There’s something about the FFA Cup that conjures up an atmosphere, born from the fact that it’s do or die every game, that defeat means the end of the journey and victory moves you one step closer to a date with glory. This was no exception, and the wild rain, the sending off and the intense pressure from the visitors to force an equaliser all combined to give this game an edge that made you sing just that bit louder and longer to get the boys over the line.
A 6pm kick off at Kogarah on a week night is never going to be an easy one to arrange, but Michelle made it from the city before 4pm and we were on the road soon after. A sunny day had turned grey, but conditions remained warm as you would expect in the middle of a Sydney summer. Parked up in the row of car spots just outside the stadium by 4.45pm, we then had a short hour to get some food at our favourite establishment, the Kogarah Club. The club was decked out with Sydney FC flags and a scarf at the entry, all new features to entice in the gameday crowd. No fancy meals today, simple club food and drink specials all round as others arrived. We then headed along English Street on our mini-march to Jubilee Oval.
As seems to be the case for all FFA Cup games, there was only one gate open, the main gate A, clearly no expectation of a big crowd, and fans were invited to sit in the lower tier of the main stand or make their way to the Cove. It was likely that we were going to experience some weather, but in the lead up to kick off there was no sign of rain. Ball crew boss Rossco had found a crew despite the late withdrawals and the absence of Aurelia who had football training, and we installed ourselves in the bay next to the Cove. The new improved era of security and gameday spectator management, hastily arranged this week, had obviously come into play, and the initial restriction to Bay 19 had been relaxed to accommodate a little Covid-distancing and Bay 18 was deemed an acceptable alternative to the beer showers. No big screen for this one, and as far as we understand no VAR in the FFA Cup – how refreshing.
Sydney had quite a strong team and an even stronger bench to call upon. The impressive youngster Patrick Yazbek took a midfield berth while Trent Buhagiar and Paddy Wood had the striker roles, so there was youth blended with experience. In truth though, after a nasty clash in the middle of the park held up the game in the first minute, the first half never really got going. Joel King was cool to head a ball high into the air to let Andrew Redmayne catch it instead of conceding a corner. A Sydney corner up the far end from the right saw a half-clearance fired back in by Wood, but the shot was just too high. Roar then had a good chance from a corner; the initial clearance fell to the player on the edge of the area who shaped to float a ball in, but instead played a short pass to an unmarked teammate in the box and his shot flashed over the bar. Max Burgess was having a fine game down the left, one particular turn leaving his marker for dead, and he had the next chance. A cross went deep to Wood who fired in, the Brisbane goalkeeper saved and what looked like a simple header to finish the move bounced harmlessly wide. Granted that it looked a lot closer to goal from 120 metres away. The heavens opened up as the half progressed and a few fans made a dash for cover, but this just spurred on the Cove, who grew in volume and enjoyed some prolonged chanting to urge their team on. Goalless at the break was the correct score, neither team deserving to be in the lead and a promise of an intriguing second forty-five.
By the time the second half got back underway, the rain had eased, everyone was soaked to the skin, but happy to remain out in the elements. Sydney FC took control of the second half as they played towards the Cove with the wind, Anthony Caceres galloped away down the left and cut in to test the Roar keeper with a stinging shot that was pushed over. Caceres again broke through as the defence parted and elected to try the pass instead of the shot which was the wrong option. A corner from the right was then looped to the far post; captain Alex Wilkinson headed the ball back into the six-yard box and James Donachie launched himself at the ball but could only send the ball wide with a brave header in front of the Cove.
A few subs had been made by now; Elvis Kamsoba was on, and it was a flowing move that put Sydney FC in the lead. When the ball was worked out to Rhyan Grant, he elected to float the ball to the far post instead of fizzing in a low ball, and the chance seemed to have gone. However, Kamsoba had drifted away from his marker and caught the ball perfectly as the ball hit the ground, almost passing the ball into the corner of the net for a classy finish. As always, the acrobatics afterwards were appreciated by the crowd, and Sydney FC had a precious 1-0 lead. Bobo and Milos Ninkovic were on by now, and it was surely a matter of time before Sydney got another. They did look likely too, King romping down the right but couldn’t find a teammate and Elvis dashing down the right but playing the wrong ball. It was a game littered with aimless passes from both teams, and the quality of the final ball was poor.
Just as Brisbane looked to attack up the other end, an agricultural challenge from Donachie saw him receive a second yellow card. It looked bad from our distant vantage point, and the referee obviously agreed. Sydney down to 10 with 10 minutes to go. The rain was back, the Cove were soaked, but the adversity and the fact that we could hang on and win had us singing as loud as ever. A free-kick on the left was curled over the wall and we expected the net to bulge, but it had whistled just wide. Some magnificent scrapping in the box then kept out Brisbane. The player on the right after a corner seemed so close to the goal and perhaps should have shot, but from his ball in, a frantic melee saw Paulo Retre block on the line and then hack the ball clear. After learning of 4 extra minutes, some wonderful time-wasting after winning a corner started to eat up the added time, but there was still a late corner for the visitors that sent the Roar keeper upfield. Could they snatch it, or would Sydney break and embarrass the goalie? In the end, the first corner and a subsequent second led to nothing and the final whistle sounded to great applause. Sydney FC through to the semi-finals after a tense end to this quarter final game.
The players came to the Cove at the end to take their now customary photo with the FFA flag and to celebrate their win. Lots of love for Kamsoba, and lots of applause and shirts off from the soaked supporters.
The players had all disappeared by the time we’d had a last toilet break before the journey home, the Cove boys danced their way out to the Killers after dropping the drum off, and there were only a handful of people outside waiting to see the players. I saw Ari, a fellow NWSFRA referee, a player that I have coached in the past – definitely making me feel old as we are now the same height. The one minute walk to the car was welcome, and a monsoon followed us all the way home, arriving back at the very respectable time of 9pm.
Sydney FC into the semi-finals of the FFA Cup. It starts getting proper exciting now. The timing of the semi-finals and the final are going to be very interesting, given that the Big Blue is in Melbourne during the week following the allotted final date. With Covid raging, who knows what will happen. It’s also the hottest 100 countdown that day, too much going on.
Great to see the security issues potentially resolved too; it was back to the friendly security staff and happy smiling faces, the police were as low key as the sparse crowd merited and the occasional tomfoolery was ignored. Well done Sydney FC, on and off the park. A good night at the football had by all. See you on Saturday for a massive double-header.