Sydney FC 1 (Emerton 89′)
Central Coast 0
Crowd: 16,887 Allianz Stadium. 27 December, 2012.
The last time these two sides met, Sydney relinquished an early lead, collapsing spectacularly to lose the game 7-2. It was a sign that all was not right in the Sydney camp. A little over a week later, Sydney coach Ian Crook resigned, and Sydney’s season looked to be going from bad to worse.
In their final home game of 2012, Sydney fans were hoping for a Christmas treat against the high-flying Mariners. However, with Pascal Bosschaart, Jason Čulina, Fabio and captain Terry McFlynn all out, Sydney were missing some important senior players.
Frank Farina showed some bravery in setting out a new 4-4-2 formation, with a midfield diamond. It turned out to be a masterstroke, as Ali Abbas, Brett Emerton and Peter Triantis all performed admirably in support of Alessandro Del Piero.
Triantis, after some nervous moments early, performed admirably in defensive midfield, especially considering his job was to mark Tom Rogic. While Rogic had plenty of touches, Triantis was always close by to pressure the Central Coast Mariners’ classy number ten.
Sydney’s first chance came early, as Yairo Yau and Brett Emerton combined in a sweeping move, however as Emerton bore down on goal, Mariners’ left back Josh Rose nipped in to steal the ball off his toes.
With Blake Powell and Yairo Yau up front, Del Piero looked far more comfortable in the number ten position for Sydney. On ten minutes, his lofted pass in between the defensive line and the goalkeeper to set up Yairo Yau was pure class, although the chance was spurned by the Panamanian.
Moments later, Adam Griffiths was needlessly caught on the ball near the half way line, allowing Bernie Ibini and Daniel McBreen space to attack down the right. Thankfully for Griffiths and Sydney, McBreen’s shot flew just past the far post.
While Sydney’s defense is still prone to the odd lapse in concentration, the midfield diamond allowed the side to pass the ball with a little more authority, and for large periods of the game Sydney actually looked in control of the match. However, much of the possession lacked the slick passing required to create any space between the lines, and Del Piero was left to do much of the work going forward.
Del Piero remains a breath of fresh air in the Sydney squad, one of the few players who looks comfortable on the ball no matter the situation. He has almost totally lost his speed, however his repertoire of feints and tricks that come from his impeccable body position and touch still allows him plenty of time on the ball. Off the ball too, the Italian is like a maestro conductor orchestrating a high school orchestra, gesturing and calling out to his teammates according to the flow of the match.
After the break, Sydney looked to continue the pressure, with Blake Powell threatening the Mariners on 51 minutes with a superb run into the box and shot. Shortly after, Triantis tried his luck from long range, however his powerful shot was saved comfortably by Mat Ryan.
With Sydney looking the better side, the Mariners had a golden opportunity as Adam Griffiths was again caught out of position, allowing Daniel McBreen to shoot from close range. The A-League’s leading goalscorer poked the ball towards the empty net, only to be foiled by a magnificent reflex save from Sydney keeper Vedran Janjetović.
Moments later, the Mariners had another opportunity to win the game, but with only the keeper to beat Tom Rogic put his shot over the bar. And when Rhyan Grant crashed a shot against the crossbar, it looked as if the match was headed for a scoreless draw.
With only a few minutes left on the clock, Ali Abbas ventured down the left wing, crossing to the far post. His midfield partner Brett Emerton rose above his marker Josh Rose to nod the ball home. It was a timely intervention from the stand-in captain.
In the dying moments, Mariners captain John Hutchinson – who had been giving the referee an earful all night – showed his true colours with a dangerous tackle, earning himself a red card. And then Tom Rogic flew into a reckless challenge on Rhyan Grant, and followed Hutchinson down the tunnel. Both look likely to receive considerable bans.
Things have been going swimmingly for the Central Coast this year at the top of the table. They have received many plaudits for the way they have gone about their business thus far. However, their petulance in losing to the last-placed Sydney will earn them no fans.
For Sydney, it was a timely home win, in front of a healthy crowd. With Melbourne Heart capitulating to Wellington, Farina’s side are now off the bottom of the table. Lets hope the giant killing can continue in Adelaide.