Cooked at Kogarah in midnight plum

Double the fun, double the entertainment. Some people love a double-header, some people loathe it; frankly what more would you want than two games of top flight live football back to back? There is a definite line between supporting the women and supporting the men, but it all comes together under the umbrella of supporting our club Sydney FC. Saturday’s games gave us a win that blew out to a massacre for our Sydney FC Women, while the men were outfought for large periods of their game to come away with a point in an off-night in front of goal. Here’s how this epic day panned out.

A 5.05pm kick off would normally require an hour’s drive and a bit of time to find a car park; however, we’re getting quite practised at this. With Aurelia and Anna in the famous Sydney FC ball crew, there was a 3.30pm meet, so we were on the road out of Ryde by 2.45pm. The other benefit of coming this early is the abundance of parking, and we were lucky enough to jag a spot in the row of parking behind the main stand next to the Channel 10 news truck. There is always something new to discover here too, and the commemorative plaque outside Gate B was one that I’d never stopped to see – Manchester United trained at Kogarah ahead of their clash with Rhyan Grant’s A-League all-stars game in 2013, and this warranted a monument! Fair play, the pulling power of Man Utd (at the time) was second to none. After dropping the girls, we had a good hour to get lunch, and that was again to be at our favourite haunt, the Clubhouse.

Opting for some classic club food, and also a cocktail to make us feel special, the club soon filled up, most of the punters in for the afternoon ahead of the men’s game, but we were out of there just after 4.30pm to make our way back to the stadium. It was roasting hot, although there would be expectations for rain; the standard 5pm downpour seems to come every time we get a warm day in sub-tropical Sydney. For some reason the floodlights were on and we had the luxury of entering the stadium through the normal Gate C right behind the Cove.

The Sydney FC Women’s Cove was back in its spiritual home at the bottom of Bay 19, close to the action, and there were plenty of regular faces, fearless capo Michelle bringing the drum and a repertoire of Sydney songs to get the atmosphere going. A mysterious taped-up seat in the section above looked like the spot for the men’s capo in the following game, but it may have been something else. The heat was going to be an issue here; the sun going down over the main stand was relentless and the players and the active fans were going to take the brunt of it.

Of course, that wouldn’t matter if the football was good. The teams came out to a rousing “We Are Sydney…” that continued for some time, and the visitors Canberra United won the toss and turned the teams around, the psychological edge of making Sydney shoot towards the Cove in the first half perhaps part of their game plan. The game was a few seconds old when Cote Rojas, in for Matildas star Remy Siemsen, latched on to a sumptuous ball from Ally Green down the left, and had all the time to round the keeper and finish, but shot early and fluffed her lines, an immediate let-off for the visitors and a false start from the busy Chilean centre-forward. Canberra weren’t fazed by the start and had periods when they looked in control, but there was a feeling of inevitability about how this game would pan out. Sydney toiled in the sun, Paige Satchell and Princess Ibini swapping sides to try and find the magic formula, but it was Mackenzie Hawkesby who unlocked the defence again with almost half an hour gone. Her ball to Rojas saw the diminutive striker stride into the box and then take a tumble under a challenge from the defender. Against all instinct, a penalty was awarded, very soft from where we were standing, but a penalty nonetheless. With Bob back at the end of the penalty queue, it was Rojas herself who stepped up in front of the Cove and her slo-mo spot kick was just good enough to beat an equally slo-mo dive, our view restricted by the advertising hoardings, so we weren’t entirely sure if it was in or not!

Sydney were turning the screw here, Rojas should have done better than find the keeper’s midriff after good work from Rachel Lowe, but she got her second with a piece of magic. Under pressure from Ibini, the Canberra defender played a telegraphed back pass that Rojas was on to in a flash. She steadied herself and clipped the ball high over the advancing keeper, before hitting the post and bouncing in for 2-0, quite the unorthodox finish from an unorthodox striker.

Half-time saw the majority of fans duck for cover from the beaming heat and sapping humidity, only venturing back out when the players emerged. The players were clearly feeling it too, even the usually lively Michelle Heyman looking a little languid. Jada Whyman was alert to save the first chance of the second half, but from then on, it was one-way traffic. While the Cove worked out some more of their growing repertoire of chants, a swirling cross from Ally Green from the left up the other end looped over the keeper and bulged the net – surely she didn’t mean it although we know she only scores wonder goals from outside the box. That gave Sydney the springboard to totally dominate the rest of the game.

The Canberra keeper kept the score respectable, but from her next save, a corner was swung in and the marking was non-existent as Rojas waited patiently for the ball to reach her and she swept in her third to complete her hat-trick. Sub Taylor Ray looked like the superstar we all know she’s going to be, and she fed a ball through for Ibini to gallop on to. She had the keeper to beat and seemed to be brought down from behind, a sure penalty and potential red card from our vantage point, but the ball had actually gone into the net and the cheers from the rest of the stadium meant that it was 5-0. This didn’t feel like a five goal game, but there was plenty of time for more. Hawkesby and Rojas could and should have added to the tally when set clear, but again the United keeper was defiant. She could do nothing though about the sixth, and it was a classy goal from a silky player, Ibini playing a fabulous ball through for Lowe to run on to, and she drew the keeper to finish majestically. What a goal!

The game was over, Sydney had crushed Canberra, and after a long delay while the men came out and took over the playing arena, the players came across to salute the Cove and celebrate with linked hands. A fabulous performance again from the best team in the country, and hopefully a good omen for the second game of the day.

