Ninkovic magic shines through

The fireworks, the light show, the booming music and that strange screeching sound that would have had hearts racing in wartime London, all combined to pump up a game that never delivered, but gave us all the opportunity to marvel in Milos. A performance that highlighted his difference in class was the stand out as the Wanderers celebrated a home draw.

This game was in doubt following a Covid test on Friday morning, the chesty cough deemed enough to warrant a check, and that led to an anxious wait to see if the results would come back in time. The test results in the bag at 3.30pm on the Saturday arvo, it was straight in the car to pick up Michelle, Carla and Siobhan for the short drive to the end of Victoria Road.

Checking in to Parra Leagues, the atmosphere was nothing but convivial – I remember being in the Social Club behind Filbert Street in my Toon shirt when Newcastle played a do-or-die game against Leicester City back in the early 90s, and I was expecting that sort of welcome to the home team’s home base. Luckily it was nothing of the sort, and we enjoyed an afternoon of beer and food, hearing the Wanderers march coming and being one of the last groups in Pablo’s kitchen while the rest of the clientele made a beeline for the stadium. The promise of queues and checks gave us a hurry up and we found ourselves in the mammoth queue as 7.45pm approached.

The fans were let up the stairs in waves, and the efficient check-in and ease of access meant that we were in our seats in the lofty reaches of block 224 on kick off. The Cove were going crazy, it was a great sight to see from up above – that Cove Heights position quite tempting when the time comes to choose a spot in the new stadium. The view, as always in this magnificent structure, was absolutely perfect – this is how a Roman emperor might feel watching down on the gladiators down below.

The first half was quite exciting; don’t believe everything you read about the game. The quality was low at times, especially from a very wasteful Wanderers, and the Sky Blues with no Bobo or Kosta Barbarouses. There was still goalmouth action, Trent Buhagiar going close with a header from a cross from the right. Western Sydney had a handful of good positions that were wasted, Ugarkovic dribbling a shot wide, Bernie Ibini hitting straight at Andrew Redmayne when well placed for a cutback, and Redders clearing a dangerous through ball with his face for a great stop. Aside from a scuffed shot from Ninkovic, his contribution was flawless. There is a fluidity to his movement and he is always a step ahead of his man, physically and mentally, with some sublime touches that keep the ball just out of reach. Compare that to Elvis Kamsoba, who was lively and full of running, and you can see just how much improvement is needed to get a team full of Ninkovics. Kamsoba was tireless, and set up a good position down the right of the penalty area, but his touch and control still needs work if he is to fit into the Sydney mould. Joel King worked hard and the defence looked solid, although Alex Wilkinson was lucky to escape a yellow for a blatant pull on his man to prevent a breakaway. Goalless at the break, a first half that seemed to be over in a flash, and it was time for the half time entertainment.

Those half time highlights included watching the Paramount + coverage with Tara and Brosquey, seeing the behind-the-scenes fuss. There were Mini Roos games, one comical scene seeing a young goal scorer remove his shirt to the cheers of the crowd. Some absolutely impossible competition to get a ball though a hole that seemed smaller than the ball itself was played up the far end, Spongebob and Patrick were there too, before the stadium descended into darkness and the fireworks and lightshow wowed the crowd. I’ve got to say that the incredibly loud screech, like a bomb dropping, was quite unnerving, but it got everyone’s attention and must have been a nightmare for the TV hosts trying to be heard.

The endeavour in the second forty-five was high, the quality in the box was missing. We saw former Premier League star Jack Rodwell make his bow and fire in a missile which was turned away by a flying Redders save. Adam Le Fondre had a good shot well saved. Milos left us on 70 minutes and Max Burgess came on. Now this is a player who we’ve seen in the A-League already, but from first viewing in his second homecoming, he has the goods. He fired in a super shot that whistled wide with almost his first touch and looked very assured in possession. With Paddy Wood and Harry Van Der Saag on, Sydney FC were going for the points, but it was up the other end where most of the action was happening, and Redders watched one bounce off the back of the net. The sorriest sight of the night was Rhyan Grant shaking his head at himself after another poor pass – by his meticulous standards, he had a mare tonight and everything he tried offensively seemed to go wrong. Hopefully just one of those days, but it was written all over his body language as the game wore on and the misplaced passes and miscued crosses continued. We love you Rhyan!

The game was over, the result was a fair one. After a lengthy wait, the players came over to the Cove to show their appreciation and it was warmly reciprocated. The crowd dispersed pretty quickly, the sight of the Wanderers fans rushing for the exits was quite the picture, like sand dropping through an hourglass as the supporters swarmed down the aisles. Now at the mercy of the elements, but knowing how the car parking goes, there was no rush to leave. Indeed, half and hour after the game, we were walking through the car park which was at a standstill, again the cacophony of horns taking us to Rome as the impatient public sounded their frustration at the traffic police.

Having left the girls to a night out in Parra, we were quickly out of Parra Leagues car park, behind a ute full of boisterous Sky Blue fans who chanted through their open windows all the way to the ground floor and out into deepest Western Sydney. We were home by 10.30pm, another fabulous evening out at the football, and straight into the Perth v Adelaide game to see what quality we’d be up against later in the season.

Loads of football coming up this week. Playing vs supporting becomes an issue on Wednesday when summer soccer clashes with the FFA Cup game, and Saturday will be a mad rush between games with the Matildas and Sydney FC playing on the same day; that will require some cunning plan.

All smiles, all teeth, as we depart Western Sydney

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