Review: Carney Fires Sydney to Hard-earnt draw

​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.

 

 

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Preview: Melb Victory v Sydney FC Round 21 2015/16

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Sydney FC faithful will have woken to the news that the Sky Blues are front runners to snare the much-prized signature of Socceroo winger Tommy Oar. The deal would be a shot in the arm for the beleaguered club and its supporters.

The thought of Tommy Oar making a run down the left before delivering a pinpoint cross is certainly one to lift the current gloom. And after Sydney’s abysmal set piece display in Saitama on Wednesday night, the Sky Blues could finally have a player capable of delivering a quality free kick.

Let’s hope it happens.

A piece of good news that has been largely missed due to the club’s  A-League and ACL commitments is the announcement of its squad for the upcoming NPL season. Built on the foundations of the side that won the shortened (and possibly last) NYL competition last month, there are two additions to the squad that should fill every Sydney FC supporter with delight.

The signing of 17 year old Daniel Arzani, the club’s most talented young midfielder since a teenage Terry Antonis arrived in 2010, is a massive pointer to the future. He is joined by fellow Under-17 representative winger Daniel Maskin, unlucky to miss selection for the Joeys’ World Cup tilt late last year. The winger spent some of last season injured but appears to be healthy once again.

It is encouraging to see both local youngsters avoid the pitfalls of premature overseas moves (to England and Belgium respectively), opting instead to actively develop their game at home. And given their talent, a season’s senior football could pave the way for them to earn A-League contracts with the Sky Blues.

They are not alone of course, with George Timotheu, Daniel Araujo and skipper Yianni Spyrakis also on track for senior contracts in the next twelve months. In a week of doom and gloom, it is gratifying to see that the club is building impressively for the future.

Graham Arnold, under fire following his side’s display in Japan that raised more questions about his coaching than his players’ ability, is expected to freshen up his squad for Saturday night’s Big Blue. Jacques Faty and Filip Holosko, not picked for the ACL campaign, will be joined by other Sydney players left behind for the Urawa match – Matt Simon, David Carney and Brandon O’Neill.

Add Alex Brosque and Milos Ninkovic in the mix – both given just 20 minutes on the field in Saitama and the side appears fresh and ready to take the game to their traditional rivals.

On the flip side, Vedran Janjetovic, Rhyan Grant and Seb Ryall will back up while it is hard to see Milos Dimitrijevic and Mikael Tavares take the field following their exertions on Wednesday night. With that in mind, the side that takes the field at Docklands is expected to be something akin to this:

Janjetovic; Ryall, Faty, Jurman, Grant; O’Neill, Brosque, Ninkovic; Holosko, Carney, Simon.

While Sydney are at full strength, Melbourne Victory, coming off a morale-boosting 2-1 win against the visiting Shanghai last Wednesday, will miss rightback Jason Geria, who is serving out a suspension. His replacement is likely to be Scott Galloway and this could work to the advantage Sydney’s left winger David Carney.

Victory’s failed attempt to bring Socceroo Mark Milligan back to the club highlights just how much they are missing Carl Valeri, out for the season with an inflammatory brain condition. Valeri’s replacement, Rashid Mahazi, isn’t in the same class and is prone to a rash challenge when beaten. It is another avenue the Sky Blues will do well to exploit. And can ageing centreback Mathieu Delpierre recover after a hard game just three days prior?

It is well-known that Victory’s best avenue to three points is via its magical attacking quartet of Gui Finkler, Fahid Ben-Khalfallah, Kosta Barbarouses and Besart Berisha. It is equally well-known that Victory’s favourite footballing tactic is to allow their opposition to play, press and regain possession on the halfway line and hit on the counter. No side is better at this than the Melbourne outfit.

Last time round, Arnie’s tactics to overcome this were to sit deep and deny Victory space, almost getting a draw out of the contest. On this occasion, however, it would appear that attack could be the best form of defence, especially if last week’s starting lineup against the Wanderers is any guide.

Psychologically, Wednesday night will give Melbourne a massive boost whilst placing Sydney firmly in the doldrums. But Arnie will remind his players that in the A-League competition, his side are coming off an excellent Sydney Derby display while their opponents were surprised by a late 0-1 defeat at the hands of Adelaide United last Friday night.

Fatigue could play a part in the contest and while the Sky Blues are more likely to suffer at its hands, they should have enough fresh players to overcome it. It is also this factor that should prompt the team not to spend an hour of the game chasing shadows – a demanding and, at times, frustrating exercise.

This week Victory have, thankfully, taken over the job of talking up their Big Blue chances from Sydney FC. It is a fool’s exercise and one the Sky Blues will do well to continue leaving to their opponents in the future.

Who wins?

Most punters are calling a home victory. Melbourne Victory go into the game as favourites but this column believes a thrilling draw is the most likely result.

That said, can the Sky Blues take all three points in what many would consider an upset?

You bet they can.