Look out for a new chant for Nat Tobin coming soon too. If you need to know the tune, here’s five minutes of NUFC fans singing it a few years ago. It’s a catchy number. If we can get a chant for every player by the end of the season, that’ll be a fantastic achievement, and I’m sure they’ll all be given air time at the Big Blue.

The changeover from women’s to men’s game works well. Despite the men muscling the women out of the way as soon as the final whistle goes, the half hour or so between games allows the fans to reassemble; the women’s Cove disappears and we all move up to a higher position, it gives us time to get fed and watered, catch up with the ball crew up the other end and do some discovering. This time it was a brief look in one of the Private Suites to see how the prawn sandwich brigade take in their football; although to be honest it was neither spacious nor luxurious, and seemed to have only room for three or four. A solitary Brisbane Roar fan sat on the hill behind where the away fans would normally be housed – there were two or three other shirts dotted around too, but there would definitely be no active support for the Roar.

The hot conditions were abating slightly as night started to fall; Sydney FC were welcomed to the field with another long rendition of “We are Sydney…” – hopefully the players recognise the support as it is relentless throughout the 90 minutes. These teams know each other intimately after Wednesday night’s FFA Cup clash, but there were changes for the home side, the solid Ben Warland in for suspended James Donachie, and Milos Ninkovic making a start. It was the visiting Brisbane though who should have scored first up, a stray touch from Joel King falling for the Roar striker who turned and blazed over the bar from a great position ten yards out.

Ninko played in Rhyan Grant down the right which almost led to an own goal, although it wasn’t obvious how close it was from our viewing spot at the other end. Unbelievably this game had drinks breaks, the temperature much lower than the glowing conditions earlier in the day when the women went through each half without a stoppage. The game was in the balance, Roar looking good in possession and Sydney breaking well. It was livewire Elvis Kamsoba who unlocked the visitors’ defence though, a sublime piece of footwork saw him turn two players out wide on the left in his own half, he romped through the half, evading attempts to haul him down before flicking the ball through for Anthony Caceres, who had sprinted half the field to keep up with his teammate, and who finished like a seasoned striker for 1-0. That was a fabulous goal, and the Cove were quick to sing the praises of their tricky Burundian forward.

Brisbane Roar continued to look threatening, and that was realised approaching half time; Andrew Redmayne did well to smother a shot from inside the six yard box, but another botched clearance from King kept the ball alive and the ball eventually fell to the Roar player on the left of the goal who fired a bouncing shot that kicked up and deceived the Sky Blues shot stopper to nestle into the corner of the net for the equaliser. A goal a-piece at the break then, and the game was finely poised.

Elvis was at it again soon after the restart, his absolute peach of a nutmeg giving him a clear chance on goal, but it was straight at the keeper and the striker knew he should have done better. Caceres then ran through to tee up a shot for himself which was blocked, and Sydney suddenly looked like the team who would take the spoils. A flurry of subs saw Ninko sacrificed, Bobo coming on for Trent Buhagiar, and we eventually got to see Mustafa Amini after a lengthy warm-up. Paddy Wood tested the Brisbane keeper with a shot, and then set up fellow sub Max Burgess who hit the side netting right in front of us, another chance going begging. The frustration was mounting. The delivery into the area was simply woeful at times from Sydney, too many times a measured cross, you know, the type where the player looks like a master craftsman when positioning their body and hands, ended up going way too far or literally nowhere near any intended target. Bobo conjured up a lovely pass for Wood, who strode into the area and pulled the trigger, sending the ball across the face of the goal and out for what was the best chance of the half. Then Burgess lifted one in for the Brazilian, whose touch was exquisite to set up Harry Van der Saag to fire a shot against the post and out.

The game ended with some pressure from Brisbane, with former Sydney boy Luke Ivanovic coming on and looking very lively before limping off and leaving his team short for a few minutes. With the play up the other end, Sydney did look dicey, Paulo Retre losing out in midfield and Roar breaking two on one, but they were too slow to take advantage. The whistle blew after four minutes of injury time and Sydney had wasted a great opportunity to lift themselves up the table. Only a second point of the season for the visitors is an indication of how poor this result truly was for the Sky Blues, but it was a fully merited point and Sydney cannot blame anyone but themselves.

The players came to salute the fans, despite not taking all the points, and their applause was returned with an extended “Sydney til I die …”

The fans started to drift away into the night as the clear-up began, Caceres and Amini the chosen ones for the post-match interviews. Collecting our ball crew and benefiting from their free muffins, we made our way out, past Brosquey as he prepared to go back on air. Michelle picked up some flags that she was taking down to Melbourne for the Socceroos game, and there was at least a bit of life outside the main gate. We were in the car in a minute and on the road, another fabulous day out at the football under our belts and a thirst for more.

We don’t have to wait long for the next one, Tuesday evening’s FFA Cup semi-final scheduled for a 7pm start at Kogarah. Based upon this showing and our display at Central Coast Stadium earlier in the season, this is going to be tough. The women on the other hand have Melbourne on their minds, and we’re not sure whether the Saturday fixture will go ahead, or if the following Tuesday’s Big Blue will be our return to play. The chatter in the Cove was all about Victory away though. Good numbers expected to be in Melbourne for next Tuesday’s massive game. The advent of NPL football being thrown in the mix, and then club football and refereeing, and I’m sure these weekly write-ups will become less frequent. For now though, let’s make the most of it, and I’ll see you on Tuesday for some spicy FFA Cup semi-final action. Forza Sydney FC!

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