Right to the wire…

What a thriller of a game on Saturday night in the Sydney derby at Bankwest Stadium. Goals, drama, VAR, penalty miss, it was something to behold in this beautiful setting.

A bit of a rush to get to this one. After a quick beer to celebrate a late afternoon win with the WRR over 35s, it was a quick dash home to shower and call an Uber. Another couple of beers while waiting for the traffic to let the driver through West Ryde and we were off, rendezvous at the Commercial Hotel. I was expecting to do a dash to catch up with the crew as they joined the march from the stadium, but it had left already, and we followed on after, Michelle directing and Cristina, Jazz, Steve, Siobhan and me being led to the stadium through the busy streets of Parramatta.

We split up briefly as I went to offload a couple of spare tickets I had – no takers, not even for $10, I guess because a printed ticket could easily be a copy these days, so I made my way in through the snaking queue at Gate A and grabbed four plastic glasses of the delicious Rogers Ale.

Our seats were up on the second level, almost exactly where we sat early in the season to see Sydney FC Women dismantle the Wanderers with a Princess Ibini worldie. Lots more people this time, and there was a genuine buzz about the stadium despite it being quite sparsely populated elsewhere. The Cove were in great voice, despite the booming music through the top notch sound system. We were all set for a classic, and a surprise in the seat next to me, Tim from the West Ryde Rovers appearing on kick off to cheer on Sydney with his kids.

What followed was a half to forget. Sydney had all the possession until a surprise break down the right saw Bruce Kamau thump the ball in for 1-0 past the despairing dive of Andrew Redmayne in goal. It was quite a sudden change in fortunes. The Sky Blues composed themselves for a moment and then contrived to give the ball away again, Luke Brattan playing the ball straight to the Wanderers man who set up Ibini to touch the ball into Mitchell Duke as the defence parted and he rattled the ball home for a second within the first quarter hour. This again was unexpected and we were understandably annoyed with the shoddy play that led to that second goal. The remainder of the half saw Sydney pepper the Wanderers goal, Margush with a couple of smart stops and Ninko with a miss to keep us scoreless at the far end.

Half-time refuelling, four more of those tasty brews and the queues weren’t bad if you shopped around – all the outlets were open for the first time that I’d seen. The light show was magnificent, the sights and sounds a great way to fill a half time void in the countdown to the second half.

The second half was only a couple of minutes old when a cross was firmly headed home by Alex Wilkinson and the game was back in the balance. The relief and the belief was there on the field and in the stands. A load of subs by the home team saw latest striking signing Scott McDonald thrust into the game and lo-and-behold, who should pop up with a free header from a corner soon after, but the man himself, not five minutes after coming on. It was a weird one, the bounce catching the defender, maybe Retre, out and flicking over his head. Three one down, game over surely!

The game then entered the twilight zone. All sense of reality disappeared and the football gods toyed with the fans by putting on the most outrageous last ten minute spell. Bobo had just missed a glorious chance one yard out, the ball deflecting off him but the wrong side of the post, and Redders had tipped away a rasping shot to keep it at 3-1. Newly arrived sub Trent Buhagiar then wriggled into the penalty area and went down cheaply, the referee not interested. Plenty of shouts from the players, and from the Cove, and the referee eventually went over to the screen to check it out. A wave of the hands in front of him suggested no penalty, but that must have meant no play on, and the penalty was awarded. Back in the game! The formality of Bobo finding the net didn’t arrive, and he was left standing like Roberto Baggio as his penalty entered the stratosphere and the home fans rejoiced.

I missed the seven minute announcement on the board, so was expecting a lot less. There had been plenty of injury time though – at one point during the game a water bottle was thrown from the crowd as one of the players was receiving treatment after a foul, the players then took it in turns having a swig from the bottle. Covid, what Covid? Caceres then took matters into his own hands and blazed into the area to set up a tidy finish from Bobo, and Sydney were right back in it. No idea how much longer we had, every move seemed like the last, and two minutes later, Caceres let rip with a Princess Ibini special which bent in and hit the bar. The ensuing melee could have seen the ball in the back of the net too, but the chance went and the referee blew for full time.

The Wanderers celebrated with their fans up the far end, as we all stood in amazement at what we had just witnessed. What a game! After clapping the players off, we headed out, along a closed O’Connell Street and on to the brand new (well, new to me) Club Parramatta to drown our sorrows and finally get some food in.

A great experience of a night, curtailed in order to be fresh enough for a day of refereeing. The long-awaited Sydney Football Stadium has a lot to live up to against what is surely the best stadium in Sydney, every visit to Bankwest is a treat and it is the perfect place to watch live football. Every seat is a great view and the higher up, the better the view, so there are no bad seats. Please tell us that the SFS will be better!

Onwards to the next game, and let’s see how the weather goes in the lead up to this weekend. A last minute dash up North can’t be ruled out if the Saturday grassroots football fixtures are postponed!

Forza Sydney FC!

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