Saturday night’s derby started a new chapter in the struggle for Sydney – and it opened the season as many introductory chapters do, promising much, teasing a little, but providing little real drama to chew on.
The game finished 0-0 with few genuine chances and a few sore limbs. The league gambled by scheduling a showpiece as the season opener. The league and Channel 10 lost: both sides were a little too rusty, and too keen to avoid defeat, to provide a gripping contest or a showcase of skill.
As much as a team can control a stalemate, the match was shaped by Sydney FC. The Sky Blues held the ball, wove tidy patterns to advance up the pitch, and pressed in partnerships to enforce their shape on the game. Sydney looked unlikely to reach the heights – a little too measured, a little too rusty to be incisive, and a little too blunt from distance – but will be glad to have dominated the contest.
The Wanderers will be happier to take home a point. Their foundation was tested, and stood. Their fans will take some heart and coach Carl Robinson can take a breath. That won’t suffice for long, and won’t bring back the many former fans absent from a touted crowd of more than 23,118. When the Wanderers found themselves in tight spaces, they looked half a yard slow or a small decision off. They took a small step forward, but have a long way to go.
First half: key moments
The opening half saw a number of chances fall Sydney’s way, though the first real opportunity fell to Western Sydney in the 13th minute. Ben Warland and Andrew Redmayne collided while clearing a set piece, and Western Sydney worked another cross into the box. Rhys Williams intelligently nudged the ball into space that Warland was groggily minding, and former Sky Blue Dimi Petratos sprinted onto the bouncing ball. Redmayne had the painful pleasure of saving with his face.
Sydney FC’s best moment fell to both front men. Trent Buhagiar started in place of the injured Bobo, and almost found a goal in the 32nd minute. The team made the moment, as the midfield wove space and the impressive Elvis Kamsoba whipped a great ball into Buhagiar – but the flying striker headed too close to Wanderers keeper Tomas Mejias. The rebound fell towards Adam Le Fondre, whose volley was deflected over by Thomas Aquilina.
Throughout the first half, Western Sydney were forced to move fast or go long, or both at the same time. They had moments, but few that were constructed or creative. Their most obvious contributor was new captain Rhys Williams, who snuffed out several Sydney FC chances.
Second half: key moments:
The second half settled into similar patterns, though the Wanderers were able to work higher up the pitch. The best chances came in transition and from range. In the 54th minute, pressing from Caceres saw the ball roll in front of Le Fondre, just outside the box. Alfie smacked a shot that Mejias did well to deny at full stretch.
Max Burgess came on from Milos Ninkovic for the last 20 minutes, and Burgess almost made himself an instant legend. A corner fell outside the area: Burgess shifted his feet and whipped a left-footed volley that swung a foot wide.
The Wanderers rolled the dice late, bringing on Jack Rodwell in the 78th minute. He had two moments that could have won the match. The most spectacular came when Caceres – who otherwise impressed in central midfield – was slow to close Rodwell down, and he smashed a shot that Redmayne tipped wide. The second was probably the better chance: a set piece dropped to Rodwell just yards from goal, and he could have shot with head or foot. Instead, he tried a touch, and the ball dribbled away.
Alex Tobin medal
3 points – Rhys Wiliams
2 points – Anthony Caceres
1 point – Elvis Kamsoba
The Alex Tobin medal points seemed well-judged. Williams shrugged off cramp and some shaky distribution to save the Wanderers on several occasions. Caceras – even if he might prefer to play further forward – proved again he can steady and threaten from central midfield. And Kamsoba showed no nerves, some skill and speed, a couple of heavy touches, a few great passes and crosses, and forced Traore into a yellow. If he’s going to get better with time, he’ll be handy.
By contrast, Bernie Ibini looked sluggish and sore. He had a great headed chance in the 65th minute but put it central and over the bar. Ibini should have been booked for knocking a free kick away just before half time, and offered little else. Several Sydney players were solid but undeniably rusty: strikers Le Fondre, Buhagiar and Wood didn’t take full advantage of their moments, and while Rhyan Grant was solid defensively, his crosses were wayward – here’s hoping he re-finds his former zip.
SFCU player of the match
You can vote here: https://www.sfcu.com.au/2021/11/20/player-of-the-season-2021-22/
I’ll be voting for:
3 points – Anthony Caceres
2 points – Elvis Kamsoba
1 point – Paolo Retre
Highlights and coach quotes
Selected highlights and coach’s quotes are available on Keep Up here: https://keepup.com.au/news/sydney-derby-ends-in-stalemate
“I wouldn’t say it was rust,” Sky Blues coach Steve Corica said.
“I would say it’s the big derby and there’s a lot at stake in this game. We kept a clean sheet but we wanted to go on and win that game.”
“We huffed and puffed,” Wanderers coach Carl Robinson said.
“We turned the ball over too many times in midfield and our final pass or execution was just a little bit off it.
“Then when we did have an action, keeper made one or two good saves or we just missed the headers. It’s always an area we can improve on.”
Taken from the Sydney FC news review: https://sydneyfc.com/news/sydney-fc-dominate-sydney-derby-draw
Sydney FC: 1. Andrew REDMAYNE, 3. Ben WARLAND, 4. Alex WILKINSON, 8. Paulo RETRE, 10. Milos NINKOVIC (22. Max BURGESS 76’), 11. Trent BUHAGIAR (33. Patrick WOOD 64’), 14. Adam LE FONDRE, 16. Joel KING, 17. Anthony CACERES, 23. Rhyan GRANT, 27. Elvis KAMSOBA (21. Harry VAN DER SAAG 85’)
Unused Subs: 20. Tom HEWARD-BELLE (GK), 28. Calem NIEUWENHOF, 32. Patrick YAZBEK, 35. Liam McGING.
Yellow Cards: Retre 75’.
Red Cards: None.
Western Sydney Wanderers: 20. Tomas MEJIAS, 3. Adama TRAORE, 4. Rhys WILLIAMS, 7. Ramy NAJJARINE, 8. Steven UGARKOVIC, 9. Bernie IBINI (37. Alex BADOLATO 88’), 10. Tomer HEMED, 22. Johnny KOUTROUMBIS, 23. Dimi PETRATOS (11. Keijiro OGAWA 77’), 29. Terry ANTONIS (5. Jack RODWELL 78’), 39. Thomas AQUILINA.
Subs: 1. Daniel MARGUSH, 13. Tate RUSSELL, 21. Jordi SWIBEL, 33. Mark NATTA,
Yellow Cards: Williams 50’, Traore 68’.
Red Cards: None.
Venue: CommBank Stadium
Referee: Alex King
Sydney FC’s next game is this Wednesday, November 24. The Sky Blues take on Sydney Olympic FC in the FFA Cup Round of 16. https://sydneyfc.com/fixtures/sydney-olympic-fc-v-sydney-fc-ffa-cup-24-11-2021/9o8yusyxkyuyo5gh6y9qnzy1g