Entertaining Sky Blues Draw In Adelaide

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?

Who knows?

Who cares?

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.


Preview: Adelaide United v Sydney FC - Round 18 2015/16

Friday, 5 February 2016
Adelaide United v Sydney FC
Coopers Stadium, Adelaide
Kick-Off: 7:40 PM (AEDT)

Hope Alex Gersbach has packed his mittens.

The young leftback did not hang around long enough to become a fan favourite the way Terry Antonis did but it is a shame to lose a talented footballer who could have helped the Sky Blues in their climb back up the table. Sydney FC do make a tidy profit from his sale to FC Rosenborg, however, while the on-sell clause is reportedly a good one.

One hopes that Gersbach is not going over simply to warm the Norwegian wood, otherwise the kid would have been better advised to serve his apprenticeship in the A-League. Regardless, every Sydney fan wishes him luck in his new adventure and hopes to see him in a Socceroo shirt and at a bigger club before too long.

Enter former Sydney FC title winner and 2005/6 Members Player of the Year David Carney. 

It has become fashionable to deride the former Socceroo – as much for his unstable club career as for his one error in the Asian Cup final against Japan in 2011. But his decade as a “journeyman” is, more than anything else, testament to what injury and bad advice can do to a player’s career, while THAT error is hardly career defining.

Few Australian footballers, or imports in the national competition for that matter, can boast a CV that includes 48 international caps and 6 goals, an A-League Grand Final win, two Asian Cups, an Olympic games and the 2010 World Cup in South Africa. Carney is still among the most technically gifted footballers in the A-League while his sharpness suggests that he is fit again this season – Sydney would not have signed him otherwise, not at 32 years of age.

Carney’s best contribution to Sydney FC will surely come as a wide attacker in place of Andrew Hoole or Chris Naumoff and his coolness under pressure and ability to score and set up goals could be the missing piece in the Sky Blue jigsaw. The Campbelltown product also offers depth at #10.

Alex Brosque is still at least a week away and it will be interesting to see how Graham Arnold lines up his charges against Adelaide United on Friday night. With Carney expected to start on the left and Milos Ninkovic firing at #10, Sydney could play Matt Simon, George Blackwood or Shane Smeltz up top, leaving marquee Filip Holosko in his usual position wide on the right.

This is the likely scenario but Arnold could spring a surprise and give the Slovak another run as a #9, leaving Chris Naumoff and Andrew Hoole - both with much to prove following Sydney’s willingness to let them leave earlier in the week - to fight it out for the right attacking spot.

The expected tactical battle is fascinating. Sydney FC played a defensive and counterattacking game – with some success – against WSW and Victory, coming unstuck when attempting to take it to Brisbane Roar last weekend.

Which way to go away from home?

Adelaide, unbeaten by Sydney FC at Coopers Stadium in four years – are a resurgent outfit and three points will be hard to snatch from the hard-nosed unit that defends en masse, isn’t afraid to give away a strategic foul or ten and has the technical gifts to punish any opponent.

The transfer window has seen Osama Malik and form midfielder Jimmy Jeggo leave for greener pastures and in their absence, coach Guillermo Amor has put his trust in the clever Isaias, talented youngster George Mells, thuglicous Iaccopo La Rocca and new signing Stefan Mauk to act as piano-carriers for talented playmaker Marcelo Carrusca. The club was unfortunate to lose Eli Babalj to a season-ending knee injury but have more than balanced the ledger by acquiring their former goalscoring maestro Sergio Van Dijk.

Adelaide, unlike the Sky Blues, have employed largely the same method all season long – lining up deep and playing out with some style. Hitting the long ball to flyer Craig Goodwin has also been a tactic that has brought them some success.

A factor influencing Amor’s decisions will be his side’s Asian Champions League (ACL) qualifying playoff against Shandong Luneng on Tuesday night. The Adelaide coach may well test the depth of his squad should some of his players not be capable of 180 minutes of football in four days. Conversely, with the hosts sitting just a point behind Sydney FC on the A-League ladder, Friday night shapes as a genuine “six pointer”.

Do Adelaide go for the win or prioritise the Tuesday playoff?

Amor’s intentions are hard to read so Arnie may opt for a game plan that is “cautiously attacking”, looking to create chances but leaving no stone unturned in bringing eleven men back behind the ball the moment Sydney lose possession.

Psychologically, the hosts edge the visitors - United do well against the Sky Blues at home and are on a three game winning run while Sydney FC have lost their last two matches. The Sky Blues will feel, however, that last time round they were desperately unlucky not to come away from Adelaide with at least a point despite being a man short most of the contest.

Sydney’s best chance of victory lies in getting the early goal, taking the home crowd out of the equation and putting doubt into the mind of the United players, many of whom who will have one eye on Tuesday’s ACL qualifier. If they do, they could lay the foundation for what would amount to something of an upset victory.

The Sky Blues need all three points.

