The last time Sydney faced Perth, it was in front of just over 8,000 people at the SFS. Brett Emerton and Nick Carle were the club’s marquee players, and former coach Vítězslav Lavička had just announced his intention to leave the club at the end of the season. Fast forward eight months, and Sydney FC have experienced a kind of renaissance.
Star signing Alessandro Del Piero played his 800th game as a professional in Sydney colours, in front of 22,158 at ANZ Stadium. However, it seems the more things change, the more they stay the same. Like last time, a strong second half performance from Brett Emerton inspired Sydney to a 2-1 victory.
After conceding inside twenty minutes, the Glory looked in control of the match, with Sydney once again struggling to find any fluency in their play. Krunoslav Lovrek again struggled to make an impact alongside Del Piero, Mitch Malia couldn’t capitalise on any of his early possession down the left flank, while Daniel Petkovski looked lost early in his starting debut.
Indeed, the opening goal came after Petkovski’s poor positioning and lame tackle allowed Travis Dodd space down the right hand flank. A smart run from Billy Mehmet drew Seb Ryall out of the centre, giving Dodd room to cut into the box, where he finished with a neat left foot shot.
In the second half, Ian Crook went to his bench early, bringing on Yairo Yau to replace Malia on the left. Malia has looked bright in patches in the opening four rounds, but not nearly as dangerous as in pre-season. He may lose his spot as Joel Chianese returns from injury and Yairo Yau settles after being away on international duty.
In the first half, Ali Abbas often dropped deep from central midfield to pick up the ball, while Paul Reid pushed further forward. On 57 minutes however, it was Reid who collected the ball deep and played forward to Abbas. In a more advanced position, Abbas turned and slid a perfectly weighted pass to Emerton, who had made a clever diagonal run from the right. Bearing down on goal, Emerton was tripped by Steve Pantelidis, the penalty was awarded, and Perth were down to ten men. Up stepped Sydney’s resident ball-whisperer, and Sydney were level.
With all the momentum, Sydney went ahead ten minutes later, after Rhyan Grant lurched out of position at right back to pressure Liam Miller. Miller lost the ball in a dangerous area, and Emerton punished him with a delightful chip that just cleared the outstretched Danny Vukovic in goals. Grant’s tenacity caused the turnover that led to the goal, but in truth, it was similar to Petkovski’s mistake which led to Perth’s first half goal. Hurtling forward and inside from fullback, Petkovski’s gamble backfired while Grant’s earned Sydney a late winner.
Worryingly, after four rounds, Sydney don’t look any closer to playing good football. However, two consecutive wins from average performances leave them just three points off top spot. With so many injuries, grinding out results is exactly what Sydney need to do, even if it doesn’t thrill the fans.
The main problem for Sydney seems to be a severe lack of movement. The makeshift centre-half and midfield pairings may have a lot to do with Sydney’s inability to hold any meaningful possession and control the tempo and rhythm of the game.
Considering the arrival of a new number ten in Del Piero, the loss of Nicky Carle has barely registered off the pitch. However, Sydney could use Carle’s vision and composure in the centre of the park. With Terry Antonis still out and likely to be absent on international duty, Jason Culina can’t come into the side soon enough. Credit to Ali Abbas, however, who has done well in an unfamiliar role in the middle. The slide-rule pass for Sydney’s first goal was a moment of magic in an otherwise dreary match.
After two weeks in the western suburbs, Sydney are on the road next week to Gosford, before returning to the SFS. I for one am looking forward to Sydney being back home. ANZ Stadium is a soulless place for football, in an even more soulless part of the city. In the meantime, Central Coast beckon. A win could put Sydney top of the table.
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