The Sky Blues could have walked away with all three points but instead took home just one in a match neutrals would describe as “entertaining” – a loaded word these days.
Prodigal son David Carney, surprisingly, had to settle for a spot on Sydney the bench alongside Ali Abbas, Brandon O’Neill, Shane Smeltz and Ivan Necevski. Adelaide United, meanwhile, kept Marcelo Carrusca, Craig Goodwin and Bruce Djite in cotton wool for Tuesday night’s Asian Champions League playoff against the visiting Shandong Luneng.
What an opportunity for the Sky Blues to break their four year winless streak at Coopers Stadium!
Instead, Sergio Cirio had the home crowd off their seats in the second minute of play as Seb Ryall allowed Stefan Mauk’s cross to bounce once too often and his delayed clearance ricocheted off the onrushing Spaniard and past the somewhat asleep Vedran Janjetovic
As the rattled Sky Blues attempted to work their way into the contest, their early execution was diabolical as passes went out of play or to their eager opponents, who now had their tails up and the crowd behind them following their slice of good fortune. Adelaide’s excellent passing game clicked into gear, isolating Sydney fullbacks Ryall and Rhyan Grant as they went in search of a second goal that would have spelt disaster for the Sky Blues.
Sydney deserve credit for seeing out that dangerous spell twenty minute spell without conceding, toiling to gradually work their way into the contest.
The hosts had a stroke of good fortune as Matt Simon and Iaccopo La Rocca tussled at the edge of the box. The two had handfuls of each other, with Simon, in truth, the instigator of the wrestling contest. Referee Chris Beath called no penalty – a decision that surprised few Sydney supporters but the TV cameras picked up a well-aimed La Rocca elbow striking Simon’s face when both players were on the ground.
With the Italian already serving out a one-match suspension for accumulated cards next week and no stranger to the elbow as an assault weapon, the Match Review Panel ought to give him a longer spell on the sidelines. There is only one way to deal with players like La Rocca - serial thugs remain serial thugs, whether representing Adelaide United or the Western Sydney Wanderers.
Or coaching Melbourne Victory, for that matter.
The Italian was soon off anyway, going down with a strained adductor and replaced by Jordan Elsey, himself a frequent entrant in the referee’s notebook.
But not before Sydney had their equaliser.
Filip Holosko saw Matt Simon set sail for the penalty area and swung over a well-measured cross for the big striker, whose powerful, angled, diving header – the kind that he delivered for the Mariners in seasons past – beat the despairing dive of Eugene Galekovic.
The quality of crossing in the local game leaves much to be desired and Holosko’s delivery could well serve as an example to learn from – not too heavy, not too light, just right. And Simon did the rest.
Parity restored, the Sky Blues suddenly had a spring in their step and began laying siege to Galekovic’s goal late in the first half.
Conceding the late goal against the run of play was a painful blow. Six Sydney players watched Bruce Kamau make his way into the penalty area and no one tracked Cirio’s run into the box. Good vision from the youngster picked out the free Spaniard who smashed his shot through a number of static Sydney legs and past the unsighted Janjetovic, whose late dive was to no avail.
Instead of accepting their fate – until the second half anyway - the visitors went on the attack like men possessed. United were suddenly under the pump in injury time.
The Ninkovic-Holosko combination has delivered this season and once again came to the fore seconds before the halftime whistle. The Serb made an excellent run between the lines, as he had done all night long, and set sail across the United penalty area.
Holosko’s run was clever and picking up Ninkovic’s curling through ball, his control was good enough to beat the sliding Elsey while his finish, a cushioned strike of a rising ball than many would have smashed over the bar, underlined his class.
Going into the dressing rooms at two goals apiece, United’s advantage was suddenly gone, the psychology of the match having changed completely.
The second half was all Sky Blues and United did all they could to hang on. The hosts’ passing game was still intact but without the ball they were a shadow of the rambunctious side that had threatened to blow Sydney away in the opening twenty minutes. Sydney came close with long range efforts by Dimitrijevic and Ninkovic while Carney was involved in a brilliant piece of interplay in the Adelaide penalty area that deserved a better finish. If Carney’s cameo is a sign of things to come, the winger is set for good times in the Sky Blue shirt once again.
A draw between Melbourne Victory and the Western Sydney Wanderers, coupled with Melbourne City’s surprise loss at the Hunter on Sunday afternoon, sees Sydney remain 5th on the ladder, level on points with the Melbourne clubs that sit above them on goal difference.
Despite some good football, Friday night saw Sydney miss a terrific opportunity to leapfrog City and Victory and go within four points off the table-topping Wanderers and Brisbane Roar.
Have Sydney FC turned the corner and are now a side that plays “proactive football” (a latter-day buzzword as annoying as “metrics”) or was their attacking intent simply part of Arnie’s game plan designed to defeat United?
Is the playing style of the Sky Blues now acceptable to football’s media commentariat?
It’s all about winning. Let us hope that Sydney FC get back to doing just that against Perth Glory at Allianz Stadium on Saturday night. It’s been too long.