A lovely summer’s afternoon turned into a horrid evening of horizontal rain and blustery drizzle at Leichhardt Oval on a public holiday Monday. Sydney FC were up against their rivals Western Sydney Wanderers, and the Cove were out in force to lend a hand in creating the derby atmosphere that we crave so much at these games. A lack of Wanderers fans however, meant that it was only one team in it off the field, despite the sides not being split on the field after 90 minutes of football.
It all started at 1.45pm when we left Ryde for the short journey to Leichhardt, destination the Orange Grove Hotel for some Monday afternoon pre-game drinks. Okay, we got that one wrong as the pub was shut, so back up towards Balmain we went to the next pub, the Garry Owen Hotel, which was sort-of open for business and happy to make a cosmopolitan or two while the cricket flickered on and off in the corner. After collecting our winnings on the Keno (yes, it was $2), we made our way back towards the Oval and parked up in the streets next to the stadium. There were at least some supporters around, and the first glimpse of the inside of the stadium saw a decent crowd forming.
This marvellous old stadium, steeped in tradition and with memories of full houses and nail-biting games, was basking in sunshine and the grass hill was the place to be for families with youngsters enjoying the view and the 30 degree roll down the grassy embankment. The ball crew was getting ready, the Cove were arriving and we were all set for a full-blooded Sydney derby encounter.
There may have been a few clouds looming in the background. The flag-bearers in the centre of the field were hanging on for dear life like wind surfers in a hurricane. The well-used Cove drum appeared in the corner of the main stand where the active support had congregated and the songs started up, We Are Sydney greeting the players as they walked onto the field. This was a crack Sydney FC team, riding along at the top of the table, and despite Remy Siemsen’s mystery absence, there was a very able replacement in the fantastically named María José Alondra Rojas Pino.
The Wanderers must have won the toin coss and they swapped the teams around, Sydney FC shooting with the stiff breeze at their backs in the first half, and they started with purpose. The breeze may have had a part in the first chance of the game though, and it was up at the other end. A ball over the top down the Wanderers left saw Jada Whyman race out of her goal kamikaze style. The ball held up and the Wanderers striker got there first, clean through with a free shot on goal from distance. We watched on from afar expecting the net to bulge, but the ball hit the wrong side of the net and Sydney FC survived an early scare. Cortnee Vine then raced through on to an excellent ball from Rojas, and just needed to outfox the keeper, but screwed an awful shot well wide. Mackenzie Hawkesby then looked destined to score after cutting inside her player in the box, but the shot was wildly over, and she couldn’t find the target when Princess Ibini ripped past her defender and squared for the finish.
That’s when the heavens opened – not in the traditional sense – this was horizontal rain driving into the eyes of the Wanderers players, and the unlucky souls in the hill dashed for cover. The active support was the last group standing, braving the elements as the soaking rain and fierce wind played havoc on the field. Hawkesby was the source of everything good, her corners getting closer and closer. Charlie Rule jumped past her corner instead of finishing with the goal gaping, then an extra-sweet in-swinging corner bounced off the bar as Sydney looked to turn the screw. Hawkesby found herself unmarked again in the box but her shot hit a defender, the shot count going up and up with no reward.
Half-time saw the fans dive for cover as the rain continued, a handful of hardy souls helped entertain the crowd, the normal five-a-side reduced to two-on-two with the helpers joining in. The Keith Barnes stand was looking full and it was a small break in the rain that brought us back out into the elements at the start of the second half. Rachel Lowe was brought on at the break, surely to provide some more grit, composure and work rate in the middle of the park. This could be a game of two halves, the wind continuing to blow strongly, and Wanderers had a similar chance to the one that Vine spurned in the first half. The excellent Malia Steinmetz played in Matilda Bryleeh Henry for a one-on-one with Whyman, which the Sydney FC keeper batted away brilliantly.
The second half was a scrappy affair, too often the ball played nowhere, or a through ball intercepted easily. Sydney FC had to be on their toes as Wanderers pressed, but that was when the home team looked the most dangerous, on the break. The excellent Taylor Ray had her hair yanked which could and should have been a red card, and there were flashes of attacking flair down both wings that didn’t lead to anything positive in front of goal. With ten minutes remaining, the Sky Blues started to press, and Nat Tobin found herself involved more in attack than defence. Paige Satchell had brushed off some early jitters, being knocked off the ball easily, to make some headway with her mazy dribbling. The offside flag prevented Vine from romping through, and Ibini couldn’t wriggle past the last player to get in the shot. At the other end, the home team did very well to prevent any long-range efforts, and Whyman came to collect well on more than one occasion, at one stage just reaching the ball with her fingers as the ball looked to bounce over. The large chunk of injury time couldn’t bring the elusive goal for Sydney, and a draw was probably right for a game that was played in very tricky conditions.
Always heart-warming to get some love and applause from the players after a game, no celebrations this time, but there will be plenty of those to come in the season. The Cove boys enjoyed singing the Cortnee Vine song, which had her dancing, and the majority of the players then made their way inside to get out of the cold. December in Sydney, cold and wet, what’s this all about?
Next up we have a Thursday excursion. We await news and Covid cancellations, but at this stage we’re looking at a trip to Wollongong for a 5.05pm kick off at WIN stadium. The rearranged men’s FFA Cup clash with Brisbane is proposed for the same evening at Kogarah, but according to the FFA Cup website, that’s not set in stone yet. We are at the mercy of the pandemic and the FA.