Sydney FC 2 – Adelaide Utd. 1
Sydney FC 2 – Adelaide Utd. 1
| After their pre-game warm-up session, the Sydney FC players sauntered over to the Cove to join their coach, who had already taken up a position thereabouts. Together, they unfurled a banner, dotted with signatures, bearing the following legend in shaky capitals: “TO THE BEST FANS – THANKS”.
It was both a supremely generous and a supremely canny act.
The Cove, supported admirably by the western and eastern stands, roared Sydney FC on to a home final tonight. The sound of 30,377 fans, it might be argued, was the deciding factor in a very tight semi-final tie.
Sydney FC were forced into one change; Jacob Timpano’s injury meant a return to central defence for Iain Fyfe. John Kosmina once again shuffled his pack, Angelo Costanzo moving into central midfield in place of Carl Veart, who started on the right.
The two teams had made their exhaustion all too plain in the second half at Hindmarsh, and after a bright start for Sydney FC – Steve Corica almost connecting with a Carney cross and Matthew Bingley volleying over the bar – the first half became bogged down in a series of stoppages, long balls and niggly tackles, not helped by the officious refereeing of Mark Shield.
Adelaide were, if anything, the better side in the opening twenty minutes, but they created few chances. Sydney FC were looking uncharacteristically leaden-footed in midfield, and the incursions of David Carney, so often the route to a goal this season, were kept to a minimum.
However, on 29 minutes Sydney FC scored a simple, almost trivial, goal.
A hopeful ball forward from Ruben Zadkovich caught the Adelaide defence slumbering. Saso Petrovski, ever alert, ran on to the ball and advanced on Daniel Beltrame as the Adelaide defenders looked incredulously at the linesman, expecting an offside call. Petrovski hesitated, almost allowed Adam van Dommele to catch up with him, but this time his scoring touch did not desert him. Beltrame got a touch to the low shot, but could only delay its journey towards the back of the net.
Adelaide responded. A break down the left from van Dommele produced a tactical foul from Dwight Yorke, who was presented with a yellow card; a minute later, a flick-header from Shengqing Qu rebounded from the Sydney crossbar. Sydney, too, had their chances before the break; an excellent overlapping run from Mark Milligan ended with his sharp cut-back being cleared by Richie Alagich, and as injury time approached, Petrovski managed to cap a sustained ball-juggling effort in the box with a cross-shot that flew just wide of the far post.
The team in red came out for the second half in determined mood. Their dominance in midfield became more pronounced as the game wore on; Costanzo, enjoying a break from his usual position in the back four, was eclipsing Yorke and Bingley to an occasionally embarrassing degree. At the back, Mark Milligan was experiencing some difficulties against the elusive Travis Dodd, and a foul on the Adelaide winger on 57 minutes meant a yellow card for Sydney’s right-back…sadly, Milligan will miss the final.
An equaliser had been on the cards for some time, and it arrived on the hour. For the second game in a row at Aussie Stadium, Shengqing Qu complemented an Adelaide breakaway with a quality finish; this time Fernando Rech was the provider, drawing the defence cleverly before sliding the ball through to his strike partner, who evaded Milligan and curled a precise shot around Bolton.
The away side continued to dominate. Ross Aloisi put a volley wide; Rech, fed by Alagich, forced a good save from Bolton soon after. On 70 minutes, it was Qu at the centre of things again, playing a neat wall-pass back to the advancing Aloisi; the Adelaide captain, fortunately, failed to direct his header appropriately.
Littbarski made changes. Zadkovich, anonymous in the second half, made way for Andrew Packer. This meant a switch to the left for David Carney, but after he had patrolled the touch-line forlornly for a few minutes, he too made way for the combative Terry McFlynn.
The Ulsterman’s arrival, which allowed Dwight Yorke to push further forward, gave Sydney the lift they required.
Petrovski connected with a tempting cross from Yorke on 75 minutes, but Beltrame managed to save the shot from point-blank range. A similar move just a minute later, however, produced the deciding goal of the game.
This time it was Milligan who provided the cross from the right; Mark Rudan, capping another magnificent performance, provided a neat left-footed finish that left Beltrame with no chance.
Bizarrely, John Kosmina then decided to replace his talisman striker, Qu, with the recently-arrived Greg Owens. Hard to fathom, but Adelaide were far from a spent force; following a disallowed Sydney “goal” from the substitute Packer, Veart headed over from an Alagich cross on 79 minutes, and three minutes later, a shot across goal from Rech thudded against the far post; it rebounded to Aloisi, whose whack at goal was blocked by Iain Fyfe.
As Adelaide’s defenders threw themselves forward in the final few minutes, a breakaway goal was always a possibility; the best chance arrived on 88 minutes, but Petrovski failed to make the most of Terry McFlynn’s timely pass.
As injury time ticked away, the whistles from around the stadium became deafening. Less deafening but quite discernible were the cries from the western stand directed at the Adelaide supporters: “The Central Coast will beat you, the Central Coast will beat you…”
The entire crowd stood to cheer their team when Mark Shield finally pointed to the sheds. In an interesting sidelight, Pierre Littbarski strolled cheerfully over to the Adelaide bench to shake hands with his opposite number; the subsequent remarks from John Kosmina gradually erased Littbarski’s smile, and the Sydney FC coach, after several attempts to placate the Adelaide boss, walked away with a gesture of resignation and disgust.
They make those Barossa grapes pretty sour, it seems…
30,377 for the home semi. How many in two weeks’ time?
Come on Sydney!
Sydney FC: Bolton; Milligan, Rudan, Fyfe, Ceccoli; Carney (McFlynn), Yorke, Bingley, Zadkovich (Packer); Corica (Middleby); Petrovski.