An enthralling game between two of last year’s finalists ended level at the Sydney Football Stadium.
Branko Culina made two changes to the side that had started against the Mariners last week. One of these was enforced, with Mark Milligan suffering from a bout of flu; Robbie Middleby returned to the first eleven in his stead, while Ruben Zadkovich retained the right wing-back slot he had occupied in the second half against the Central Coast, when he had replaced young Adam Biddle. Aurelio Vidmar’s Adelaide side was unchanged..
The opening minutes featured only one chance of note, a shot from Mark Rudan which grazed the Adelaide bar after a Juninho corner had rebounded to him. From the outset, Sydney’s little Brazilian playmaker found himself tightly and aggressively marked by Jonas Salley. On 7 minutes came Adelaide’s opener, and a very fine goal it was. Nathan Burns, already looking lively, nutmegged Terry McFlynn on the edge of the Sydney box, swept easily past Zadkovich and Mark Rudan, and cut the ball hard and square across the goalmouth for the advancing Richie Alagich. Adelaide’s right-back sent a precise low shot past Bolton, to give the away side the lead. Only four minutes later, Sydney were level, and this time Alagich was the villain of the piece. A free kick from Ufuk Talay found its way to Middleby, who was clumsily held back by the Adelaide man in the box. Although Talay’s penalty kick was saved by Bajic (who had clearly moved off his line), the blond Sydney midfielder calmly slotted home the rebound. 1-1, after only 11 minutes. Gradually, Adelaide regained the initiative.
Travis Dodd and Bobby Petta both had half-chances following the equalizer, and Bolton saved superbly from Burns on 34 minutes. Four minutes later, Bruce Djite, whose pace had been causing the lumbering Sydney backline considerable concern, burst through with only Bolton to beat; the Sydney custodian forced the youngster wide, and his eventual shot was cleared off the line by Steve Corica. Tony Popovic had been suffering from a back strain, and at the break Culina replaced him with Sydney’s second Brazilian, the striker Patrick. To counter the speed of Djite, Sydney’s boss moved Zadkovich into a sweeper position, allowing Middleby to switch to the right flank, where he looked far more comfortable. Sydney looked a rejuvenated side in the second period, as indeed they had last week.
On 53 minutes, following a sustained period of Sydney pressure, Talay cleverly turned a free kick aside to Juninho, who sent a sweet left-footed shot…onto the Adelaide bar. Djite managed to force his way through the defence again on 56 minutes, but again he was forced wide, again he hesitated, and again his shot was blocked on its way to goal, this time by Iain Fyfe’s posterior. Patrick had a great chance to open his Sydney FC account on the hour when Alex Brosque wriggled his way to the left by-line and cut the ball back, but the big striker fluffed his shot from point-blank range. Adelaide were just hanging on. A sumptuous free kick from Juninho on 66 minutes rattled the bar again; eight minutes later, Sydney’s well-deserved second goal finally arrived. Inevitably, Juninho was at the heart of it. Receiving the ball on the edge of the box, he sent an exquisite through pass to Brosque, who had made an intelligent diagonal run on the left; the latter slid the ball expertly past an advancing Bajic and into the far corner.
Yet the lead would last only two minutes. With Djite pressuring the Sydney defence again, Zadkovich made a mess of a simple clearance; using his body well, Djite beat Fyfe to the resulting header and flicked the ball on for Burns, who nodded deftly past Bolton.
Both sides made changes in the final minutes, but there were few clear chances. Adelaide regained their composure after Burns’s strike, and Sydney’s attacks became less incisive. Sadly, Juninho was forced off the field towards the close with a shoulder injury; according to his coach, he is by no means certain to start Sydney’s next game.
Sydney FC: Bolton; Rudan, Popovic (Patrick), Fyfe; Zadkovich, McFlynn, Talay, Middleby; Corica, Juninho (Santalab); Brosque.
Adelaide United: Bajic; Alagich, Cornthwaite, Valkanis, Cassio; Dodd, Salley, Costanzo, Petta (Erdogan); Burns (Pantelis), Djite (Agostino).