With only ten rounds left to play and the ACL just around the corner, Sydney FC have little time to waste.


Review: Sydney FC Poor in the Wet against Brisbane

In their worst display of the season, Sydney FC went down 1-3 to Brisbane Roar on Saturday night to record back-to-back losses for the first time in thirteen months.

Going into the match, media talk centred on one thing - would Arnie employ the same defensive tactics that worked against the Western Sydney Wanderers and, largely, Melbourne Victory, when hosting the Roar?

Most fans have no problem with whatever style of football the coach chooses to adopt, as long as their side gets the three points. But perhaps what Arnie is asking of his players is a little too much.

A fortnight or so back, I raised the question – will the real Sydney FC please stand up?

At any level of the game, drastically changing playing styles from one match to another is physically and mentally demanding as players suddenly become unsure of their role in the cauldron of a professional football match. This was very much the story at a wet Allianz Stadium on Saturday night.

The Sky Blues went into the contest looking to attack from the off and the players, after weeks of defensive tactics, appeared lost. The hosts made the type of fundamental errors that they have not made all season, their passing game particularly falling to pieces as the Sky Blues turned over possession, especially late in the contest, and lacked sharpness in front of goal.

Perhaps major tactical changes are too difficult for players to cope with week in, week out. They aren’t robots and what works fine on the training ground does not always translate into successful matchday performance. Given Sydney is likely to adopt the defensive tactics that worked so well for Adelaide United in 2008 and Wanderers in 2014 in their upcoming Asian Champions League (ACL) campaign, could Arnie just stick with the same tactics in the A-League as well? 

The four day turnaround certainly played a part in Sydney’s capitulation – every team that played midweek recorded losses on the weekend – but that cannot be held as an excuse by a side about to embark on an arduous ACL campaign in which long flights and three - much less four – day turnarounds will become the norm.

Are Sydney ready for that kind of challenge?

Arnie made a number of changes to the starting lineup, Seb Ryall the unlucky loser in the reshuffle prompted by the return of Alex Gersbach. As predicted, Dimitrijevic made way for Olyroo Brandon O’Neill, Matt Simon was given the night off as George Blackwood received another start while Andrew Hoole replaced Chris Naumoff on the left of the attack.

The changes made sense – it is a squad game after all and Sydney’s depth is at an all-time high.

Unfortunately, the changes just did not work out. Hoole, for all his industry and attacking intent, is completely devoid of confidence in front of goal, going to water when presented with the kind of scoring chances that he puts away easily in training. On Saturday night, Hoole was the place good attacks came to die.

In an old-fashioned 4-4-2 system, where a winger gets to the by-line to deliver a cross and occasionally makes a run into the penalty area, Hoole would work a treat. But in a 4-3-3, the wide attackers are expected to score goals and the 22 year old just isn’t that kind of player.

The mooted Hoole swap for David Carney?  Right now, I’d take it in a heartbeat. Although Simon and Naumoff’s omissions could have had something to do with it as well.

The other winger, Filip Holosko, was serviceable but a marquee attacker needs to be more than that and Holosko isn’t measuring up to his near-million dollar salary. Milos Ninkovic, on the other hand, wearing the Sydney FC captain’s armband for the first time, was superb, turning his markers inside out and involved in most of Sydney’s best moments.

Behind him, Mikael Tavares played, arguably, his finest game for the club. Unfortunately, his midfield partner Brandon O’Neill was found wanting, uncharacteristically giving the ball away and failing to track Matt McKay on the back post for the Socceroo’s header in the 67th minute.

Jacques Faty was among the best on the park for the Sky Blues, though Arnie’s reluctance to hand him the armband underlines that he has yet to attain unequivocal redemption. His defensive partner, Matt Jurman, on the other hand, appeared mentally off his game and his marking and positioning left a lot to be desired.

Rhyan Grant was decent but, once again, turned over possession far too often, while Gersbach excelled, setting up chances and hitting an excellent free kick that led to Sydney’s equaliser. Not a bad way for the 18 year old to sign off and begin his European adventure.

More on that in coming days.

Hoole’s popular substitution by Ali Abbas backfired as the Iraqi parked himself out wide in Gersbach’s position, neutering the departing leftback’s attacking game and offering little as an alternative, while Vedran Janjetovic excelled between the sticks.

The Sky Blues had a good period in the first twenty minutes of the second half, creating chances, scoring their equalising goal and, with the crowd behind them, pushing for victory. However, McKay’s header took the wind out of Sydney FC’s sails and within a minute or two, the hosts’ passing game went to pieces. It was not a pretty sight, nor was that of the hungrier Roar winning key tackles and most “second balls”.

How will the coaching staff prepare their squad for the upcoming “six pointer” in Adelaide?

Whatever they do, things need to turn around this Friday night. A couple of good results will see Sydney back challenging for top spot. A couple of bad ones and the Sky Blues will leave themselves a mountain to climb in their quest for the title.

Which Sydney FC will stand up on Friday night?


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