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Match Report: Sydney FC 0 – Melbourne Heart 0 – Round 9

Sydney Football Stadium. 2 December, 2012.

With both squads weakened by Holger Osiek’s A-League Socceroos squad, the round nine clash was a chance for some younger players to stake a claim. For Sydney, Hagi Gligor and Vedran Janjetović were called up for their first senior starts, while John Aloisi gave Jeremy Walker, Sam Mitchinson and Ben Garuccio rare starts for the Heart.

With only 12,425 fans in attendance, Sydney are back down to the true believers. This season was expected to be one of sellout crowds and champagne football, however after a brief stint as toast of the town, Sydney are back to their usual underachieving self. At least the beer queues are shorter.

Indeed, even the patience of the true believers is starting to strain. Few other clubs have fans who actually boo their own captain before kick off, and jeer when the ball is passed to him. Far from being the worst on ground, Terry McFlynn has quickly become a scapegoat for the team’s impotence.

In the first ten minutes, Sydney were given a scare as David Williams broke down the left flank, sliding a pinpoint ball to striker Josip Tadic, who made a mess of his finish.

However, sitting in the stands for his first game as Sydney FC coach, Frank Farina would have been relieved to see the first half roll by without the usual self-implosion by Sydney’s defense. There were even a few moments of decent play, with Alessandro Del Piero at the heart of all of Sydney’s attacks.

The problem is that while Sydney’s midfield looked far more assured, there is still too little support offered to Del Piero. Playing on the right, Hagi Gligor was quiet, although looked sharp with the few touches he had. In fairness, a lot of Sydney’s best play came down the left hand side through combinations between Fabio, Yairo Yau and Del Piero.

Sydney’s best chance of the first half came through Yairo Yau, who used his pace to create an opportunity on 15 minutes. However, with only the goalkeeper to beat, Yau blazed over the bar.

Early in the second half, Janjetović showed his quality with an impressive save to his left from Fred’s header. Stretching across his body with his right hand, the young keeper did well to palm the ball clear of danger. The resultant clean sheet was a just reward for the debutant, and should allow him to retain his place in the starting eleven.

Rhyan Grant performed admirably returning to right back, with his best moment arriving early in the second half with a powerful left foot drive that just cleared the crossbar. The young defender makes up for his questionable touch with a bundle of energy and effort down the right hand flank.

On 61 minutes, Jason Čulina made his second appearance for the club, coming on for Hagi Gligor. The fans again gave Čulina a rousing reception, willing him to bring some life to Sydney’s play. Just a few minutes later, Del Piero hobbled off to be replaced by Blake Powell.

It was one of the least impressive performances from the Italian, who looks somewhat burdened with responsibility as the only consistent creative outlet. With twenty five minutes to play, it was an opportunity for Sydney to show they can win without their star signing.

However, as the second half progressed without a breakthrough, there was a sense that both teams were happy with a point. There was little urgency to either sides play, and little penetration in the final third. In a sense, this is understandable as both clubs were missing several key players, and both in trying circumstances at the bottom of the A-League ladder.

Next week is Farina’s first game proper, away to Wellington Phoenix. The prospect of Paul Ifill and Stein Huysegems running at Sydney’s still-suspect defense will hardly fill fans with confidence. However, coming off a clean sheet, Sydney are due for a win.