Sydney FC 2 – New Zealand Knights 0
How should a manager react to a 5-0 defeat? Wholesale changes of tactics and personnel, or simply a stoic continuation with the current setup?
Pierre Littbarski chose the latter, and, although many tactical question marks remained after a dire night of football at Aussie Stadium, at least the team is back to winning ways – and, importantly, Sydney FC can boast its first clean sheet of the season.
Although attendance was inevitably down, the heavy defeat in Melbourne had not sapped the spirits of the diehards in the Cove and elsewhere, and there were plenty of optimistic predictions floating down Driver Avenue in the hour before the game. 3-0, 4-0 even victory by five or six; such is now the expectation against the sole inhabitants of the A-League cellar.
The appearance of Charlie Yankos as the latest pillar of a bygone era of Australian football to grace the beginning of a match at Aussie Stadium reminded your correspondent of the first match he saw there; Australia’s shock 4-1 win over then-world champions Argentina (Argentina minus Maradona, Australia minus our local Maradona Oscar Crino). Yankos was magnificent that night, and the football was memorable.
In this match, nobody was magnificent and the football was, at times, barely watchable.
Littbarski made only one, enforced, change from the team that had stumbled so badly in Melbourne; Matt Bingley, Sydney’s utility man, came into midfield in place of the suspended Talay. Corica remained out wide on the left, and cut a disenchanted figure there for most of the evening; he would surely have preferred to be playing in the centre.
The first half was largely one-way traffic, with the Knights making pitifully little impact. Petrovski forced a smart save from Milosevic after cutting in from the right in the third minute, and, soon after, Carney, crossing superbly with his right foot (to the surprise of many fans) presented Yorke with a headed chance by the far post. Side netting.
The first goal, which arrived after ten minutes, owed a good deal to dreadful defending by the Kiwis. Corica’s corner from the right was flicked on by Fyfe, and Petrovski, totally unmarked, volleyed crisply home. It was clear even then that Sydney FC were in little danger of conceding any points at home this time.
Very little of note happened for a considerable period. The Cove, which had begun the match in fine voice and would roar into renewed life after every Sydney FC attack, was subdued for some time; the loudest cheers were reserved for wild shots from the Knights’ Noah Hickey and Simon Yeo, which went wide and over the top respectively.
The Sydney midfield again looked uncoordinated. Carney began drifting infield as early as the second minute, Corica likewise; Bingley hardly seemed to know what he was meant to be doing. In regards to Littbarski’s tactics, one could only agree with the wag from Bay 12 who observed that “He [Littbarski] is doing some weird things – his dress sense, for starters.”
Indeed, Pierre’s choice of a brown suit with an orange tie was no easier on the eye than the football in the first half.
Further amusement was provided for the crowd on the western side when a fan bearing more than a passing resemblance to Jerry Springer found, after a trip to the bar, that he had returned to the wrong bay. His friends (and others) spotted him wandering, clearly baffled, in an unfamiliar section, and cries of “Jerry! Jerry!” went up around Bays 11 through 14.
Such trivial matters were amusing the crowd around the half-hour mark, as the football failed to excite.
The final fifteen minutes of the second half constituted Sydney’s best period of the match. Carney and Timpano both went close in quick succession, and Steve Corica, coming into the centre, blazed just over the bar on 36 minutes. Then it was Yorke’s turn; clean through a few minutes before the break, he was thwarted by first Milosevic, then Darren Bazeley on the line. Although he had a fine night in other respects (his free kick shortly afterwards might have crept in if not for a small deflection), Yorke’s finishing touch deserted him in this game.
The second half was fairly joyless for Sydney FC. Although there were plenty of chances – the Knights, pressing forward, left a number of gaps in defence – the finishing from our attacking players left much to be desired. David Carney was first, with a golden chance on 49 minutes on his left foot. It went wide.
Then it was Matt Bingley,after a flick-on from Yorke, slicing the ball wide. Yorke himself was put through once again on 65 minutes, and you would have put your house on him netting his fifth A-League goal. Over the top it went, to the astonishment of the expectant Cove.
After a chance for New Zealand’s Josh Maguire at the far post – New Zealand won a worryingly large number of balls in the air in the Sydney box in the second half – another Kiwi defensive error put Corica one-on-one with Milosevic, but again a Sydney FC player couldn’t hit the target.
Only a minute later, New Zealand again won the ball inside the Sydney box and Simon Yeo forced Clint Bolton into a brilliant diving save, with a cross-shot headed for the left-hand corner. Although New Zealand hadn’t really deserved a goal for their performance, Sydney’s second half effort perhaps merited the punishment of a consolation goal for the away side.
The match petered out, as a number of fans – satisfied with the result, but grumbling about the performance in some cases – shuffled out of the stadium. Many of these departing fans missed perhaps Sydney’s best moment of the entire match; a superb move involving Yorke – contributing another deft touch – and Middleby, who had replaced a tiring Petrovski on 80 minutes, ended with another substitute, Mark Rudan, heading the ball past Milosevic for what looked like the third goal. Alas, it was ruled out for a push by Rudan on Josh Maguire.
2-0 it finished. The Cove rushed down to greet the victorious players, who generously allowed themselves to be mobbed in typical fashion. What a contrast to the Melbourne game…
For a coach whose team had just won comfortably, Littbarski looked a tired and troubled man at the press conference. He conceded that Sydney had been very poor in the second half (they were little better in the first half, if the truth be told), and warmly noted the response from the fans after the result in Melbourne. “Beautiful,” he said. “They were beautiful for the whole ninety minutes.”
He singled out for praise Jacob Timpano, who did indeed have another fine game at the heart of defence.
Sydney FC: Bolton; Packer (Rudan), Timpano, Fyfe, Ceccoli; Carney, McFlynn, Bingley, Corica (Zdrilic); Petrovski (Middleby), Yorke.
mikey @ syndeyfc-unofficial.com