With marquee players Brett Emerton and Alessandro Del Piero both out of the squad, facing Wellington away was an opportunity for the younger players to prove their worth to new coach Frank Farina.
In his first proper game in charge of the club, Farina showed faith in his back-up fullback Rhyan Grant, pushing him forward to attacking midfield – the role usually assumed by Del Piero. With Hagi Gligor on the bench, it was a risky move, however Grant’s work rate alongside striker Blake Powell immediately put the Wellington defenders under pressure, making it difficult for them to play out from the back.
Jason Čulina made his first start for the club, partnering Terry McFlynn at central midfield, while Pascal Bosschaart, Adam Griffiths, Fabio and Seb Ryall formed the back four. Pacy imports Yairo Yau and Ali Abbas started either side of Blake Powell up front, while Vedran Janjetović deservedly kept his place in goals.
Immediately, Sydney looked more confident on the ball, and pressed higher up the park in defence. Rather than simply give it to Del Piero and watch, Sydney’s midfield looked eager and willing to get on the ball and maintain possession. This was in no small part thanks to Jason Čulina, who added his usual energy and precision to the side.
On the stroke of half time, Čulina danced his way down the right flank, before lofting a delightful ball straight to Seb Ryall, who nodded home from just six yards. Just rewards for a much improved performance from Sydney FC.
The second half started similar to the first, with Sydney hassling and fouling the Wellington players, disrupting their rhythm. On 61 minutes, Čulina was substituted for Paul Reid. Ten minutes later, Reid’s midfield partner Terry McFlynn slid a perfectly angled pass through to Rhyan Grant, who finished a smart first time shot across the keeper Mark Paston.
It was a deserved goal for the hardworking Grant, and a quality assist from Sydney’s much-maligned captain. With Sydney seemingly in control of the match, goal-scorer Grant was brought off for Mitch Mallia.
With only ten minutes to score twice, Wellington surged forward, creating several chances in the last ten minutes. A handball earned McFlynn a red card, and led to a Jeremy Brockie free-kick, which was saved comfortably by Janjetović.
A minute later, another Brockie free kick sailed wide, before Adam Griffiths bowled over Manny Muscat in the 90th minute. This time, Brockie made no mistake from the penalty spot. In the dying moments, Brockie almost made it a late double, only to be foiled by a fine diving save from Janjetović.
With Brett Emerton, Terry Antonis and Alessandro Del Piero all returning next week, Farina has a selection headache for his first Sydney derby.
Already, Farina looks to have made a tactical and motivational impression on the squad, which played with far more confidence and organisation than in previous weeks. With Western Sydney coming off a morale-boosting home win against Brisbane, next week should be another fine derby day at Moore Park. With only three points dividing fourth and tenth spot, both teams will be looking for a win to avoid the log jam at the bottom half of the table.