Written by Michael Safro (@safrossydney)
And so, the hoodoo of Coopers Stadium continues.
There is always something about going over to Adelaide and not since Nicky Carle’s late winner back in October 2011 have Sydney FC taken all three points in South Australia. Worse yet, not since that day have the Sky Blues had a better chance of victory than last Friday night.
Settling quickly into the rhythm of the game, Sydney had the home side on the back foot, dominating possession and forcing the Reds to chase shadows. Despite missing injured skipper Alex Brosque and, surprisingly, late scratching Andrew Hoole, the visitors looked impressive early on.
How Graham Arnold handles the red carded Alex Gersbach could prove pivotal in the youngster’s blossoming career. There is no doubt that the kid is distraught at his act of rashness that cost his side a likely three points in a game that, on the first half hour’s showing at least, looked eminently winnable.
The kid has the cleanest of records and his loss of self-control will not define him, much as Tom Rogic’s awful challenge on Rhyan Grant 3 years ago failed to define Celtic’s talented attacking midfielder.
The club needs to throw its arms around the young leftback and ensure that he comes back bigger and better.
It is easy to forgive the youngster his first ever loss of self-control. It is harder to do likewise with Jacques Faty, who, despite an excellent hour of football since replacing the sacrificed Chris Naumoff, lost his concentration when it counted late in injury time. There was simply no reason to follow through on Dylan McGowan in the penalty box and this could well be a pointer to why the former France Under-17 captain never quite delivered on his undoubted talent.
It was Faty who was also at fault for both Besart Berisha goals at Allianz Stadium last month and while there were extenuating circumstances for the Senegal international that night, it does highlight the defender’s capacity to lose focus in vital moments. Faty appears a terrific human being but this was simply not good enough from a senior international.
The search for a backline leader must continue.
In the absence of one, Sebastian Ryall was outstanding on the night, epitomising a terrific backs-to-the-wall performance by a ten man Sydney FC. It was not always pretty – Adelaide themselves could teach many about the dark arts of anti-football, as evidenced last April. The Sky Blues scrambled with all their might, by hook and by crook, to keep a toehold in the contest against the now possession-dominant United.
Having placed all ten men behind the ball, however, they surrendered the attacking half of the field and failed to trouble the Adelaide backline. By playing for a point, the Sky Blues had invited the Reds on and this proved their undoing.
The visitors were lucky to be on the good end of a few tight decisions but it was Jimmy Jeggo, victim of Gersbach’s red card challenge and Adelaide’s best on the night, who exacted more than a measure of revenge. After hitting the bar seconds earlier, his shot deflected off the foot of Matthew Jurman beat Vedran Janjetovic in the 62nd minute.
There were fears that United would run away with the contest against the understrength visitors but instead, Sydney came out ferociously in search of an equaliser. United’s defence, having done precious little throughout the second half, was suddenly creaking. With Rhyan Grant bombing on and Faty and Jurman launching raids from deep, Sydney had found their attacking intent.
Milos Dimitrijevic, having put himself about earlier as part of Sydney’s defensive effort, found new reserves of energy to attack with gusto. Meanwhile, fellow Serb Milos Ninkovic, finally looking close to peak fitness, began asking some serious questions of the Adelaide defence.
Filip Holosko’s equaliser had class all over it. Moving in from the right to receive Ninkovic’s headed through ball, the Slovak’s touch was excellent to take the ball past a static Tarek Elrich. His finish, an effortless, left footed lob over the stranded Galekovic, was top draw, silencing the home fans.
Arnie’s post-match media conference bore all the hallmarks of a frustrated coach whose side fought hard to no avail. Faty’s challenge deep in injury time was clumsy rather than malicious but it gave McGowan, no stranger to cynicism, all the excuse he needed to flop to the ground, leaving Strebre Delovski with little option but to award the penalty.
Jeggo aside, Pablo Sanchez and Marcelo Carrusca showed their quality for the Reds, especially after gaining their man advantage. For the Sky Blues, it was an all-round team effort – the first twenty five minutes of dominance; the following half hour’s scrambling defensive effort; the suddenly revitalised outfit that valiantly chased down an equaliser and then further rearguard action that almost snatched an unlikely point.
There are plenty of positives takeaways for Arnie and his squad. With eleven men, the Sky Blues played an exciting, positive brand of football that could augur well for a team that has struggled to score goals thus far this season. Individually, Vedran Janjetovic’s one-on-one save off Pablo Sanchez will add to his highlights reel while the two Serbian midfielders were outstanding and Holosko got last week’s monkey off his back.
On the down side, the Sky Blues sat too deep once losing Gersbach and this may have cost them plenty. It was also disappointing to see Naumoff sacrificed – the winger was excellent and appears to have taken another step towards becoming physically strong enough to thrive at this level. And while Smeltz’s workrate could not be faulted, Sydney could have done with extra pace out wide and perhaps the better option could have been to sacrifice the Kiwi striker instead of the young winger, moving Holosko into the centre.
Sydney FC slide further down the table to 5th, overtaken by Melbourne City following their Sunday demolition of the hapless Newcastle Jets. As always this time of the season, however, it is tight at the top so a few good results will see the Sky Blues move back up the table.
But if the club retains premiership aspirations – and it surely must – the time to put together that solid run of wins is now.