|t’s A-League Version 2, folks. Second time around for the new national competition. |
I regret to inform you that the manner of Sydney FC’s victory this evening was achieved in a manner highly reminiscent of Sydney FC Version 1. It was scrappy at times, the wings were not properly exploited, and, as Terry Butcher rightly pointed out at the post-match press conference, much of the credit for the win had to go to our outstanding goalkeeper.
Nevertheless, Sydney FC’s season is off to a winning start.
As the teams emerged for the pre-game warm-ups, one Sydney FC player turned immediately to the Cove, and raised his hands in applause. Welcome back to Aussie Stadium, Mr. Carney.
Speaking of the Cove, the best group of supporters in the country were in fine voice. A motley array of new banners was on display, including an amusing production outlining the life cycle of the committed Covite: “Birth, School, Sydney FC, Death”.
The Marinators were not nearly as numerous as they had been at the Grand Final in March, but those who made the trip could not be faulted for vocal effort during the game.
Terry Butcher made only one change to the team that had started the two recent matches in Wollongong; Dwight Yorke took Terry McFlynn’s place in midfield. Butcher employed the now-familiar 4-2-3-1 setup, with Petrovski again given the lone striker role.
Lawrie McKinna, not for the first time in his A-League career, was facing an acute striker shortage. It was Jamie McMaster who partnered the pre-season hero Adam Kwasnik, in the absence of both Stewart Petrie and the recovering Nick Mrdja. Otherwise, the Mariners line-up had a familiar look, although there was one distinguished new face lining up in the back four. Tony Vidmar’s return to competitive domestic football was marked with warm applause from the Aussie Stadium patrons.
Last season, your correspondent generally dived for the thesaurus when seeking adjectives with which to qualify the first halves of games at Aussie Stadium, so uniformly mediocre was the football in the opening period for much of last season.
Sadly, it was a case of same old, same old.
The long ball was frequently used in the opening quarter of an hour. Steve Corica had a shot on four minutes, capably held by Danny Vukovic, but Sydney’s attacks had little bite for much of the half. David Carney and Alex Brosque, the nominal wide men, were switching positions as early as the fifth minute in an attempt to escape the attentions of the Mariners’ fullbacks; both would see very little of the ball before the half-time whistle.
A weak clearance by Iain Fyfe on ten minutes gave Wayne O’Sullivan the chance to volley the ball goalwards, but the shot went high. Soon afterwards, a clever through-ball from Gumprecht put Jamie McMaster through, but Bolton was quick off his line, and smothered the eventual attempt.
The Mariners’ German midfielder was influential and pugnacious as always, and his unpleasant 17th-minute foul on Yorke – gradually feeling his way into the game after a period of inaction – attracted the first caution of the game. Two minutes later, a headed flick-on from Petrovski set up Brosque, but the new signing from the Roar was forced onto his weaker right foot, and his shot failed to trouble Vukovic.
The best chance of the half arrived on 21 minutes. After Sydney had failed to clear a corner properly, the ball came back into the mixer, and Adam Kwasnik, lurking at the back post, looked certain to score. Bolton made an incredible save, from point-blank range.
The Mariners were firmly in control of the game at this point; their passing was crisp, their tackling excellent, and their teamwork impressive.
As had happened in the warm-up matches, Carney began to move infield, leaving the right flank incursions to Iain Fyfe. Once again, Sydney’s play improved as a result; Brosque and Nikolai Topor-Stanley, making an impressive A-League debut, were both presented with half-chances as the first period wound down. At the other end, an unmarked run into the box by Andrew Clark culminated in a blazing cross-shot, which went marginally wide.
Alex Brosque was the star of the opening few minutes of the second half, making two incisive runs down the left while helping out frequently in defence. It was Brosque’s second left-wing slalom, stopped only by a fine tackle by Alex Wilkinson, that led indirectly to Sydney’s goal.
If you had held a “most unlikely to score” poll among Sydney FC supporters prior to the game, Iain Fyfe’s name would probably have been top of the list. But football’s a funny game…
Wilkinson’s challenge had resulted in a Sydney corner. Partially-cleared, the ball looped back into the box courtesy of Ceccoli; the ball reached Petrovski, who laid it aside for Iain Fyfe. Completely unmarked, Sydney’s right-back was given time and space to pick his shot, and he made no mistake, smashing a right-footed bullet past Vukovic.
The Mariners attacked. Another corner, this time at the other end, produced a moment of concern for the Sydney back-line; Mark Rudan was there to clear, however, when the ball for once eluded Bolton.
The Sydney fans (and players) were relieved to see Andre Gumprecht leave the field on 56 minutes with a hamstring strain. Once again, the Mariners’ bullocking No. 6 had been their greatest asset.
Sydney began to play with a good deal more freedom after Gumprecht’s departure; significantly, Dwight Yorke, well-shackled in the first half, came vibrantly to life in the second.
Brosque attempted an audacious volley on the turn on 58 minutes; it flew over the top. Two minutes later, Petrovski made a fine diagonal run across the box and crossed for Milligan, but the shot was blocked; the ball came back to Carney, who fired over from 30 yards.
The final half hour was pleasingly open. Carney, taking advantage of some hesitation in the Mariners’ defence, broke down the right, but paused at the crucial moment and allowed a Central Coast defender to block his goal-bound effort.
The tricky Tom Pondeljak, back from injury, made his appearance on 72 minutes, replacing Damian Brown. His impact was immediate; with his very first touch, he set up Jamie McMaster for a right-footed shot, which was well-saved by Bolton.
Three minutes later, Bolton came to the rescue again. This time it was Kwasnik who got on the end of a superb cross from Vuko Tomasevic. Somehow, Bolton managed to get himself in the way; he admitted, at the post-match press conference, that there had been an element of luck at play…
After a few more half-chances, Mark Shield blew for full-time. The “Grand Final replay” had produced the same result, and there were indeed many similarities between the two games (as Lawrie McKinna dryly observed afterwards).
Terry Butcher’s post-match demeanour constrasted interestingly with that of Pierre Littbarski. Ostensibly light-hearted and affable, he did occasionally lapse into truculence, perhaps not surprising given his team’s often listless performance. Not once but three times, he stated that, but for the man sitting alongside him, Sydney FC would not have taken three points from the game. Butcher’s companion at the table was, of course, Clint Bolton.
Butcher could not resist a gentle jibe at the expense of Craig Foster, who had penned a pretentious ap peal to Butcher for “entertaining football” in the Sun-Herald. Butcher was at pains to point out that his job was not to have his team playing “technically brilliant” football, but to win matches.
And in that respect, he has passed his first test.
Sydney FC: Bolton; Fyfe, Rudan, Topor-Stanley, Ceccoli; Milligan, Yorke; Brosque (Middleby), Corica (Talay), Carney; Petrovski (Zdrilic).
mikey @ syndeyfc-unofficial.com