With Sydney FC reeling from their humiliating loss to the Central Coast last week, the return of several senior players couldn’t have come at a more appropriate time.
Marquee man Alessandro Del Piero replaced the ineffectual Krunoslav Lovrek, senior centre-back Pascal Bosschaart sidelined Trent McClenehan, Mitch Malia was replaced by Blake Powell and former Victory fullback Fabio Alves regained his spot from still-developing Daniel Petkovski at left fullback.
Surprisingly, Ian Crook kept his midfield pairing of Ali Abbas and Paul Reid intact. While Abbas has showed promise in an unfamiliar role in the middle, Reid’s positioning has been questionable at best. And with captain Terry McFlynn on the bench, Sydney were again without their engine and chief destroyer.
Together, Melbourne Victory and Sydney FC have conceded 25 goals in the opening five rounds of the season, an embarrasing statistic. With two equally leaky defences, it was bound to be an open game.
Sydney scored first, thanks to a smart move down the left channel. Del Piero drifted wide left before receiving a lay off from Brett Emerton. Anticipating Blake Powell’s diagonal run, Del Piero slid a neat ball behind the defence, freeing up Powell to cut the ball back for Yairo Yau to tap in from six yards.
Unfortunately, it was one of the few coherent, organised attacking moves from Sydney.
With Fabio doing an excellent job on Marco Rojas, and Mark Milligan and Archie Thompson busying themselves in the referee’s affairs, the Victory looked unfocused and failed to make an impression.
Early in the second half, Sydney doubled their advantage through Pascal Bosschaart, who volleyed home superbly after a goal-mouth scrap sent the ball swirling towards him. It was a much-deserved goal for the Dutch defender, who was returning from a lengthy injury spell.
With his side two goals up with only 25 minutes remaining, Ian Crook decided to withdraw Del Piero, bringing on Malia to pressure Melbourne’s defence. However, with Sydney sitting so deep, Malia spent most of his time chasing shadows.
Meanwhile, Ange Postecoglu made a positive substitution, bringing on attacker Andrew Nabbout for defender Peter Franjic. The young man immediately made an impact, scoring a cracking left foot drive from outside the box.
Having conceded most of the possession and field position, things suddenly looked dangerous for Sydney at 2-1.
Melbourne continued to apply pressure, and on 85 minutes, from their fourteenth corner of the match, Archie Thompson guided Milligan’s header into the goal from close range, stealing the Victory a late equaliser.
Or so it seemed. On 90 minutes, Andrew Nabbout again stepped up to nod the ball home after more poor Sydney marking. 3-2 Melbourne, and it was Sydney’s second capitulation in two weeks.
Pascal Bosschaart defended his teammates style of play, arguing that they ‘lost the game at two set pieces.’ In truth, by giving away so much ball in the second half, Sydney were inviting a late charge.
The first ‘Big Blue’ of the season also played host to the ‘Beyond Blue Cup’. Considering Sydney’s performance, there may be a few more people ringing the hotline. Conceding three times late in the second half again was as depressing as it was poor for Sydney fans.
This hurts far more than last week.