The two year old hoodoo continues.
Sydney FC were desperately unlucky to come away with nothing from Dockland Stadium on Australia Day, a Matthew Jurman deflected own goal proving the difference between the sides.
As much as losing any Sydney-Melbourne encounter stings, it is hard to be overly critical of Sydney’s performance on the night. The visitors went into the match with a specific game plan and executed it almost to the letter.
Predictably, the Sky Blues followed the script from last week’s winning performance against the Wanderers, getting 11 men behind the ball, giving their opponents’ midfielders little breathing space and denying the Victory attackers time to think. Unlike the Sydney Derby, however, Sydney’s transition from defence to attack was good and the visitors launched a number of impressive-looking counterattacking raids, let down only by some poor decision making at the pointy end.
Despite Victory’s possession superiority (54% to Sydney’s 46%), the hosts took only one more shot than the Sky Blues (9 vs 8) while the Shots On Target column sees the visitors, perhaps surprisingly, ahead – with three shots on target compared to Victory’s two. When Kevin Muscat complains that “only one side attempted to win the match”, he is doing little more than indulging in media populism – he is well aware of the tactical battle that took place.
So what went wrong?
A piece of ballwatching late on by the otherwise excellent Mikael Tavares allowing the fast-moving Victory substitute Jesse Makarounas a run into the box. That break in concentration was all it took to buy the 21 year old the yard he needed to cross the ball and a cruel deflection off the foot of the sliding Jurman did the rest.
Sydney FC drop to 5th but will not be unduly taking it to heart as only three points separate them from the top of the ladder. Instead, they will take plenty of positives from the contest and use the loss as motivation for upcoming matches.
And there are plenty of positives to take away.
Defensively, the Sky Blues were once again superb, with but an own goal standing between them and a well-earnt away point. Structurally, the players are comfortable with Graham Arnold’s playing system and their transition from defence to attack is improving week by week.
The really great news for Sydney is that Milos Dimitrijevic is back. This column has noted his gradual return to form in recent weeks and he excelled on Australia Day, darting about the middle of the park, beating his man with ease time and again and laying the platform for his attacking quartet of Milos Ninkovic, Filip Holosko, Chris Naumoff and Matt Simon.
Rumours of a Sydney-Newcastle player swap of Naumoff and possibly Andrew Hoole for former Sydney title winner David Carney may have inspired an excellent performance from young “Kiki”. The 20 year old took on defenders with greater confidence and guile, moving cleverly between the lines and contributing in all facets of the game.
Holosko was equally involved and put in another high-energy display, though an attacking marquee needs to contribute more in attack. That said, he linked well with his teammates and was closely marked by Victory leftback Daniel Georgievski, the hosts well aware of the Slovak’s pace and ability to cut in from the right.
Up front Simon put in another impressive shift, working ever so hard with and without the ball. His was a difficult job and he did it with a minimum of fuss, taking a number of blows for the team and bringing others into play.
Milos Ninkovic, meanwhile, was sharp and difficult to contain, using his footballing brain and Del Pierro-like skills to great advantage. This column would still like to see him playing higher up the field as his talents are best utilised in and around the box.
Vedran Janjetovic was again superb in goal, denying the otherwise quiet Besart Berisha an early one-on-one and diving at the feet of Kosta Barbarouses in the second half. The back four functioned well, stepping up as one to force a number of Victory offsides and nullifying the home side’s excellent attack. Jacques Faty appears to be back in form and his central combination with Jurman raises some interesting dilemmas for Arnie upon the return of Olyroo leftback Alex Gersbach on Saturday night against the visiting Brisbane Roar.
That is, of course, if Gersbach starts as there are rumours linking the talented defender with a January move to Danish club Aarhuis FC. Denmark is also home to three current Olyroos and serves as a stepping stone to bigger European leagues.
Rhyan Grant has done well deputising in Gersbach’s absence but the absence of a left-footed leftback has, at times, reduced Sydney’s attacking options. Worryingly, backup Riley Woodcock appears to have made little progress – certainly not enough to force his way onto the bench in Gersbach’s absence at the very least. And while Ali Abbas is capable of stepping into the breach, the loss of Gersbach could deal a massive blow to Sydney’s title chances.
It is far from a done deal however, and there is every chance Gersbach will play out this season in Sky Blue colours even if he does sign a contract with Aarhuis in coming days.
The Sky Blues have a short turnaround before hosting third-placed Roar on Saturday night. In good news, the squad has plenty of positives to take away from their unlucky 0-1 defeat in Melbourne while Brisbane have conceded a whopping eight goals in their last two matches and have not registered a win since January 2nd.
Defensively, Sydney FC have got it right.
Midfield and attacking combinations are beginning to gel.
Now to score some goals and get back to the top of the table.