City versus westies, Del Piero versus Ono, blue versus red. After Australian football’s very own Year Zero in 2004, Saturday night was billed as football’s first Sydney derby. Leaving aside the rivalries of the old National Soccer League, this fixture already has plenty of history. Coached by former Sydney centre back Tony Popovic, filled with ex-Sydney FC players, and drawing support from many ex-Cove members, watching the Wanderers play is a trip down memory lane for Sydney fans.
With both teams winless after two rounds, stakes were high for the Round Three clash. Yet to score a goal, victory for the Wanderers would have given them inaugural bragging rights and left Sydney FC languishing at the bottom of the table.
Familar Faces – Tony Popovic (Wanderers Manager) and Steve Corica (Sydney FC Assistant Coach) face off.
While Popovic’s side was largely unchanged, Ian Crook brought three new faces into the starting line-up. Rhyan Grant replaced Brett Emerton at right fullback, allowing Emerton to push forward. Seb Ryall was drafted in to replace injured centre-back Adam Griffiths, while Paul Reid replaced captain Terry McFlynn in the centre of the park. It was a timely opportunity for fringe players to stake a claim in a balanced and increasingly competitive squad.
In the opening rounds, the two sides have played vastly different football. The Wanderers have been organised, tight at the back, and relatively efficient, without showing any class or penetration up front. Sydney, on the other hand, have failed to get their combinations right and been shambles at the back, saved only by moments of majesty from their main man, Alessandro Del Piero.
In front of a full house at Parramatta Stadium, however, Sydney started positively. It was more of the same from Del Piero, whose free kick on 11 minutes dipped and swerved off his bootlaces over the bar. A moment later, ADP was on the end of a Sydney break, forcing Ante Covic into a smart save.
With Aaron Mooy and Shinji Ono in the midfield, however, Western Sydney soon found space to pass the ball through the centre, but were unable to convert any of the resulting chances. While Sydney’s new midfield pairing of Paul Reid and Ali Abbas looked quicker and sharper going forward, the absence of chief-destroyer Terry McFlynn started to show as gaps appeared through the middle.
While the first half was positive from both sides, neither provided any real penetration. Del Piero gave the goal the game needed on 55 minutes, stealing the ball from Labinot Haliti on the edge of the Wanderers box, sliding in between three defenders before shimmying past Aaron Mooy, whose left foot brought the Italian maestro to the ground. Slowed down by age, Del Piero’s ability to move leisurely past his opponents is a lesson in close control, intuitive reading of the play and impeccable body positioning. After being made to retake his penalty, Del Piero forced the ball home after Covic parried his first attempt. 1-0 Sydney.
An hour in, Crook pulled his striker Krunoslav Lovrek for midfielder Terry Antonis. Kruno played some mesmerising one touch football in the first half, but still looks a little out of place alongside his more illustrious number ten. With Antonis sitting alongside Reid in the middle of the park, Abbas was able to push into a more familiar role on the left, allowing Mitch Malia to move to centre forward.
Popovic responded by bringing on pacy winger Youssoff Hersi from for the not-so-pacy Haliti, which almost paid off immediately, if only Western Sydney’s resident Wanderer Nikolai Topor Stanley (who has now played for FOUR A-League sides in six seasons) could have finished a golden opportunity from inside the six-yard box.
Less than ten minutes later, Fabio hobbled off, leaving Daniel Petkovski to keep things tidy at the back. The young fullback obliged, putting in a commendable twenty minutes on debut. Fabio again looked promising, particularly in the first half, flying into challenges and forcing several turnovers. We are yet to se a great deal from him in attack, but his defending and work rate thus far have been impressive.
The game ended one nil Sydney after a few tense moments as the Wanderers bombed forward to salvage a point. It was a fitting end to the first A-League Sydney derby. The game was played in a positive spirit from both sides, the close finish entertained the fans, and the opposing supporter groups were colourful and boisterous in a way only a football match can deliver.
Yet once again, it was a moment of genius from Il Pinturicchio that stole the show. After just three rounds, ADP already looks to be Sydney’s best ever signing, both on and off the field. Encouragingly, Sydney began to work off their number ten in a far more sophisticated manner, using him several times as the centerpiece around which other players could move. One particular fluid passing move down te left canell on 70 minutes showed that Del Piero is just as dangerous as a pivot as he is a solo performer.
Meanwhile, Emerton looks far more comfortable at right wing, and Abbas, Malia, Trent McClenehan, Reid and Ryall all deserve to retain their spots. With fringe players performing, Crook’s looming selection headache is an encouraging sign ahead of next week’s clash against Perth Glory. As for the Western Sydney Wanderers, well, they’re still looking for their first goal.