Walking my usual route to the stadium from Oxford Street, it was clear this game was going to be a big occasion. Sydney (or at least their new number ten) appear to have attracted thousands of new fans. Inside the stadium, every second Juventus and Sydney jersey was emblazoned with ‘Del Piero’ on the back. Ironically, Il Pinturicchio’s first home game was against a side in black and white vertical stripes. New viewers in Italy must have been momentarily confused.
In front of a record home crowd on a sunny afternoon at the SFS, it was a perfect day for football.
Unfortunately, the occasion seemed overwhelming for some, as the first half was riddled with poor combination play and some basic errors in possession from Sydney. Newcastle picked up where they left off from last week, pressing Sydney in defence and playing direct to their new target man, Emile Heskey. Gary Van Egmond, like many of A-League coaches this season, has talked up a possession-based game in the pre-season. However, there is more than one way to skin a cat, and with the arrival of Heskey Newcastle may be wise to continue their direct approach. Certainly, Heskey won the battle with Adam Griffiths in the first half.
Newcastle’s first goal came in the first ten minutes, putting Sydney in the all to familiar position of chasing the game. A decent corner was made to look good by Trent McClenehan, whose diving header failed to clear the line, and was pounced upon by Ryan Griffiths. Moments after the restart, young frost-tipped Craig Goodwin made a surging run down the left, sending a left foot drive into the far post. It was a sign of things to come from the young fullback playing in an advanced role on the left.
While his teammates struggled around him, Del Piero again proved his class and professionalism, entertaining the crowd with subtle feints and exquisite close ball control. So far, ADP has looked most dangerous dropping off into the hole, however finding the right man to play up front, and providing him the right service remains somewhat of a problem. Sydney’s wide men need to do more work in making intelligent runs behind defenders, so that their star number ten isn’t forced to go it alone. A step over and shot from Del Piero stood up Tiago Calvano, but missed the target. In a similar position five minutes later, Tiago this time charged has man, bringing him down outside the box. Del Piero got back up, organised his wall, and sent a perfectly weighted shot into the net. Viewers at home must have been tempted to switch to Fox Sports’ new Hero-Cam, as Del Piero looked head and shoulders above his teammates, and indeed, the opposition.
The game turned scrappy as tit-for-tat fouls stopped either team from finding a rhythm. It could be argued that Chris Beath over-refereed the game, although there were several clumsy challenges. Yet if the tackles were clumsy, the marking for Heskey’s opening goal was downright criminal. With Ryan Griffiths again finding space in the right channel, his lob to the six-yard box was met smartly by the former England international. With Adam Griffiths, Brett Emerton and Trent McClenehan all around Heskey, at least one of them, probably Griffiths, should have made things more difficult for the big striker.
I noted last week here that Crook seems to be a proactive coach, and, as against Wellington, he went to his bench early, replacing the ineffectual Petratos with Sebastian Ryall on 52 minutes, freeing up Emerton to push further forward in attack. On 58 minutes, Crook withdrew his captain for Paul Reid. From where I was seated on the halfway line, there were more than one or two jeers as McFlynn left. It was a disgraceful display to a foundation player and a loyal clubman.
Just minutes later, Adam Griffiths was again at fault for Newcastle’s third, giving up possession needlessly on the halfway line, before failing to track the smart run of Goodwin in behind. Griffiths was clearly hurt, however his initial poor touch and McClenehan’s poor positioning to play Goodwin onside illustrate some key areas for improvement. Sydney’s backline is still yet to be determined – especially considering Bosschart’s injury – but in the meantime it needs to be tightened up. Still, Craig Goodwin’s finish was superb, as was his run, as was the through ball by Ryan Griffiths.
Ten minutes later, Crook’s changes proved effective as Ryall surged forward, played a clever pass to Emerton, who lofted the ball to new sub Blake Powell to nod home from six yards. Ruben Zadkovich’s ball-watching defence was Sydney-esque, and led to an exciting finish, as Del Piero rained in several dangerous corners, but to no avail.
Sydney FC were better, but still very average, leaving Del Piero far too much work to do. Lovrek looked sharper, with some nice touches on the ball, however I’m not convinced he and Del Piero can play together. Like Juninho and Corica a few seasons ago, both Kruno and ADP are very similar players, who may be better as individuals then as a pair. Fabio continued his solid form, and Emerton better once moved into attack. With Griffiths presumably out injured, I hope Ryall can step up. While the defence is far more of a pressing concern, with Yau, Abbas, Malia, Petratos and Chianese to choose from in attack, Crook needs to use their pace far more effectively.
Next week is the Sydney derby. I went out to Parramatta last week for their first game, and was relatively impressed by Popovic’s side. They look far more organised than Sydney, however with Kresinger and Haliti misfiring, and Bridge providing his usual comedy routine up front, at least the Wanderers are goalless to start the season. It’s a must-win game for Sydney.