There is no turning back.
No playing for a draw.
Sydney FC’s next two games see them play the two bottom-placed sides, while on the final day of the regular season, the Sky Blues will take on Perth Glory in a game that could decide the make-up of the Top 6. Sydney must take all nine points from these three matches.
Hosting Wellington Phoenix on Saturday afternoon, four regulars in the shape of Rhyan Grant, Seb Ryall, Jacques Faty and David Carney make their return from suspension and all will likely start. With Zac Anderson not selected for the Matchday Squad, it appears that Graham Arnold is intent on playing this season’s regular combination of Ryall-Faty-Jurman-Grant at the back.
Ahead of them, Milos Dimitrijevic, a standout last week, should keep his spot in central midfield alongside one of Mikael Tavares and Brandon O’Neill, though there is every chance all three could take the field at the expense of #10 Milos Ninkovic, who may be left on the bench with an eye on Sydney FC Asian Champions League away game to Pohang Steelers on Wednesday night.
Out wide, Filip Holosko is a certainty for the right flank while David Carney should resume his fine form on the left. Matt Simon is expected to continue his A-League run up front and is sure to be involved in some heated battles with the physical Phoenix defensive line that is likely to contain Andrew Durante, Manny Muscat and Ben Sigmund.
Wellington, following a 0-4 thrashing at the hands of high-flyers Adelaide United, are expected to dig in for a war of attrition at Allianz Stadium, picking up where they left off last November – a game in which Manny Muscat was key in slowing down Sydney’s play by repeatedly going down with apparent injury only to get to his feet the moment play would be stopped.
While Sydney are also coming off a big defeat, it was largely on the back of a reshuffled backline and the absence of Carney and Alex Brosque up front. The Sky Blues played some good attacking football last weekend and will go into the contest believing that if they get on the ball early, they have the capacity to dominate possession, forcing the visitors on the back foot and launching a number of telling raids at Glen Moss’ goal.
Things could be somewhat different, however, in the mental state of the two squads. Despite, or perhaps because of, their home thrashing last weekend, Wellington have little to no finals chance but will be buoyed by the club’s A-League extension and next season’s signing of All White Kosta Barbarouses. The visitors may approach the game with a “nothing to lose” attitude which could serve them well.
The Sky Blues, meanwhile, living a fishbowl existence that comes with the territory, have been on the end of some scathing press reports and will be under massive pressure to win. Having left themselves an A-League mountain to climb, they will know that simply “performing well” is no longer an option.
Should they concede an early goal or play uncertain, insipid football, they could well find the home crowd getting on their back – an unhelpful but understandable display of fan frustration that has been building throughout the season.
And so, Sydney’s best route to success on Saturday afternoon appears to be through positive football.
An early goal would do wonders.
If the Sky Blues manage to put together some good, attacking moves, create chances and, upon losing possession, quickly win it back, they will get the crowd behind them and can ride that wave to a much-needed victory.
Hosting Phoenix rarely brings out the crowds but one can only hope that every Sydney FC member and fan gets out and supports their team in a difficult time. For better or for worse, the players are trying their best. There is no doubt that Sydney are suffering a confidence crisis and the support of the fans could be just the thing that ignites them to a top-notch performance, as it did against Guangzhou ten days ago.
It has not been a good few months and we, the fans, must do what we can to help the team.
And worry about the rest in the off-season.