Sydney FC came to Campbelltown for a Boxing Day encounter with high flying Macarthur FC and bossed their hosts, scoring twice in a dominant first half before easing their way to victory in the second. The Cove sang right to the final whistle and the appearance of a two-litre carton of milk, held aloft like the Champions League trophy in the active support, signalled that the Bulls had been milked like cows for the three points. This was an evening of fun, laughter and singing as Sydney FC’s youth came of age and grabbed the season by the horns.
A 7.45pm kick off usually means a trek across town through heavy traffic, but today was Boxing Day and we left close to 4pm from Michelle‘s and were in the Wests club car park before 5pm. A cracking seafood entree in the club bistro over a beer and a cocktail was an appetiser for a banquet at the Asian Fusion restaurant. Prices well and truly over the Kogarah Clubhouse, but the food was good nonetheless. We have a habit of getting to games just on kick off, but we’d given ourselves heaps of time for this one and with prior knowledge we went the right way around the stadium, through the car park to the back entrance with ten minutes to spare.
One lucky punter at the ticket office was in the process of walking off “Thirty five bucks? I’m not paying that, I’ll watch it at the club!” and was the lucky recipient of our spare ticket. The prices of the tickets indeed need to be questioned here. Crazily expensive, and the active tickets were even more. The Cove though was in fine voice when we found our spot and the players were soon out to greet the fans and line up for the handshakes – a few changes from last week, no Adam Le Fondre, no Bobo, no Elvis Kamsoba, but Rhyan Grant back with a wave for the fans and the youthful Trent Buhagiar and Paddy Wood combo up front with Patrick Yazbek in the middle to continue his good form from last week. There seemed to be little doubt in the mind of any Sky Blues supporter that this was going to be a good game. The positivity was infectious and it just felt that the stars were going to align.
Sydney started brightly, shooting towards the pitiful Bull Pen at the far end, and we looked equal to the league leaders – their running in midfield was easily quashed by the experienced Sky Blue backline and we looked assured. Spritely imp Craig Noone tried his luck when the opportunity presented itself on the edge of the area and his long-range effort bounced off the top of the cross bar to delayed oohs from the home crowd. Andrew Redmayne had it covered, no sweat. Lachie Rose was full of running for the home team, but it was all chasing the ball or deeper in midfield. Max Burgess was having a superb opening to the game; his darting run in the box saw Paulo Retre measure in a superb ball, Burgess seemed to loose his balance slightly but rolled the ball elegantly in front of the keeper and there was the beautifully moustachioed Paddy Wood to tap the ball in almost on the line as we squinted, the sunset right in our eyes. What a start!
More was to come, and it was all made by the running of Buhagiar, intercepting a weak pass in the middle and effectively playing a through ball to himself in space. Another wonderful touch took him to the byline in a repeat of the first goal, but this time the ball was played back to the incoming Burgess who had time and space and finished majestically under the keeper from ten yards to make it two. Sydney were on fire. This was streets ahead of anything we’d seen since last season, Patrick Yazbek was bossing the midfield and Anthony Caceres looked more like Milos Ninkovic than the man himself. There were chances to make it three, and a flurry of corners up the far end, before the referee brought the half to a close to huge applause.
At half time the fun continued. A lone youngster with a cow bell appeared above the bushes behind the Cove and was jeered off, then a youthful miscreant from the home enclosure made his way to the away active support to try and cause a scene before being ushered away by security and eventually removed altogether by the police to a chorus of heckles. The festive spirit continued into the second half as Sydney continued their bubbling performance.
The unusually narky security from last week continued, as fans were continually told to get off their seats, but this was a festive atmosphere and the performance on the field was getting a big response from the supporters. A sweeping move down the right led to Buhagiar crossing perfectly for the in-rushing Burgess, but his placed header was just past the post. The intricate play that has been frustrating to watch this season was now interspersed with flowing running football, and it was effective. With an hour approaching another cross from the right following a corner was cleared to Wood on the far side. He surprised everyone by turning his man and setting off on a Luke Ivanovic-style dance along the by line before cutting the ball back to the loitering Buhagiar who somehow managed to get his foot to the ball before the defender and expertly steered the ball inside the near post for three. Beer and water everywhere and arms in the air in delight.
With half an hour still to play, Sydney could have gone for broke, but they played a very clever game for the rest of the 90. The impressive Burgess was hooked quite early, fist-pumping a young supporter on the way around in front of the away fans, sub Harry Van Der Saag got himself booked for lunging in on his defender after a lung-busting length of the field run , and there were half-chances up at the other end as Macarthur pressured but were way off the mark with their finishing. Redders had to be quick to thwart an own goal as a cross was sliced in his direction, while up at our end, more running play from Buhagiar saw a shot go just wide. With Ninko on, the play was calmed down a touch and his experience eked out some good positions and wound down the clock. The whistle blew as the away fans were engrossed in their milky celebrations, and the players came to thank the fans for what was another superb show from crew from Bay 23.
The police were keen to clear out the active bay, with a view to escorting the fans to nearby Lumeah station. We broke clear of that to walk back to the car park through the stadium. There were a handful of players still on the field doing a warm down and some keeper practice as the team of workers packed up everything. Walking up the other end we found the source of the mysterious red lights at the far end that looked like the tail lights of a car, right next to where the ambulance was stationed – an impressive sculpture of a bull with menacing red eyes. Couldn’t see it from the away end, just looked like a parked car!
A few stragglers were waiting to meet their heroes. A sign out the back showed all the sports that were played at Campbelltown, the Matildas (and especially Alanna Kennedy) were represented, while a board proudly displayed the ridiculous prices for the game. Perhaps the pricing at Wests and the cost of a ticket suggest that South West Sydney is a booming area and they’re just cashing in. An easy exit from the car park and through to Campbelltown Road, we were back home quickly via some quiet roads before 11pm.
This Boxing Day fixture was a festive cracker. The shaky start to the 2021/22 season that Sydney FC has endured was instantly forgotten as they came up with a swashbuckling display to trounce first-placed Macarthur on their own patch. Steve Corica’s name was sung loud and proud, along with a number of the young players who made such an impact today. A rumoured FFA Cup quarter-final on Thursday will round off 2021 for the men, whilst a clash with the women’s game against Wellington Phoenix that night will surely cause a stink with the fans who had already planned their trip to Wollongong. Watch this space. This could be the only men’s home match we miss in 2021, what a debacle that would be!