If Sydney FC were unlucky to come away from the Sydney Derby with only a point last week, they were most fortunate to gain one against a rampant Melbourne Victory.
Saturday night’s hard-earnt draw was made possible by a terrific piece of rearguard action by the Sky Blues at AAMI Park.
Sydney FC definitely have another gear.
That gear was evident at Coopers Stadium after the Sky Blues lost Alex Gersbach to a red card last December and while their effort was spoilt by an injury time Jacques Faty brain explosion that night, the fighting spirit seems to grow when the team is up against the wall.
That same spirit was once again to the fore as the Sydneysiders found themselves a man down following yet another in a long line of Faty clangers. The Frenchman, on this occasion, turned what should have a simple backheader to keeper Vedran Janjetovic into a horror attempted backpass, for which he tried to atone by pulling back Victory striker Besart Berisha. The red card was deserved and if the former Senegal international were to keep walking all the way to the airport and board a flight back home to Paris, this column will not be disappointed.
And so the Sky Blues, a goal and a man down with a half hour left to play, reached deep to take the game to the hosts, who must have felt that this one was in the bag. Many Sydney fans would have agreed.
As expected, Sydney’s best route to goal was via Scott Galloway. Victory’s stand-in rightback found himself out of position, leaving David Carney free to make a run down the left and glide past young defender Thomas Deng – another who looks far better on the ball than actually defending – to fire in a powerful equaliser.
The Sky Blues could have won it at the end but under the circumstances, were happy to settle for a draw. The rescued point comes at a price, however, with Matt Simon and Alex Brosque expected to be out for weeks with spleen and hamstring injuries respectively. Meanwhile, Faty begins his suspension and the yellow cards collected by Carney, Rhyan Grant and Seb Ryall will force them out of next week’ match against Melbourne City.
Sydney were not helped by referee Kris Griffith-Jones’ display. He missed what should have been a red card to Kosta Barbarouses, whose early studs-to-the-shin challenge on Sydney playmaker Milos Ninkovic bore all the hallmarks of his coach’s despicable playing career.
One for the Match Review Panel.
The whistleblower also ignored a blatant handball in the penalty box by the hosts’ central defender Mathieu Delpierre and brandished the yellow card at the Sky Blues for fouls which he failed to punish when these were committed by the home side.
The Sky Blues’ courageous last 30 minutes display and Griffith-Jones’ ineptitude should not mask Sydney’s atrocious first hour of football. Going into the game with an attacking formation and two creative midfielders ahead of screener Brandon O’Neill, Sydney needed to win the midfield to capitalise on their technical strength in the middle of the park.
Instead, the Sky Blues appeared lost and unsure as their passing game fell to pieces, gifting Victory the ball time and again. And while Carney threatened all night long, marquee right winger Filip Holosko was simply anonymous.
As ever, Sydney have found ways to self-destruct this season and Grant should have done better than allow Barbarouses to cut inside him after a well-aimed Vukovic clearance a minute after the break. But Janjetovic was guilty of the greater blunder, beaten on his near post by the Kiwi.
Melbourne Victory would have scored more but for the terrific defending of Matt Jurman, Sydney’s colossus on the night. Winning balls in the air and on the ground, the central defender was impenetrable, throwing himself in front of hard-driven shots time and again. He was assisted by Grant, Ryall and O’Neill, who also provided the visitors with plenty of defensive cover.
Ninkovic came into his own in the second half, his high quality game replete with twists, turns and through-balls keeping the hosts guessing. Alongside him, Milos Dimitrijevic had a big hand in dragging his side back into the contest, playing the #8 role to perfection. It was a gutsy display by the Serb, following his 90 minutes against Urawa on Wednesday night with another seventy in Melbourne as Simon’s early replacement.
The hosts were on top for a large part of the contest but Carney’s goal visibly took the wind out of the Victory sails. If the Sky Blues aren’t going to win the title this season, neither, for all their bluster, are the Melbournians.
All up, a rescued point and one that, thanks to Perth Glory’s 2-1 defeat at the hands of the Western Sydney Wanderers a day earlier, keeps Sydney in the Top 6, behind Victory on goal difference.
Sydney now turn their attention to Asian champions Guangzhou Evergrande.
Held to a surprise home draw by Korean Pohang Steelers, Guangzhou’s coach is none other than Brazil’s 2002 World Cup winner Luis Filipe Scolari. Containing former Tottenham man Paulinho and Brazil mindfielder Ricardo Goulart, their headline act is undoubtedly the $80 million Colombian World Cup goalscorer Jackson Martinez.
Evergrande play more directly than Urawa Red Diamonds, looking to get the ball into the feet of the powerfully-built Martinez. It looks a mighty challenge for the Sky Blues but if they could rise to the occasion to salvage a draw at AAMI Park, they are capable of upsetting the Guangzhou applecart.
Ali Abbas, Mikael Tavares and Shane Smeltz will start for Sydney FC, along with Chris Naumoff and Andrew Hoole. In Brosque’s absence, George Blackwood may get the nod off the bench, the 18 year old looking to continue his education against Asia’s best.
The odds are with the visitors but, one hopes that a large crowd comes out to support the Sky Blues at Allianz Stadium on Wednesday night.
It will certainly be a very special occasion.