No home comforts

The scene was set on for a Friday blockbuster. Sydney FC on the back of a derby draw, Mariners having been undone by the Wanderers midweek, this one could go either way. The betting man would tip a draw, but we were expecting something special that we haven’t yet seen this season from our heroes in Sky Blue.

Kogarah Oval is typically an absolute arse to get to for someone living relatively close to Stadium Australia, and the decision was made early on in the week to drive. Negotiating Sydney roads around peak hour though on a Friday, when a lot of people were heading out of town for the long weekend, was a gamble. The easy route of taking King Georges Road right down the middle of Sydney seemed obvious, but navigator Michelle knew best, commandeering Google to find a better route. And Google delivered. We were there in 40 minutes via a winding route through the backstreets of Belmore, and the reduced capacity and early arrival meant that there was a pick of many street parking spots right next to the stadium.

We had tickets in the section just next to the Cove – the current Covid rules meant that a membership card wasn’t enough to get you in, you had to book a ticket. The tifo was ready to go, the players were out and the new additions to the stadium beer family – 4 Pines in a can – were starting to go down well. A great moment before kick off saw the groundsman dive on the sprinkler, like Steve Irwin would pounce on a snake, to save the Fox Sports presenters from an absolute soaking. Big applause all round for his selfless act that must have left him drenched.

Being at a stadium well before kick off gives you an extra sense of occasion. The crowd swells, almost unnoticed, familiar faces from previous games wandering by, the TV presenters do their thing as ballboys and mascots get organised in front of you. The Cove doing their thing with the tifo, including one of the guys clad in the black ‘casuals’ uniform treating us to a somersault when walking on the field to raise the banner. A beautiful sunset this time provided a backdrop for what would be an absorbing game.

Sydney FC looked chirpy early on, the play all up the other end of the park. Rhyan Grant went close with a well-worked free-kick and Kosta Barbarouses missed the target completely with his shot when turning sweetly in the box. It was not completely one way traffic though, and there were warning signs, Matt Simon allowed to run way to far unchallenged before firing wide, and a spectacular overhead kick easily fielded by Redders. The game was finely poised at the break, with the expectation for an onslaught from the home team in front of the home end.

What followed was 45 minutes of excitement and controversy. A potential handball right in front of us ended in a mystifying goalkick, before Kosta crossed low into the area for Trent Buhagiar to coolly finish. The flag was straight up and it looked offside, but the big screen showed what fine margins we were talking about. The usual VAR delay where the stadium remains unaware of what is happening gave the crowd time to digest the situation – is the arm part if the body when considering offside, is the angle correct – and that delay fuelled speculation of a VAR goal. Alas, no goal was the correct option, the Cove now fully awake and incensed. It wasn’t long before Mariners took the lead. Sydney were hesitant to close down the runner down the left, and the cross was perfect, the visiting striker lunging in for what looked like a great finish. Later this was to be confirmed as an own goal, but it looked good from our position.

Cue an ugly scene as a crazy young fool in a Mariners shirt started to big it up in front of the Cove. He was politely ushered away by a steward, before security got involved and forcibly extracted him from the area in a ruthlessly efficient manner to cheers and jeers from the home fans.

Sydney toiled for an equaliser, but some wasteful crossing and bad decision making in the area denied them several times. It was no surprise when the visitors knocked in a second goal, and what looked like a decent shout for a penalty wasn’t given but the follow up was drilled home up the far end and the away fans lapped it up. It’s always a great sight, the away fans enjoying a goal being scored in front of them as the rest of the stadium sits and stares in envy. The Sydney FC fans were stunned. That was the end of the scoring and Mark Birighitti made sure with a close range save.

The Mariners celebrated with their fans as the stadium cleared out, Mariners current and past caught up with each other on the field. The post-mortem was discussed by Adam Peacock and Robbie Slater at the side of the field while the tifo was bundled away and a few players went through some routines on the pitch.

Google might have been a good option for the journey home, but we instead joined a long snaking line to King Georges Road and were home by 10pm. This was a good evening out, and as a spectacle it was a great success. When we look around the world at empty terraces and suspended leagues, we are definitely blessed here.

Sydney FC though are starting to show signs that they’re not the formidable force they once were, and there was dissent in the crowd for the uncharacteristically wasteful attacking play that ultimately cost them any chance of the points tonight. We march onwards though, and we now have to find $50 for a trip to Macarthur next Saturday night. What a rip!

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