The sweltering conditions played their part but for a Sydney FC outfit that thrives on possession, the heat could have been something of a blessing. Instead, the Wanderers’ late winner against the Phoenix consigns the Sky Blues to fourth spot on the table.
With 0-0 draws either side of last week’s 2-4 defeat to Melbourne Victory, are Sydney in a mini-slump?
Not unlike twelve months ago (though less convincingly this time round), Sydney began the season emphatically only to slide down the table come November. But while it was injuries that put the brakes on the Sky Blues last season, the problems appear to be more of a structural nature this time round.
On a scorching Perth afternoon, Sydney should have run the legs off the home side that was set up by coach Kenny Lowe to soak up pressure and play on the counter. Instead, it was their ball in the final third that let the visitors down – again – offering Perth the chance to take advantage of their fast-breaking attackers.
Lowe set out his stall not only to hit on the counter but to foul the moment the Sky Blues transitioned from defence to attack. It isn’t just Glory – “taking one for the team” has become the norm throughout the competition, with players happy to receive a yellow card in exchange for denying their opposition a chance to hit their attacking stride. This must be fixed.
It was hardly a dirty game though, as both sets of players shared a common enemy – the searing heat that still hovered around 32 degrees at the full time whistle. The water breaks were as welcome as they were medically necessary and the energy-sapped footballers, despite their best efforts, could hardly put on an exhibition of razzle-dazzle football in the oppressive conditions.
The Sky Blues opted to keep the home players on the run throughout the first half, aiming to capitalise on tired Perth legs late in the contest. It was a smart move as Glory did indeed chase shadows, but with Sydney mostly spraying the ball around the halfway line, they gave themselves few genuine attacking opportunities in the first half.
Lowe’s team, meanwhile, worked hard despite the heat and were quite dangerous on the counter, with Garcia and Sidnei Sciola coming close. For all the Sky Blues’ possession, it was Glory who had the better chances before halftime.
Lowe’s introduction of Chris Harold briefly sparked the locals after the break and the flying winger should have punished Matt Jurman’s attempted chest-back to Vedran Janjetovic but instead lifted the ball high over the bar. Having won that reprieve, Matt Simon’s substitution of Shane Smeltz prompted Sydney to rally around the 60th minute mark, as it has done most of this season.
With new Socceroo Josh Risdon substituted following his Bangladesh exertions early in the week, Alex Gersbach cut loose as the visitors briefly recaptured their attacking intent. In one promising move, the leftback managed to sling over a pinpoint cross to Simon at the back post and the former Mariner somehow missed his header in Sydney’s best chance of the game.
Fatigue set in late and despite the players’ best endeavours, the unexciting spectacle petering out to a 0-0 draw in front of just 6,976 sweltering supporters.
The football public accepts that the A-League is at the mercy of Fox Sports scheduling. But in a summer competition, why schedule games for 4.30pm, especially in a city where the Fremantle Doctor is prayed for every summer afternoon? They could have started the Wanderers-Phoenix match at 7pm AEST with Glory-Sydney FC kicking off at 6pm local time (9pm AEST), allowing both games to be broadcast back-to-back.
Not only dangerous for the players, 35 degree temperatures hardly make for an entertaining football match. Surely Fox, having invested millions, want the best, most exciting show possible, not a listless display in which the best thing one can praise is the players’ bravery in the conditions! Dour football hardly inspires ratings and this will not help Fox drive their advertising sales – something for the network and the FFA to learn from.
A word on Marc Janko’s marquee replacement Filip Holosko.
The Slovak has yet to hit his stride and has, at times, looked ponderous in possession. For a marquee attacker, Holosko has threatened the goal far less than he should have. Perhaps, like his predecessor twelve months ago, he is still finding his way back after a frustrating 24 months in Turkey and his late November stats are certainly similar to Janko’s this time last year.
Unlike the Austrian, Holosko is mobile and gets through a power of defensive work wide on the right. But is that really the best way to utilise the marquee attacker? One option is to move him inside to replace the struggling Smeltz, with Andrew Hoole or Kiki Naumoff completing a fresher, pacier attack.
The short turnaround means that recovery will be the name of the game this week as the Sky Blues prepare to host Wellington Phoenix at Allianz Stadium on Thursday evening. A few of the older players may struggle to back up, with Brandon O’Neill, George Blackwood, Hoole and Naumoff in contention to replace them. Jacques Faty should return from his Paris soujourn, though his mental state is anyone’s guess, while Simon’s form off the bench could finally earn him a first-season start.
Phoenix were unlucky to succumb to a late loss in Parramatta on Saturday night and will be out to capitalise on any latent Sydney fatigue. As any Ernie Merrick-coached side, they will close down space, giving the Sky Blues little time on the ball while in possession will aim to get in behind Sydney’s high-pushing fullbacks. The fixture is more than a “banana skin” and Phoenix will fancy their chances, especially having defeated the Sky Blues 1-3 in Wollongong just before the start of the season two months ago.
Having said that, the game is certainly a winnable one for the Sky Blues. One hopes the Sydney crowd, never overly keen on weeknight matches, gets out to Allianz Stadium on Thursday and helps their team take all three points.