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Arnie's Saitama Slip-up

This one is down to the coach. A litany of tactical and selection errors hamstrung the Sky Blues, rendering them impotent for a large part of its Asian Champions League opener – a contest that, in hindsight, was winnable against an opponent that was out of season and, for all its midfield superiority, hardly impressed going forward.

No matter what happens the remainder of the season, which threatens to be a long one, Graham Arnold has been a breath of fresh air and has laid the foundation for future excellence. He must be allowed to complete the job next season, and perhaps beyond if he merits it.



But Sydney’s loss in Saitama is something for which the coach needs to put his hand up.  

Error number one:

The Sky Blues made Urawa Red Diamonds appear good by lining up in a ridiculous formation that failed to suit the visitors. Playing a back five can work, provided that the team can cope with a high press and play their way out. Instead, playing too many square balls with little purpose and, under siege from the pressing Japanese, the Sky Blues surrendered possession time and again, placing their defence under pressure all too often.

Error number two:

Pitting a player who has not kicked a football in anger for nearly twelve months against a Japanese side that was sharp, nimble and mentally ahead of their opponents in the early stages of the match. Zac Anderson’s blunder in not clearing the ball in his own penalty area was due entirely to being asleep at the wheel, the hallmark of a player who is mentally off the pace. If Anderson was going to be a vital part of the ACL campaign, surely a prior run in the A-League would have made sense?

Sydney got back into the contest in the last 15 minutes of the first half, winning a number of free kicks in dangerous positions. But the delivery had to be seen to be believed.

Is there anyone at Sydney FC who can take a decent set piece? Sydney FC squandered one free kick opportunity after another, letting the tiring Red Diamonds off the hook time and again.

After the break, the hosts played the ball around their own half, looking to draw out the defensively set up visitors before hitting them with rapier-like through balls. Urawa tactics were largely working, leaving the Sky Blues to chase shadows, producing little on the ball and appearing vulnerable to Urawa through-balls.

Ten minutes after the break, Arnie needed to ring the changes. Hoole, on a yellow and charging into players like a man who has watched one AFL game too many, was trying the referee’s patience, while the system that forced the Sky Blues to sit so deep was patently not working.   

Instead, Arnie dithered – Error number 3 - and Sydney FC paid the price.

While Anderson’s howler was unforgiveable, mitigated by his lack of playing time of course, Seb Ryall’s skewed clearance was sheer bad luck, but one that could have been avoided had Sydney not invited Urawa onto them time and again. Vedran Janjetovic mistimed his dive for the ball and the penalty was a fair one. Some goalkeepers have received their marching orders for similar offences so the Sydney custodian can count himself a touch lucky.

At 2-0 down and the game all but gone, the Sydney coach finally decided to make his substitutions. Something about shutting the door after the horse had bolted springs to mind.

A formation change is all it took to make the Sky Blues appear a football side again. With Sydney now playing a back four, the extra man in midfield made all the difference and suddenly the visitors began to cause their tiring opponents no end of problems. It certainly helped having Milos Ninkovic and Alex Brosque on the park but the new formation allowed the Sky Blues to have a red hot, though ultimately fruitless, go at their opponents.

This isn’t an argument about style over substance, one that has been wrongly laid at Arnie’s feet this season. Instead, it is an argument for a good formation over a bad one, effective tactics over ineffective ones, timely substitutions over ones that came too late.

In a game where the Sydney players had to overcome their own tactics as well as those of the opposition, Rhyan Grant and Matthew Jurman were the pick of the bunch while Shane Smeltz worked ever so hard and Milos Dimitrijevic showed his quality once the shackles of the 5-4-1 were removed in the final twenty minutes of play. 

It would be fair to say that the club had one eye on its vital clash with fellow ACL participants Melbourne Victory on Saturday night. For that reason alone, the coach must be allowed latitude to omit players from the squad or the starting lineup. This column has no beef with Arnie’s decision to leave Ninkovic and Brosque on the bench or, indeed, keep David Carney, Brandon O’Neill and Matt Simon back home to train alongside ACL non-participants Jacques Faty and Filip Holosko.

It’s a juggling act.  

But keeping one eye on Saturday night’s Big Blue would also have meant applying tactics to the ACL contest that would not leave the players exhausted after an hour of chasing shadows. While Victory played positive, attacking football against Shanghai to record an unlikely 2-1 win, Sydney’s defensive tactics yielded a deserved loss in Saitama. Yes, Melbourne were lucky to be awarded a penalty for a foul on Kosta Barbarouses that took place outside the box while Sydney should have had a first half penalty for handball following Hoole’s shot.

But fortune favours the brave.

And so, while Victory celebrate their maiden ACL win and enjoy bragging rights over the Sky Blues, Sydney FC have a job on their hands to prepare for the much-anticipated clash with their traditional rivals at Docklands Stadium on Saturday night.

Can Arnie turn Sydney’s leaky boat around in time?

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