the carpet, and Sydney FC were chasing the game for considerable periods.
Fred turned Milligan and shot over the bar on 50 minutes, and only a minute later Melbourne extended their lead. An adroit through-ball from Muscat coincided with Allsopp’s run down the left; Milligan, caught in no-man’s land, attempted a clearance, but failed to get sufficient contact. Allsopp ran onto the ball, and chipped expertly over Bolton, into the empty net.
Melbourne continued to dominate proceedings, but should have gone down to ten men themselves when Fred slyly, disgracefully, elbowed Mark Milligan in the throat on 59 minutes. The young defender required attention for some minutes, and Ernie Merrick cannily substituted his Brazilian playmaker.
Although the home side were keeping possession, they failed to create real inroads; Alessandro, in particular, was now making pitifully little impact on the left. He was replaced by Adrian Caceres on 74 minutes.
The game went on its clumsy way, the pitch constantly causing the players grief. Claudinho, Fred’s replacement, missed a golden chance to put the game beyond reach when Thompson, having gotten the better of Bolton on the edge of the area, knocked the ball across to him, with an open goal beckoning. Claudinho hesitated, laboriously brought the ball onto his stronger left foot, and allowed Alvin Ceccoli to deflect his eventual shot onto the side netting.
Sydney’s tireless efforts were rewarded on 84 minutes, when David Carney took advantage of Roddy Vargas’s weak clearance from a Ceccoli cross to thump the ball in. The gap had narrowed to a single goal once again…
It was too late. Melbourne held on grimly, and took the three points despite not having played at all well.
Sydney FC: Bolton; Fyfe, Rudan, Topor-Stanley, Ceccoli; Talay; Middleby (Carney), Corica, Milligan; Brockie (Petrovski), Zdrilic.