We've reached the Round of 16 in the ACL for the first time ever in the clubs history. Shandong Luneng of China are our opponents for this two-leg match-up and regardless of result we need to give our boys in blue a good showing in our home game on May 25.
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Graham Arnold’s shake of the head at the full time whistle told the story. Where had this performance been all season?
Resolute, blemish-free at the back.
In control of the midfield.
Clinical in front of goal.
Sydney FC’s display against a strangely lethargic Perth Glory was among its best of the season, flying in the face of their tentative A-League displays in recent months but continuing their rich vein of form in the Asian Champions’ League (ACL). True, the visitors missed the guile of talismanic Diego Castro and the pace of Chris Harold but even that pair would have made little difference, such was the gulf in class on the day.
With Sydney’s A-League season dead and buried, one can only surmise that this was a performance with a view to Sydney’s clash with Urawa Red Diamonds on April 20. If so, the Japanese, sitting second to Sydney FC on the ladder, are in for a tough encounter.
David Carney has lost some of his electric pace of a decade ago but rolled back the years, eliciting the “Super Dave” chant from the Cove with an opportunistic finish, after some good lead-up work from Filip Holosko and a pinball-like bobble off two Glory defenders.
Carney’s decision-making plummeted in the last twenty minutes, as fatigue set in. With ten days to prepare for the Urawa match, Super Dave could be in for some tough training sessions as the coaching staff looks to build his fitness for the vital ACL games ahead.
If Holosko’s chested control of Ali Abbas’ through ball that led to Carney’s opener was quality, the Slovak’s goal five minutes later was sheer class. Often criticised for not creating enough on his own – as befitting a marquee attacker – the winger drifted inside. Receiving the ball, Holosko outpaced and then dribbled around the seemingly static defensive duo of Alex Grant and Shane Lowry, finishing low and hard under the diving Perth keeper Ante Covic.
In the season’s wash-up, the displays of every Sky Blue player will come under the microscope, the foreign marquee’s that much more so. At times, the Slovak international disappointed but has reached ten goals by the end of the season – not a bad return for a winger in a team that has performed poorly in the A-League.
It is no secret that Holosko declined an opportunity to represent his country a few weeks back to give Sydney FC his best endeavours. His kissing of the Sydney badge upon scoring his goal against Glory on Saturday night indicates that playing in the Sky Blue shirt has come to mean much to the Slovakian.
The second half saw the Sky Blues create chance after chance and, but for better decision making, could have scored another two or three goals. There was a brief but ultimately fruitless Glory revival but the Sky Blues, now with ten men, sat back and picked off the visitors with one counterattack after another. And in the 84th minute of play, Milos Ninkovic released Abbas in the Perth penalty area and the Iraqi comfortably beat Dino Djulbic, smashing a rasping drive past Covic for a 3-0 lead.
If rumours are correct that Abbas, off contract at the end of the season, is looking to engineer a move overseas, the Cove favourite has a keen sense of history, scoring on his return from long-term injury at ANZ Stadium in January and now, possibly in his final A-League match for the Sky Blues. Either way, this isn’t a farewell – much is expected of Abbas in coming weeks.
In injury time, Brandon O’Neill released substitute Andrew Hoole, whose timing was perfect to receive the through ball at full pace and make a run at the Perth goal. The winger’s cross to Ninkovic was well aimed and the popular Serb finished clinically to end the Sky Blues’ A-League season on a high.
Once again, French cousins Jacques Faty and Mikael Tavares were conspicuous by their absence. Faty, now surplus to requirements, is no longer a Sydney FC player, while it appears that Tavares, who has another year to run on his contract, may not be overly keen on remaining with the club.
For ACL purposes, it would serve Sydney FC well to hold on to the midfielder until the end of the season, as the former Senegal international could still have an important role to play in the Asian competition. But one gets the feeling that Tavares’ days are numbered.
In a game where just about every Sydney player shaded his Perth opponent, the O’Neill-Milos Dimitrijevic midfield combination worked a treat, George Blackwood tried hard but took some poor options and Matt Simon put in a powerful effort, though, as ever, was a loose cannon with his tackles.
Ten day until Sydney’s ACL match against Urawa Red Diamonds. With a draw enough to get the Sky Blues through to the next round, a win will cement their spot at the top of the table. One hopes that more than 5,000 fans show up to support the club in the highest level of club football competition that Asia has to offer.
In the meantime, let’s enjoy the 4-0 win. At least it gave the fans something to smile about.
And forced others to shake their heads at what have been.