Sydney FC 0 – Melbourne Victory 1

Sydney FC 0 – Melbourne Victory 1 Melbourne Victory continued their unbeaten start to the season with a somewhat unconvincing 1-0 victory over a 10-man Sydney FC at the Sydney Football Stadium. In the end, it took a good cross from substitute Adrian Caceres and some astute off-the-ball movement from Danny Allsopp to break the home side’s resistance in the 81st minute of the match. Branko Culina made one change to the side that had beaten Newcastle at the same ground a week earlier; club captain Tony Popovic returned to the defence, with Brendan Santalab dropping out. Ernie Merrick was denied the services of both Leigh Broxham and Daniel Piorkowski due to injury, and he replaced these two with Carlos Hernandez and Steve Pantelidis respectively. Adam Casey was the key figure of the opening period of the match, making a number of incisive runs down the Sydney right. There were, however, few clear chances in the first twenty minutes; a sharp cross-shot from Leandro Love after five minutes was held easily by Clint Bolton, while Michael Theoklitos was not seriously tested early on. On 25 minutes came the incident that turned the game. Referee Mark Shield had already given every indication that he would deal firmly with any misdemeanours, flashing a number of early yellow cards; at the end of one midfield melee, a nasty high challenge on Steve Pantelidis earned Sydney FC’s influential midfielder Steve Corica a straight red card.  Needless to say, the away side dominated possession from that point. Yet the Melbourne midfield were finding it hard to get their striking threesome into the game; twice around the half-hour mark Danny Allsopp was played through, but ruled offside. Sydney FC, meanwhile, relied on the endeavour of Ruben Zadkovich and the passing of Juninho to fight their corner, but their upfield excursions were few. Melbourne finally fashioned themselves two chances towards the end of the half. Allsopp, for once breaking free in his inside-left channel, whipped a dangerous ball across goal only for Popovic to clear adroitly; then, in the final minute of the opening period, Leandro Love skipped past Popovic and sent a shot at goal from an acute angle. Bolton positioned himself well to block the shot. Sydney changed their formation slightly at the break; Mark Rudan moved over to the right-back position, allowing Casey to join the midfield proper. Melbourne continued to make most of the running, but the poor crossing of Matthew Kemp, the general ineffectiveness of Carlos Hernandez, and the failure to play their forward line in behind the Sydney defence meant the eleven men rarely threatened. Sensing that his side needed more width, Ernie Merrick replaced Hernandez with Adrian Caceres on 63 minutes. Although the ex-Perth Glory winger would initially find Rudan a formidable stumbling block, he was to play a decisive role in the eventual breakthrough. Kevin Muscat, having a fine game, sent a free kick wide on 64 minutes. Seven minutes later, Juninho, struggling with his ankle after an earlier challenge from Leandro Love, made way for Patrick, in a daring substitution by Branko Culina. The momentum appeared to be turning. Sydney began to come forward in greater numbers, and Alex Brosque grazed the post with a free kick shortly after Kaz Patafta had replaced Joseph Keenan. Yet, just when Sydney seemed to be back in the contest, the long-awaited Melbourne goal arrived. A smooth passing move through the middle reached Caceres on the left; his looping cross was met by Allsopp, who had made a clever run to the far post. Although Bolton got a hand to Allsopp’s side-footed strike, he couldn’t prevent it from hitting the back of the net. Culina emptied his bench. Casey and Terry McFlynn made way for Ufuk Talay and Brendan Santalab, but the fresh legs, and all Sydney’s desperate running in the final minutes, were in vain. Talay did manage one dangerous deep cross from the right, but Roddy Vargas was there to head clear, under pressure from Alex Brosque. The one goal was enough, and Ernie Merrick gained his second victory at the SFS in successive seasons. Sydney FC: Bolton; Rudan, Milligan, Popovic; Casey (Talay), Zadkovich, McFlynn (Santalab), Fyfe; Corica, Juninho (Patrick); Brosque. Melbourne Victory: Theoklitos; Kemp, Vargas, Pantelidis, Keenan (Patafta); Hernandez (Caceres), Muscat, Brebner; Leandro Love, Thompson, Allsopp.