Six-point sunset

A fantastic day out at Kogarah on a stinker of a day gave Sydney FC fans double-header delight as they took all the points in both games. The women were way too strong for Wellington Phoenix, while the men looked to have wrapped things up only to leave us hanging on in the last few minutes to snatch that precious first league win. Great sing-song throughout from the home fans, and a new drum for the women that might not make it through another ninety minutes.

This was going to be an extra-long day, and after picking up Michelle, we were en route to Kogarah, hitting no traffic at all and arriving in good time to get parked and get to the main gate to meet Rossco for Rails’ ball crew duty. The Wellington Phoenix bus arrived and the NZ stars filed out, their crack keeper Lily Alfield the only one that was recognisable behind the masks. That gave us an hour and a half to get out of the stifling heat and into the Kogarah Club House for a late lunch with some fellow A-League women’s fans. I’ve got to say, if you want to eat well in a club setting, this place has a cracking menu and it’s good value, and we chose bloody well today. Pre-match predictions included a 3-0 and a 6-0 for the women, and a draw or a slender victory for the men. The women’s march consisting of four of us made our way in with maybe six or seven minutes to spare, as the poor souls holding the flags pre-game struggled to remain upright in the wind. One poor lady’s hat was whipped off by the blustery wind and it went flying back out towards the street.

I can report that the Cove numbers were up, maybe even by 50% (okay, we’re starting at a low base) and this gave us an opportunity to crack out some tunes with the aid of Michelle‘s new drum, complete with flying marshmallows. The scoreboard seemed to have been battered since we last saw it too.

The game didn’t start in the most attractive fashion, the blustery wind obviously having an effect on the quality. A handful of passes made the sideline under no pressure and Wellington fashioned the first chance, their striker opting for a pass instead of burying the ball. Sydney had a couple of pot shots that sailed over, before they broke the deadlock. Courtnee Vine picked the pocket of the defender and made for the byline. She was pleading with her teammates to give her an option, but by now was very close to goal, and a cheeky finish across the keeper from the acute angle was a little confusing from our view up at the other end. The sight of the players celebrating confirmed that Sydney FC had taken the lead. A peculiar concept of two drinks breaks per half was a surprise – just remembering back to Ireland at USA 1994 and we can see that player welfare has come a long way. Credit to the two juniors in the Cove who sprinted around the stadium to continue the new tradition of being the hill in the call and response.

The second half was a comfortable performance peppered with substitutions, and the unusual sight of a keeper replacement for the Sky Blues, Jada Whyman replaced by former NWS Koalas player Katie Offer. The new keeper was made to work as soon as she came on, but the game was already won by then. The languid Princess Ibini received a corner and fashioned a shooting chance in the area, the ball took a deflection and Tiktok queen Charlize Rule ghosted in unmarked to steer the ball into the empty net in front of the Cove. A lovely nutties by Ally Green then saw her lift a shot just over as the Sky Blues looked to turn the screw, and Alfeld had to make a smart save to keep out Vine’s dinked effort. A steal by Ibini saw her link up with Remy Siemsen to fashion a shot for the onrushing dynamo Mackenzie Hawkesbury, who rolled the ball home for a classy goal.

The subs rolled in the second half and we finally got to see Cote Rojas, sending MMTV into a frenzy, and the Spanish chants started up. She gave us exactly what we expected, expert hold-up play and tricky feet, a Bobo and a Ninkovic rolled into one, at one stage fending off four players to create a chance. The goal fest that we expected didn’t quite materialise, and Offer was busier than expected, but this was a happy occasion and a great spectacle for all the fans. The Cove had been swollen by now and the celebrations were fun, the players doing a jig to Courtnee Vine’s cheeky tune. Excellent display from Hawkesbury and sub Rachel Lowe was again assured and composed.

Time to retreat, back up to the usual spot next to the Cove, and take in the men’s game. A horrific display of Sydney FC knowledge in the pre-match quiz saw a lucky soul declared a winner despite not knowing some of the most rudimentary facts about his club, and the pitch was a hub of activity as the players warmed up.

