A-League: Round 6
Central Coast 1 – 2 Sydney FC
Central Coast Stadium
Saturday 1 December 2018
Kick off: 5:35pm
Well, sometimes you have to win ugly, and that’s certainly what we did on Saturday. Yet, really, the manner of the victory makes it feel like a loss. This was not a vintage Sydney FC performance and, in fact, the whole performance was completely unrecognisable from anything we have seen over the last two seasons.
Sydney FC almost conceded in the first minute, with the Mariners streaming forward from the kick-off and having two shots on target in the first thirty seconds, with only a great sliding block from Rhyan Grant and a save from Andrew Redmayne preventing absolute humiliation. The chance was created by Mariners’ Matt Millar, who was playing on the home side’s right wing. It would be a familiar attacking movement throughout the game; the ball would go to Millar who would take on Michael Zullo and, more often than not, beat him for pace and then whip in a cross.
CCM took the lead, with the chance coming from our left side once again. Michael Zullo lost Matt Millar, forcing Jop van der Linden to come wide to cut off the cross, which in turn left Matt Simon unmarked in the box. The cross evaded Jop and the Wizard of Woy Woy put it in the back of the net. The defending on this one was abject and shows what we already knew after last week’s game against Melbourne: this team really needs to work on its defensive shape. To be honest, we should already have that sorted out in pre-season, but it is clear that something is just not right at the back.
Alex Brosque was pressing well, getting onto some loose passes in backplay, but we weren’t breaking with the same verve and fierceness which we did when Arnie was coaching us. None of the chances we created from these positions were particularly great. Hopefully with Daniel De Silva and Siem De Jong coming back next week, we will have some extra creativity.
To be honest, Sydney deserved to go into the break down 1-0, but we were saved by Jack Clisby taking down Rhyan Grant in the box. As much as Mike Mulvey has complained post-game that it was outside the box, it was very clear that contact was made inside the box and the penalty was correctly given. Adam Le Fondre stepped up to take the penalty and, having missed last week, he did not have any trouble this time. He belted the penalty straight down the middle and no keeper was going to save that. This isn’t the first time he’s demonstrated the ability to do this and it is always great to see someone just wallop the ball.
Steve Corica clearly had some words with the players at half time because Sydney came out of the blocks much more confident and keeping hold of the ball much better. However, we still weren’t manufacturing any good chances to score. Jop van der Linden hit the bar about mid-way through the half, but we weren’t creating anything from open play. Mariners were pressing us well and we just weren’t getting to loose balls in midfield as we have been throughout the rest of the start to this season.
It took a momentary lapse in the Mariners’ pressing to create the chance we needed, however. Brandon O’Neill received the ball in midfield, completely unmarked and with space ahead of him. He took a couple of touches to steady himself and then fired an absolute rocket into the far side of the net. It was an absolutely stunning strike, made all the more amazing by the fact that he struck it so forcefully with his left leg. While it was an amazing goal, there’s a risk that scoring that might paper over the cracks in an otherwise lacklustre performance.
Late in the game, Luke Ivanovic came on for Paulo Retre to make his professional debut. Ivanovic played really well for the NPL team last season and scored twice for the youth team last weekend, likely earning his call-up in place of De Silva, who was ineligible to play. He seized his opportunity with both hands, constantly running and looking to create opportunities.
You can view the match highlights here:
3 things we learned
- Corica shows the same unwillingness as Arnold to make substitutes. Once again, despite a lacklustre performance, Corica proved unwilling to go to his substitutes. Ivanovic came on in the 78th minute and Devlin came on in the 90th. While the bench was a bit thin, we were crying out for an unknown factor to shake up the Mariners’ defence. Arnold was guilty of the same thing during his tenure.
- We are still vulnerable to a tight press. Over the last two seasons other teams have been at their most successful when they press us high and restrict the space of our midfield. CCM went into the game planning to do this and it really paid off. Our midfielders didn’t have a lot of space to move about and it is quite telling that O’Neill’s goal came in the brief moment when he was left unmarked and with plenty of space in front of him. Hopefully when De Jong or De Silva get back in, we will have the technical ability to play past the press and exploit the gaps which are left better than we did on Saturday.
- Trust in youth can pay off. When Ivanovic came on, our whole attack seemed to click much better. While Retre has been playing really well up front this season and fully deserves his starting spot, he doesn’t make many direct runs at defence. Ivanovic, meanwhile, was much more willing to make runs at the fullback, causing some real concerns down the right.
- Luke Ivanovic became the 150th player to play a league game for Sydney FC.
- Rhyan Grant played his 175th competitive match for Sydney FC
- Jop van der Linden received his fourth yellow card in six league games. One more and he will receive a one match ban.
Note: Statistics only include league games, finals, FFA Cup, OFC and AFC Champions League and Club World Cup.