There was an air of expectancy surrounding the kick off between Wellington and Sydney on a cold evening at Westpac Stadium. Alessandro Del Piero lined up in Sydney colours for the first time, the centerpiece of Ian Crook’s much vaunted new ‘bums-off-seats’ football.
Starting with new boys Adam Griffiths and Trent McClenehan in central defence alongside fullbacks Fabio and Brett Emerton, Sydney were missing only Pascal Bosschardt from their expected staring back four. With the two Terrys in the middle and Joel Chianese and Mitchell Malia on either wing, Crook surrounded Del Piero and Krunoslav Lovrek with pace and youth.
In the pre-season, Crook has talked constantly about playing exciting combination football. If this game was anything to go by, there remains plenty of work to do. A misplaced pass by Antonis led to Wellington’s first goal, a classy finish from the Nix’s new signing Stein Huysegems, who along with Ryan Fenton, Benjamin Totori and Jeremy Brockie will surely provide more support for Paul Ifil this season. Half an hour later, another misplaced pass led to a second goal, this time a diving header from youngster Ryan Fenton.
It was a game best forgotten for Sydney fans. However, there were a few positives. First, while the passing and movement was painfully slow and lacked cohesion, Sydney at least did try to play out from the back. The return of Pascal Bosschardt will help, while much rests on the shoulders on young Terry Antonis, who is expected to play the number six role vacated by Nick Carle. Antonis looked busy early, and had some decent touches, but faded after a head clash.
Secondly, Crook was willing to ring in the changes early. A double substitution on the hour mark may not have worked, but at least showed that Crook is willing to use his bench, which has far greater depth than previous years. Thirdly, and perhaps most importantly, Del Piero looked sharp. A few shimmys, some nice turns, and a number of delightfully weighted passes illustrated the gulf in class between Del Piero and his teammates. While Lovrek and Del Piero rotated throughout the match, Crook may be wiser to use his new number ten in the hole to provide for the pacy Malia, Chaniese, Ali Abbas and Yairo Yau.
The negatives are obvious. Sydney lacked penetration, and barely used the pace of Malia and Chainese to get behind Wellington’s defence. The passing out of the back was untidy, and, as usual, Sydney’s movement was poor. To play the style of football Crook expounds, movement is paramount. The constant turnovers in midfield did nothing to endear Sydney to legions of potential new fans, and Wellington were efficient in capitalising on Sydney’s disorganisation.
However, this week showed that in the A-League, direct efficient football still gets results. The teams who have promised pretty, possession football – Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and Newcastle – were all found out by their opposition. The truth is, to play that style of football takes risks. Mistakes will continue to be made by Sydney players who are adapting to a new style of football.
In the world of humans, mistakes are inevitable, especially early on in the season. Fans forums will always be home to the knee-jerk overreaction, however it is too easy to fret over recruitment and pick on individuals after one poor performance. Everyone wants Crook to succeed in implementing high intensity possession football; it is juvenile to throw the baby out with the bath water after one match. Next week is Newcastle at home, lets hope both teams lift their standard, particularly Sydney.