Wishing The Season Away

​In Seinfeld’s “English Patient” episode, Elaine finally explodes in a packed cinema, screaming “Just die already! Die!”

If last season’s Sky Blues took their fans on a wonderful journey, the 2015/16 version has been a roller-coaster ride – slow and steady on the way up, some yo-yoing in the middle and a breakneck-speed, screaming plummet towards the end. Watching their team stagger to the finish line has tested the patience of even the most mild-mannered of Sydney FC fans.

Could the season just end now?

Mercifully, there isn’t long to go in the A-League – a drive up to Gosford next weekend and tough, successive encounters against Brisbane and Adelaide. After that, Sydney’s domestic season will be finally put out of its misery at Allianz Stadium against Perth Glory on April 10.

Of little consolation is fellow ACL contestants Melbourne Victory’s 5-0 demolition at the hands of top-of-the-table Brisbane Roar. In a race to the bottom, Victory’s A-League run-in is no easier than Sydney’s but even if the Sky Blues manage to jag a finals spot at Melbourne’s expense, their season could, under no circumstances, be termed a success.

With Jacques Faty and Filip Holosko on the bench and the squad due to board a Sunday morning flight to Korea, Graham Arnold opted to give young Aaron Calver another outing at rightback. Robert Stambolziev continued his stint in the first eleven while striker Matt Simon was nowhere to be seen.

From the opening whistle, Sydney’s defensive line was all but non-existent in a display reminiscent of Ian Crook’s pitiful side of late 2012, one that conceded twenty goals in its first eight matches of the season. Surely Fabio, Adam Griffiths and Trent McLenahan, all signed by the Crook-Gary Cole combination, could not have done any worse than the defence that leaked three unacceptably easy goals against Wellington Phoenix at Allianz Stadium on Saturday afternoon.

Poor Aaron Calver bore the brunt of the crowd’s resentment but justifiably so. It is unfortunate, but Calver’s game – defensive and technical - requires radical surgery if the player aspires to a long term career in professional football.

The kid who showed so much promise at just 16 years of age is now something of a liability. Admittedly, being constantly shunted to rightback despite being a central defender hasn’t helped, but, given the chance, a young player must seize it with both hands and the former Joey has failed to do so.

The entire eleven was defensively inept, however, with Phoenix finding plenty of time and space between the lines in early exchanges. Sydney’s wide players failed to track their man, their central midfielders were asleep at the wheel in early exchanges while Sydney’s offside trap was sprung a number of times by the visitors.

With the ball, the Sky Blues looked a half-decent outfit. But then, so do the Mariners. And if the 2012 incarnation had Alessandro Del Piero’s attacking services to call upon, this season’s version lacks the cutting edge in the attacking third.

The football gods are hardly smiling on the team from the harbour city and Milos Ninkovic is now out for the season with a suspected ankle ligament tear. It is cruel luck, not only for the Sky Blues but the player himself, who has been one of the few consistently shining lights in a miserable campaign.

Having trudged off at halftime to the understandable boos of the frustrated crowd and, no doubt, on the end of some choice words from Arnold behind closed doors, the Sky Blues came out fired up after the break and went on to dominate the second half. Holosko’s goal gave the team and its fans some much-needed belief but, despite contolling the second forty five minutes, there was not enough quality in the Sydney attack to mount a stirring comeback against an eminently beatable opponent.

Where to from here?

With each passing week, more Sky Blue players are wilting under the strain. Two of Sydney’s best attacking players are out for the season. And Sydney’s implosion has, understandably, been received with much amusement by football fans around the country.

Perhaps the Sky Blues’ saving grace is their youth team that defeated last season’s NPL2 premiers Spirit FC 6-0 at Christie Park on Saturday night. There is much young talent in the Sydney’s ranks and one can only hope that, come next season, three or four of them are ready for senior contracts. We await with interest.

Sydney’s away match against Pohang Steelers on Wednesday night could – and must - prove a galvanising force. With no time to lick their wounds, the Sky Blues need to pull out all stops to get a result in Pohang.

Ali Abbas is expected to return at leftback, Tavares, O’Neill and Dimitrijevic should all start in midfield and there is every chance that Chris Naumoff and Andrew Hoole will play either side of the combative Matt Simon. One hopes that Arnie learned a valuable lesson in Saitama – that playing for an away draw increases the likelihood of defeat.

The Steelers are a blue-collar outfit that is reliant on home-grown talent. They will press with force and determination and fight for every ball in front of their home supporters but if Sydney move the ball quickly and play through the lines, they can launch a number of attacking raids at the hosts.

Is there enough belief in the Sky Blues to take it to the Koreans and come away with at least a point?

If there isn’t, they need to find it fast.

For us fans, it has turned into a helluva long season.

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