Sydney FC toiled for 90 minutes after a delayed start, but then turned on the style in extra-time as Milos Ninkovic inspired the Sky Blues to a round of 16 win in the FFA Cup at Kogarah. We march on to a quarter-final encounter, back at the same venue, against Brisbane Roar, giving us another midweek game that brings out the die-hards, the foolhardy and the masochists amongst us.
The complexion of this evening changed even before we’d left. Originally I was travelling solo, but Aurelia’s work shift was cancelled and then Michelle opted in on the buzzer after all summer soccer was cancelled due to the lightning. We set off just after 5pm from Ryde; Parramatta Road was closed however, so the peak hour traffic was thicker than usual and we didn’t reach Kogarah Oval until 6.20pm. Aurelia was a late inclusion in the ball crew after a late withdrawal so we dropped her to the meeting point with club legend Rossco. With Jubilee Avenue open for a change (it’s normally closed on match days) there was a car spot right next to the stadium, and we were quickly off to the Kogarah Club to meet Steve and Michael for pre-game.
A quieter-than-usual match day crowd was at the club; we made the call that we had time for dinner, although it was a rush to get finished and we were resigned to missing the first moments of the game when we left the club at 7.28pm. What a bonus to hear the music still going as we approached the gate – the lightning had obviously pushed the game back and an 8pm kick off was suggested. A quick dash around the stadium as I had a Gate B ticket, a gate that was closed, and I entered at the main entry to see the ball crew undergoing a pitch inspection.
There were a few Macarthur fans in the Bull Pen section that was on the opposite corner of the away end to usual, and there were more fans under cover behind them. The main stand was only very sparsely populated, and only in the bottom section, and I joined back up with the gang in the uncovered Cove end to brave the elements.
The sky was putting on a show as night fell, and the Cove were in good voice, bringing out some of the old classics along along with the magnificent new chant “Sydney Football Club” that has captured the home end this season.
The game was underway now, the blasting music was conspicuous in its absence, the big screen was turned off and the advertising hoardings covered over. This was a strange atmosphere, but it allowed both sets of fans to be heard. The football on show was scrappy – the pattern of play was all too familiar : Sydney maintain possession and try and probe down the wings, the cross is cleared, Macarthur break ineffectively and we start again. Andrew Redmayne was a spectator for the first half, while Kosta Barbarouses was involved in most of the Sydney attacking play. Adam Le Fondre though was marooned up front with little support, so the chances were few and far between; most chances we did have ended up over the bar, and by quite some distance.
The game moved into the second half with everyone wondering where a goal was going to come from. Sydney started to turn the key, and Paulo Retre fizzed in a shot that was probably going wide but the Cove’s darling Filip Kurto pushed the ball aside. Max Burgess had played a terrific game, holding up possession and being creative, but the introduction of Milos Ninkovic gave the home team a fresh edge. The game opened up. Burgess had a shot on target that was blocked, then sub Trent Buhagiar raced through on his own, but opted for an early shot that was easily fielded by the Bulls’ keeper. We all thought we’d taken the lead soon after when a cross was emphatically finished by Le Fondre, but the offside flag denied us as it did on Saturday, no VAR to help us tonight. A grating moment just before the end of the ninety, where the Macarthur player was wrong-footed and fell to the floor, the referee waited until Sydney FC got into a good position before stopping play to allow the player to get treatment. The physio didn’t even want to go on to treat him. Rubbish.
It was now extra-time, and we were looking at our watches wondering what time we’d be getting home. The game had heated up though and the Cove were in full flight. There were some tired legs out there and they needed bringing home with some quality songs. The length of Siem De Jong’s schlong and the fact that Perth Glory f*cked it up at home were the subject of some of the best.
The first goal arrived after a sustained period of pressure up the far end. A short corner was played back to the taker, who teased in a cross for James Donachie to steer home a slow-motion header. Cue big celebrations in the home end, and there was a sort of delirium about the fans by now, weary and happy. Ninkovic showed some incredible footwork, bringing down a high ball and shuffling the ball between his feet to beat two players with one movement, and the Sky Blues were in total command. Into the second period of extra-time, a break from Le Fondre was halted by a Macarthur defender who was shown quite a harsh red, and Sydney really started to knock on the door, Ninkovic having a good shot saved. Le Fondre looked ragged when a Harry Van Der Saag cross was touched away by Kurto, reacting uncharacteristically slowly but still managing to get a shot away on the spin that was saved. The game was rounded off with a beauty of a second goal, Van Der Saag playing a sumptuous one-two to race clear and dink in lovely finish in front of us. Get in!
The end of the match brought the players to the Cove to celebrate, and they took a smashing photo with the fans right behind; the players looked a little sheepish to be celebrating a victory in such a low-key game, but the fans were more than happy to celebrate a rare victory that will hopefully kick-start the season. As the Cove capo reminded everyone “Come on, this is the FFA Cup Round of 16, this is as good as it gets, let’s fire up!”
It didn’t take long to empty the stadium – some officious official was trying to send us out the wrong way when we had to get to the main entrance to pick up Aurelia, thankfully commonsense prevailed. We passed the young sweethearts Calem Nieuwenhoff and Sydney FC women’s star Rachel Lowe and saw Harry Van Der Saag getting an interview on field, but everyone else had gone. A few minutes wait while Michael spruiked the Australia Day’s Big Blue in Melbourne to Paddy Wood’s mum and dad, and the evening was over. I had to take a photo of our car spot. It will never be bettered.
The run home was easy, and we were home by 11.40pm, the late start and extra-time making this a late night for everyone. It was a thoroughly entertaining evening, Sydney FC started to play late in the game and finished the job when it mattered. We move on to the weekend now. A derby game for the women at CommBank Stadium and an eagerly anticipated trip up to Gosford for the men. The season is taking shape. Forza Sydney FC!