Miracle saves can’t stop the Mariners

Just when we thought Mariners had been thwarted by the heroics of Andrew Redmayne in the Sydney FC goal, a sketchy penalty was awarded and despatched, sending the Coasties to Wembley for the FFA Cup final. The Sky Blues were left to rue a catalogue of missed chances, and the predictability of the moves from the bench left the fans scratching their heads. All the talk of the ‘easier’ route to the Asian Champions League was hot air, and Sydney were left to dwell on another sub-par performance.

A different flavour for this one, with the football family in Melbourne for the tennis, a late inclusion saw NPL refereeing star Ari join Aurelia and myself for the drive down from Ryde to Kogarah just before 5pm. Enjoying the delicacies of the Kogarah Clubhouse, we were at the stadium in good time, the Gate C on our ticket clearly not open, and we found our spot in Bay 19 with about seven minutes to spare. Again, only the lower section of the main stand and the Cove bays were open, the big screen was off and with the slightly earlier kick off of 7pm, numbers started quite low. The Sydney summer drizzle and cool temperatures weren’t conducive to a big crowd either.

There were a good number of yellow shirts in the section by the entrance, with the other side of the tunnel all Sydney FC. The pitch side TV crew had set up just behind the goal line, and umbrellas were out to keep equipment and personnel dry. No ball crew duties for Aurelia, but there were waves from some of the crew and from Rossco.

The game must have kicked off five minutes late, and the Cove was growing in numbers as the minutes wore on. As always, “We are Sydney…” rang out as the players came out and eventually subsided a few minutes into the game. Mariners started the livelier team and Beni N’Kololo looked as though he meant business, making some good progress down the left and bringing his teammates into the game. There are plenty of places where you can read a match report or catch the highlights of this game, so I’ll not expand much, but Joel King started where he left off against Roar on the weekend by giving the ball away – you just knew he was going to do it too, as he scuttled quickly to try and control a cross field ball on the stretch. That left Marco Urena free in the area, and the deft ball from the miniature Josh Nisbet set up the Costa Rican for what should have been the opener, but Redmayne batted the ball away.

A sweeping move then saw Moresche step over a ball and let it run to N’Kololo, whose shot didn’t match the build-up. A dominant Mariners then should have taken the lead just before half time when lively Brazilian Moresche was shepherded to the byline by Ben Warland. His quick feet though saw him easily beat his marker and the low cross was inviting for Urena two yards out. Rhyan Grant’s presence put him off and the ball was hacked away from right in front of goal. What a let off! Up the other end, Sydney had possession and corners, but very little to show for their 45 minutes’ work.

The appearance of legendary Newcastle Jets fan and Richard Gere lookalike Todd in the home end just before half time was good to see – the lack of football for his beloved Jets had drawn him to Sydney and if he was honest, the result would be positive either way. Daniel McBreen delivered his half time analysis in front of us while Aurelia disappeared to say hello to her crewmates. The players re-emerged and we took our position again right at the back of Bay 19.

What followed was a typical Sydney FC home performance. All possession, all intricate approach play, and then shameful delivery into the box. The exception though was Elvis Kamsoba, who was a bright spark throughout – surely he has won over the last of his doubters. His rampaging run through the middle opened up the defence and he played in Trent Buhagiar who let the ball run for a split second, sending the Mariners keeper the wrong way, but the drilled shot was somehow palmed away and Buhagiar was denied. Sydney pressed, the running machine Anthony Caceres everywhere.

The substitutions started and that’s when we realised that Sydney were going to go down the usual route to remove the element of surprise. Buhagiar was predictably sacrificed, Paddy Wood coming on, but the removal of playmaker Max Burgess, who had been terrific again, was baffling. Are we not allowed to have Burgess and Milos Ninkovic on the field at the same time? His trickery was looking like the only thing that would change the game.

We were approaching the last 15 minutes when the Mariners could and should have scored. A looping cross saw the smallest man on the field Nisbet head the ball inside, Urena headed goalwards where Redders parried, leaving Moresche with a routine finish from six yards which the Sydney goalkeeper flung himself at and the ball was pushed aside for a corner. A quite amazing save or a ridiculous miss, depending on your point of view. Two minutes later the same two squared off as a ball fell for Moresche, totally unmarked in the area. He had time to get the ball onto his left and pick his spot, but again Redmayne was equal to it and Sydney FC survived. All this was taking place at the far end, the lack of depth perception making this look like the worst two misses in history. Sydney were under the pump.

The Mariners pressure eventually paid off when Joel King clattered into his man on the edge of the area – it looked a penalty from our distant position, but it might not have been in the box. A lack of VAR meant that the referee wasn’t going to have his mind changed by the protests from the home team, and with the big screen off, we had no idea if it should or shouldn’t have been given. We were confident that Redders would save it though, and when he stopped his antics on the line and stood his ground in the middle of his goal as Urena hit it, he’d guessed right. However the net bulged and the ball had obviously gone low through his legs and the Mariners fans erupted on the far side. Tough luck on our in-form shot stopper.

We now had ten minutes to rescue the game. Ninko lashed in a shot that hit a hand which was waved away by the irritating referee. A pissed-off King made way for Harry Van Der Saag, and it was the emerging talent that was going to typify Sydney’s performance. First, with time running out, he bundled into the area and lost control, the ball rolling out of play. Then he was teed up for a free shot with a cut back from the byline and blazed miles over, and to top it off, he tried another run into the box and skewed his cross out of play. An impact sub if there ever was one. With five minutes of injury time, we had nothing, and the whistle sounded to cheers from the Mariners fans and groans from the Cove.

The fair-weather Mariners fans had emerged from their undercover seats and formed a Cove of their own and cheered on their players as they paraded the FFA Cup flag. The Sydney FC players looked dejected as they applauded their fans to a rendition of “Sydney til I die”, and rightly so. Urena and Elvis were up for contrasting interviews as we trooped out dejectedly from the Cove.

We left the Mariners fans to their celebrations and were in the car before 9pm. Unusually, we were ahead of the traffic and were home just after 9.30pm, with not much in the way of positives to take from the game.

This was a disastrous result; after all those FFA Cup games we’ve been to this season, the early kick offs, the rearranged games, what a way to end it. I can only say that it was deserved, and Sydney’s true form this season was there for all to see. The same limitations that we’ve seen over the last two years were there, the lack of penetration, the refusal to throw a man in at the far post and the wayward finishing were contributing factors to this FFA exit at the final hurdle. When the fans can predict the subs before they happen, surely an educated opposition coach can easily work out tactics to counteract any game plan. If this is the best we’ve got, we’re in for some big defeats in the A League. I’m glad I slept on writing this; I was fuming last night.

FFA Cup, goodbye. Time to concentrate on the league.

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