Frustrating Draw against Wellington For Goalless Sky Blues

Written by Michael Safro (@safrossydney)

It wasn’t the Shanghai game of 2010 but it was close. Aided by a referee determined to star in his own show, Wellington Phoenix came for a point and made darn sure they were going to get it. The visitors made the most of every contact, or no contact at all in the case of one Steven Krishna flop to the ground, while referee Chris Beath’s refusal to let the game flow played into the hands pf the visitors, earning the understandable wrath of home fans, players and coach.

Graham Arnold was clever enough to abstain from the post-match interview, assistant Steve Corica deputising with Arnie mindful of not talking himself into a fine.

And yet, the frustrated Sydney FC outfit cost itself by, once again, not taking its chances in front of goal, with Alex Brosque missing two golden opportunities, dragging one just wide midway through the second half in a one-on-one with Phoenix keeper Glen Moss, and hitting the inside of the upright late in the contest. It was another draw that felt like a loss, such was the litany of chances missed by the home side.

Brosque was everywhere on the night and should have won a penalty for a clear push by Phoenix’s villain of the night, Manny Muscat, who used every bit of his guile to frustrate the home side through a combination of snide fouls and a determination to stay on the ground following any contact, no matter how minimal as he repeatedly denied Sydney a chance to get into its stride late on, giving himself and his Wellington teammates a much needs breather.

That the Sydney players were still buzzing in the final 10 minutes of the contest and the visitors did all they could to slow them down is testament to Strength and Conditioning Coach Andrew Clark’s sterling work on the training ground following the Sky Blues’ punishing schedule of the previousfive days.

A final word on referee Chris Beath. He handled Sydney’s dour 0-0 draw against Brisbane Roar some weeks back ago and most fans left the ground frustrated at his performance. However, the TV replay showed that his display was nowhere near as bad as it had appeared to fans at the stadium – which happens often enough – so this writer was prepared to give Beath the benefit of the doubt until watching the replay.

On this occasion, however, the referee’s performance really was that bad and the ire of the home supporters, playing staff and even the Fox commentators who were baffled by a number of his decisions, was understandable.

In a game Sydney should have won, 17 Phoenix clearances to the home side’s 3 indicating where superiority lay on the night, however, that and the statistic showing 15 Sky Blue shots to Wellington’s 6 only tell part of the story because the score in the“Shots On Target” column was just 2-0!

For all good Sydney endeavour – and the Sky Blues’ work in the final third was a massive improvement on previous weeks – the home side once again failed to work the opposition keeper, let alone find the net.

Phoenix, for their part, played some attractive football in the middle third of Allianz Stadium but without any penetration where it counts, leaving Sydney custodian Vedran Janjetovic with another pristine jersey at the final whistle.

Filip Holosko repeatedly got behind the Phoenix backline while Milos Ninkovic was involved in a number of impressive Sydney moves, though tired visibly in the second half. Meanwhile, Brosque played like a man possessed, on and off the ball, and it was only the finish that let him down.

On the other hand, nothing came off for Milos Dimitrijevic. There is no questioning his determination but he just does not appear to be the same player that took out Sydney’s Player of the Year Award earlier in the year. In fact, he hasn’t been the same since April and his free-flowing, relaxed style on the ball and strength-through-joy approach to the game appears to have been replaced by second guessing his every move.

The man is a fan favourite and a truly nice guy off the pitch, at times even one with too much perspective for the cut-and-thrust of professional football. One hopes Arnie finds the psychological key to once again unlocking the Serb’s natural brilliance.

And so it was no surprise when the two Milos’s made way for Brandon O’Neill and Andrew Hoole before the 60th minute mark. O’Neill’s distribution freed Mikael Tavares to play a more attacking role while Hoole’s pace and trickery became major threat to the tiring legs of the visitors.

Unfortunately it was not to be and for all the home side’s good approach work, the litany of chances to Holosko, Smeltz, Ninkovic and Brosque remained just that.

This match review won’t dwell on the “Hooligate” scandal as there is an article in coming days that focuses on the disrespect the game and its fans have suffered this week and how to best address it. Suffice it to say that the Cove deserves praise for its mature stance in the matter, its excellent banners on the night and a couple of pointed chants to the effect that people in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones.

Sydney FC cling to a place in the Top 4 but could tumble to as low as 8th by the end of the round. The Sky Blues are far better than that, with a defence that is equal best in the league, conceding only 6 goals.Making that point again – Victory game aside, Sydney FC have conceded just 2 goals in 7 matches, a remarkable effort.

Unfortunately, problems are at the other end, with only the bottom placed Adelaide and Perth having scored fewer goals than Sydney. 8 goals from 8 matches is nowhere near good enough for a side with premiership aspirations, not to mention that the Sky Blues need to be picking up points now as the upcoming Asian Champions League is bound to take its toll.

It isn’t all doom and gloom as the Sky Blues have what it takes to get back up the top of the table and have now a week to prepare for the visiting Jets next Friday night. Sydney were somewhat lucky to get away with all three points at Hunter Stadium in mid-October and one hopes that the luck in front of goal returns as the Sky Blues look to return to winning ways.