The sky was starting to give us a fantastic display of nature – little did we know that a few kilometres north, roofs were being ripped off buildings as a freak storm whipped through the northern beaches of Sydney. The threat of rain was clear and a few sprinkles failed to materialise into anything – the furnace had turned into pleasant summery conditions, and the scene was set for a cracking game. Could Sydney kick start their season?

Bruno‘s pledge to remove his shirt when Sydney score was realised when Elvis Kamsoba pounced on to a towering header back across goal, and his finish was emphatic up the far end to give Sydney FC a precious lead. The gymnastic flip that followed it was as impressive. We looked good, Max Burgess a thorn in the Phoenix side and Patrick Yazbek looking more than at home in the first team. Phoenix keeper Ollie Sail was then replaced, the crazy-haired replacement making a fine diving save with his first contribution. The home team were looking good, although the pattern of play that home fans have seen recently, possession with no penetration, was still there. Patience is obviously the key. The visitors didn’t have a great deal of attacking options despite some swift play to move the ball from defence to attack, and 1-0 at the break was a fair reflection of the game.

Sprinkler stopped play. Again.

The half time heroes were interrupted as usual by the sprinklers going off mid-game – one day we’ll get it right, but all the kids had fun, singing with the Cove once the second half started back up. The Sky Blues started the second half well, Anthony Caceres romped forward but his pass to Adam Le Fondre was underhit. Thankfully the defender made a total cock-up of his control and Le Fondre nicked the ball away and finished well for 2-0. The Cove was bouncing. Some unnecessarily officious officialdom from the stewards started to irk the crowd, the usually placid marshals obviously under instructions from their watching overlords, prompting the whole Cove to stand on their seats in defiance. The mood though remained joyous, as the home fans revelled in being in the lead. By now the sky had bloomed into a fiery sunset. The Cove capo paused for a minute as everyone took their photos of what was an incredible sight. I’m sure you’ve seen plenty of these shots, so I’ll keep them to one epic slideshow that shows the various stages of the show …

Sydney have been two up already this season, and we know how that went. The subs were happening a little early, and after Andrew Redmayne had saved a long-range effort, a freak goal got the visitors right back into it. A blocked shot spun to the attacker who finished, one or two Phoenix players clearly offside and the flag was up. After a long deliberation though, the goal stood and Sydney’s twelfth man had finally gone against us. Bobo couldn’t sort his feet out quickly enough to finish off a good move down the left, but for his clunky moments, he served up possibly the pass of the match, if not the season so far, turning on the edge of the area and curling a magnificent through ball to the returning Grant at the far post who was thwarted by the excellent Wellington keeper. There were still ten minutes at least remaining, and they would be very nervous minutes. Paulo Retre, who had played well, tried to be fancy while the rest of the team was pushing forward and lost the ball with 90 minutes already up. The ensuing Keystone Cops chase finally ended with a thumping shot that was safely over the bar, but I can only imagine the rollicking he would have got from Redders. Ninko smashed one off the post in the dying seconds when it looked like he would finally wrap things up in front of the Cove.

The referee brought the game to a close to huge cheers from the Cove. The blasting music drowned out any attempt to serenade the team. The players were prevented from going beyond the advertising barriers by the stewards, despite the women having celebrated their after their game. Honestly, I know it’s crazy Covid times, but there’s people just making up rules out there and no one seems to know what you can and can’t do. The Cove celebrated by singing along with Queen once the players had gone, and the players went to the fans in the main stand to take photos and sign stuff.

Milos Ninkovic was in demand, although he was not allowed to sign shirts, then he was, then he wasn’t allowed to be in photos too close to the fans, then he was. Make your fucking minds up! The route out of the stadium had been altered again, no idea why the steps are closed off out the back, but we picked up Aurelia and were off into the night. Another absolutely golden car spot right behind the main stand meant we were out of Kogarah and battling the traffic onto King Georges Road in no time.

This was a great day out. It was hot and steamy, the women especially having some sapping conditions. The football today was entertaining, the evening sky put on a show, the Cove was in full voice and the call and response was done with gusto by both the Hill and the Main Stand. One more game before Christmas, and that’s a quarter final match up with Brisbane Roar back at Kogarah, and an early 6pm kick off. Can Sydney FC get some silverware this season? Stay tuned!

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