Sydney FC superstar wing back Rhyan Grant celebrated his 200th game with most importantly a win, and as a bonus he tucked home a neat finish in the opening moments of the second half to steer his side to a vital three points.
Wednesday night in Kogarah. For someone who lives on the other side of town, with football commitments adding up to clash with A-League games, this was going to be a big ask. I’ve been to every home game with Michelle this season, but her summer soccer grand final was on this evening. I had to drop Aurelia at her final referee course at Christie Park for a 6pm start, so she was out too. And all of a sudden a plan took shape. Christie Park, the home of football in the North West of Sydney, is right on the M2 – with an on-ramp literally one metre from the gate. One hour to get across Sydney in peak hour. After what seemed like ten beeps of the e-Tag, heavy traffic through the tunnel, but some deft manoeuvres to navigate the closed roads around Netstrata Stadium, a car pulled out of a spot in the street right behind gate C at 6.57pm. Beauty! In through the gate, picking up my reward of my one beer for the night, I took my place in the Cove just as the game kicked off.
The first half was off to a flyer. Besart Berisha was looking lively. Western United, mysteriously without their main man Alessandro Diamanti, struck the post early on and looked devilish down their left. Berisha was flattened as he homed in on a chance, bringing a chorus of boos from the Cove as he required treatment. Sydney FC were a little slow to start, but once they got their rhythm, it was clear that Kosta Barbarouses was here to put things right. Bobo was dangerous early on, Milos Ninkovic was directing the play, and it was from one of his sublime touches that Sydney FC got the break they needed. Kosta was unceremoniously booted by a defender and the penalty was an obvious award. Up stepped Bobo and just squeezed the shot past the hand of the diving keeper for 1-0.
Western United then drilled a cross low into the box, again from the left, that flashed in front of everyone, before another penalty shout at the other end. This time a cross from Grant struck the defender’s hand. There was confusion, was the VAR looking at it? It looked pretty clear, but nothing given. Sydney FC went in to the break a goal to the good, and looking good for more.
The home team came out and scored in the first minute of the second half to steady the nerves and give a real sense of optimism. And it was milestone man Rhyan Grant who got it, playing a superb one-two in the box, and nicking the ball under the keeper for a neat finish from a tight angle. By now I’d spotted Steve and we were sitting in the bay next to the active support. Ninkovic was bossing the midfield and Sydney were looking likely to score more goals. A triple substitution from the Sky Blues then changed the complexion of the game, Jordi Swibel, Luke Ivanovic and Alex Baumjohann coming on. Some determined work from Ivanovic down the left saw him rescue a lost cause, cut inside, just like the Macarthur goal a fortnight earlier, and with two strikers well placed somehow managed to pull the ball back to neither. Thrilling piece of play though. Grant was busy teasing in crosses and it seemed as though there should have been more goals.
The game ended with two big moments. First, a cross from the right up the far end looked perfect for the incoming Western United striker, but he was in two minds and went for the knee, which cleared the bar for right in front. Then an odd moment when Swibel ended up in a heap in the middle of the park after a routine looking challenge. The replay on the big screen though showed an impetuous slap to the chops from Andrew Durante, and the referee took a while in front of his screen to decide the colour of the card. Straight red.
That gave us a heap of injury time, but there was no danger, and Sydney FC comfortably registered the three points and a clean sheet, very welcome indeed after a run of less-than-convincing performances.
The goalposts had bizarrely been taken down completely before the team even came over to acknowledge the Cove. The boys from Bay 23 had been at it all night, giving Berisha a particularly venomous earful when play was up our end, but they saved a glorious moment to the end. A flag of the previously mulleted number 23, that was prominent throughout the evening, was taken to the front of the stand and presented to the man of the moment. He was absolutely stoked with it, and the photographers lapped it up. The sparse crowd had by now all but disappeared, and I was one of the stragglers out of Gate C and into the night.
Barely any traffic on the way home and I completed the circuit of Sydney, arriving back in Ryde at 10pm. A most enjoyable impromptu Sky Blue evening at Kogarah. Three days until we do it all again. The posse will be back for that one, and no clashes yet with Saturday football. Come on you boys in blue!