The most anticipated away trip of any A-League season brought out the best and the worst of Sydney FC. The best was the way the fans kept the singing going all the way through the 90 minutes and beyond, the worst was the horrid first half performance from the Sky Blues. It failed to spoil what felt like a holiday in sunny Gosford, with a loud march to the stadium and plenty of fun in the away end. When will we see a Sydney win in the A-League men’s this season?
At this time of the year, Sunday is when you just want to put your feet up and wind down the weekend after all the festive spirit. Not a chance today, we were on the road to the Central Coast at 2.45pm, starting by picking up guest fan Steve nearby and then Michelle before heading through the handy North Connex tunnel and up the motorway. Parking was easy at the council car park and we were at Hotel Gosford well before 4pm. We haven’t been there for a few years and wow, how this place has changed. Absolutely lovely setting, live music, gourmet food, super-attentive staff and a great selection of beers on tap. Loads of familiar faces, some of yesterday’s crowd at the women’s game, a big contingent from the Cove and barely a Mariners fan in sight. The Cove filing out to “the last plane out of Sydney” at 5.30pm signalled time to join the march to the stadium, always a little madcap, stopping under the roof of the car park to ramp up the noise.
Offloading our spare ticket to a fortunate soul in the line for tickets, we made our way in and to the very end of the stadium next to the palm trees, the scoreboard, the magnificent view, the sauce bottles and the cannon. It’s been said many times before, but this is one picturesque setting to watch football, the sun going down making our view a little harder through narrow eyes. If this stadium had an Italian name, was on the shores of Lake Geneva or at the foot of the Pyrenees, this would be on everyone’s football bucket list. It was also surprisingly hot, given the shithouse weather we’ve had so far this summer, Aurelia and Michelle retreating to the shade at the back of the seats as the Cove started the chants at the front. Everyone was in fine fettle and we were set for a Super Sunday of football.
What came next was a truly abject first-half performance from the Sky Blues. With Bobo back for the first time this season, there was optimism. Sydney would have won the toss and turned the teams around, which seemed like a strange move unless it was for the wind. The pre-game buzz evaporated very quickly though as Mariners hassled and harried their opponents and didn’t let Sydney FC have any time on the ball. The play was all in the Sydney half and Josh Nisbet was making them tick. A simple move on the quarter hour left Marco Urena free and he easily finished past Andrew Redmayne. Not two minutes later, with the sound of the cannon still in our ears and the smoke still in the air, Joel King let his man dance past him and he fired the ball across goal where the ball was touched home from close range. This was abysmal. The Sky Blues toiled but couldn’t fashion any sort of flow. The balls down the wing weren’t even leading to crosses and it took until late in the half to start to make inroads and create some chances and have some possession in the right part of the field. Adam Le Fondre latched on to a stray ball in the area to shoot low but it was turned around the post by the excellent home keeper. We then hit the post with a shot that looked destined for the net, and we finally had something to cheer.
Two goals down at the break, we then watched on as some under 6s mini football took place in front of us, which was truly amazing. The goals and the pitch were optional as play went on in a tight pack even after the ball went out. One tiny player stood in the goal lifting it up with his head and players went through the advertising display as if it was a tunnel. Classic mini football that drew plenty of laughs and cheers from the crowd. The half-time comp saw a cross bar challenge where one of the contestants was so bad with his first few attempts but then somehow pinged it off the bar to win the prize. Our Cove drum then had a guest drummer, a young lad who had the boys at the front bouncing to his drumming skills.
There was obviously a knee-jerk reaction from an agitated Steve Corica who had stormed off down the tunnel followed by the cameras at the end of the first half. He took off three of the star players – Milos Ninkovic off for Patrick Yazbek, Max Burgess off for Trent Buhagiar and the exciting Elvis Kamsoba on for the ineffectual Bobo. The Ninkovic sub was the most baffling, as no one else seemed capable of changing the game, but perhaps there was an injury. The play changed straight away and Sydney pushed on, more mobile up front and able to run at the defence. Too often though, the final ball was woeful, the long hopeful looping ball to the far post just not working, and several simple passes found the opposition or found touch with no pressure whatsoever. There were flashes of promise, but not enough to change the game. The Neymar hair-a-like Moresche was denied the third goal by good scrambling by the Sydney defence, but in truth, neither team really looked like adding to the goal tally and the whistle went to round off a second half of thorough disappointment for the visiting fans. The Cove continued to sing defiantly, prompting the Sydney players to come and effectively apologise for the performance which was at least well received.
The Mariners fans in the opposite corner were treated to all their players saying hello and taking selfies while we were left to slowly make our way out of the stadium and into the night. The car park stairs closed and only one lift working, we had to backtrack and find a different way in up a ramp. Parking was free surprisingly and we were out in seconds, joining the short queue to get back on to the main road and up the hill out of Gosford. We were back home by 9.30pm after an easy drive and that wrapped up Central Coast away for another season.
A great day out, but a tough watch and some general disquiet in the away end for what was served up. Sydney FC fans are forever positive though and we’ll be back for more this weekend when we go searching for our first win to lift us away from the wooden spoon position that seems awkwardly possible at this early stage of the season.
Have Sydney FC been found out? Have our tactics been worked out by the opposition and we’re now destined to miss out on the finals this season? Has Steve Corica’s inherited style, squad and tactics from the Arnie era finally run its course? Watching some of the second half where the ball was played between the defenders and wide players time and again across the field like a pendulum without finding a route through to goal, it did strike of a team that has lost their mojo. The damage had been done by then though, and the lack of direct attacking at speed and the absence of a target in the box is making us look very blunt. Lots of conjecture to come about this performance, but bring on next Sunday back at Kogarah when we can put it all right and try and emulate the women’s team at the other end of the table. Forza Sydney FC!