Sky Blues Dominant, Bay 23 Empty.

Written by Michael Safro (@safrossydney) – Live from Bat & Ball Central

The smoky den was filled with revolutionaries. Angry young men on the fringes of society seethed and plotted the overthrow of western civilisation. And the angry young men of today are the suburban terrorists of tomorrow.

The anti-football media would have had a field day.

Except this isn’t the scene I witnessed at the Bat & Ball Hotel, Sydney Cove’s pre-match watering hole of choice that had become, for one night at least, Bay 23.

What stood out most was the calm, relaxed mood of the patrons inside.

Calm should not be mistaken for conviction, however – this was no normal match day. There would be no singing at Allianz Stadium tonight. No witty banners. No jumping in the Cove. No “Sydney FC!” chants either side of the stadium.

The Cove was making a stand in order to send a powerful message to the FFA. There are two main bones of contention – a non-existent ban appeal process and FFA’s failure to “feel the history” of Australian football strongly enough to stand up for the game and its supporters. The nationwide boycott was the active supporters’ way of demonstrating how the game would look without them. By the end of the weekend, one can only hope FFA got the message.

But this is Australia so back at the pub no one got too worked up about it.

These were no radicals – most were in their 30s and 40s, educated, articulate and passionate about the sport, many steeped in the game long before 2005. And over the past decade, most have been decidedly pro-FFA. This is the game’s conservative heartland.

If Lowy, Gallop and De Bohun managed to lose this lot, they must have screwed up real bad.

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With apologies to Tottenham fans, Roy Keane, in his recently released autobiography, talks of the time Sir Alex Ferguson came into the Old Trafford dressing room as the players were ready to walk out to face the visitors from London. With United holding the wood over Spurs, Ferguson gave probably the shortest ever pre-game motivational speech. As the dressing room hushed, the manager said just three words: “Lads, it’s Tottenham”.

And walked out again.

Three years separate Sydney FC from the last time they lost to the Newcastle Jets.

Is there a level of confidence a team derives from the hoodoo that it holds over its rival? Do players instinctively feel that things will go their way no matter what? And does the opposition subconsciously regard the task as beyond them?

The Sky Blues quickly settled into their stride and kept the momentum for much of the ninety minutes. In truth, there was only one team in the contest.

With Andrew Hoole coming in for Shane Smeltz and skipper Alex Brosque playing just behind Filip Holosko who had been moved centrally, the Sky Blues employed what could be loosely termed a midfield diamond.

The new formation bore the closest resemblance yet to Arnie’s preseason statement that the Sky Blues would be playing a fluid formation, devoid of a genuine #9. Moving Holosko centrally made sense and with Hoole and Brosque probing, the opportunity was there for the Sky Blues to utilise their most mobile attack in a decade.

The first half was something of a training run for the home side as they set about pulling apart the visiting Jets. With Mikael Tavares and the two Miloses recycling possession, attackers Hoole, Brosque and Holosko had plenty of opportunities.

But no one got more chances than the Slovakian international, for whom the night proved an unmitigated disaster in front of goal. Completely at ease with the new formation, some of his runs were outstanding but unmatched by his finish as he squandered chance after chance, much to the ire of a few Cove supporters. In truth, his touch was at times heavy and this is clearly a player struggling for form and confidence.

Flashbacks of last season’s Jets game in Wollongong began to set in. Or was it Iran in ’97?

0-0 at half time. Somehow.

The second half resumed in much the same vein and in the 57th minute, Brosque finally broke his side’s three week goalscoring drought. The fan favourite and best player on the night made an excellent run into space to receive a pass from Ninkovic, controlling well at speed to smash an emphatic low finish past the despairing dive of Jets keeper Mark Birrighitti.

A goal down, the visitors briefly clawed their way back into the game but the Sky Blues were back on top soon after, seeing it out to take all three points.

Holosko had an off night but the new system is worth persisting with. The Slovak’s movement was excellent, as was his understanding with Hoole, Brosque and Ninkovic. What Holosko needs right now is the support of fans and teammates to see him through a tough week.

Give him that and the goals will follow.

It was also a good game for Dimitrijevic to play himself into form and the Serb did just that. He appeared relaxed on the ball again and kept the Sydney passing game in fine flow by repeatedly offering himself as an option for his teammates. He lacks the long game of Terry Antonis but his short passing remains among the best in the country.

The win comes at a high price as Brosque, Sydney’s best on the night, limped off late clutching his hamstring and is unlikely to make the flight to Adelaide for a fixture in which Sydney has found points hard to come by in recent seasons.

The end of the round sees the Sky Blues move up to 3rd on the table. Melbourne Victory tasted defeat in Wellington amid pitch and shirt-clashing controversy while the Wanderers needed a brilliant Mitch Nichols strike and a few favourable refereeing decisions to go top of the table, 3 points ahead of Victory and Sydney FC.

Adelaide’s defeat of fellow strugglers Perth Glory sees them move to 8th and they will feel they can turn their season around by beating the Sky Blues at Coopers Stadium on Friday night. It will be a battle of the midfields and if Sydney win the possession game, they will create enough chances for their attacking players.

Once again, the Sky Blues need to be more clinical in front of goal and if they are, they can come away from Adelaide with all three points in the bag. But it’ll be a tougher assignment than their last one. ​

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