Elephant in the room.

A truly bizarre evening at Jubilee Oval as Sydney’s women passed a huge test against form team Melbourne City, while the men surrendered meekly despite having all the ball. On a day when made-up Covid rules gave a new angle to an inventive Active support, with the Wiggles taking out Triple J’s Hottest 100, Sydney supporters enjoyed the true highs and lows of supporting their club.

Right, where do we begin? With Michelle in charge of a Hottest 100 party in town, this rearranged game got in the way completely, so it was only Aurelia, Anna and myself in the car from Ryde around 3.45pm. With no ball crew duties today, today was all about supporting the team, and we walked in Gate C with capo Michelle and Freya and set up home in the usual spot at the foot of Section 19 as the players completed their vigorous warm up. No drum today, and no need – some freshly introduced Covid rules threatened to play havoc with any attempts to make noise, but we were determined all the same. The front row of seats in the men’s Cove section in the tier above had been removed and replaced with a gantry, a small platform for the capo and drum, but we weren’t sure how that would fit in with these new rules.

A quick explanation. Word had been spread that there was no singing allowed while standing. Excuse me? What? The capos had been informed, the club knew the rules and it was down to the security to enforce it. But you were allowed to sing whilst seated. Honestly, whose fucking rule is that? What difference does it make? We’ve seen many different stages of restrictions over the two years – masks unless eating or drinking, masks when you go to the bar, playing behind closed doors, distancing from players, washing balls that go into the crowd, but this one was the most pointless of all.

So, armed with that knowledge, we perched on our seats and started up the chants as soon as the blaring music subsided and the players were ready to kick off. The Sky Blues would surely have a test today against second-placed City, and the opening moments suggested that, City having turned the Sky Blues around to shoot towards the home end in the first half. With a strong team selected again despite the notable absentees from the Asian Cup, Page Satchell found herself in an advanced position early on after beating her player and her ball in somehow reached Cote Rojas with space and time to pick her spot, but the shot was straight at the City keeper with the whole goal to aim at, a dreadful miss. She did the same last week and went on to score a hat-trick, so we weren’t fazed by that at all.

Sydney started to dominate, and silky midfielder Rachel Lowe was at the heart of everything, her and Mackenzie Hawkesby on a different level altogether. But it was City who should have scored, a mistake letting in their centre forward up the other end, a sudden chance and a clear shot on goal but Jada Whyman saved and smothered. The game was in the balance when a good move saw Princess Ibini release Satchell in the box on the left; she let the ball drop and fired in a shot which nestled inside the far post for her first goal for the club. Top finish from a player who clearly has potential but hasn’t yet turned her good running and positional play into quality delivery or clear chances. It’s coming.

When Ally Green played a delicious curving ball to the scampering Lowe, the expectation was for an offside call, but she had timed her run perfectly. She strode into the box, looking for a pass to Rojas, but instead cracked a lovely shot inside the near post for a second goal. Lowe Lowe Lowe she’s magic, you kno-o-ow.

Two goals up at the break, Sydney had made this look easier than it should have been. Some of the active support dived for cover from the sun, although it was nowhere near as hot and humid as last time out, and again the players had not been offered a drinks break.

With my own drinks break secured, the second half got under way, and Perth had the ball in the net within a couple of minutes in front of us. A corner was swung in, and Whyman had the tall timber up from the back for Melbourne City who made it difficult for her to get where she wanted to be. Luckily a player jumped into her before the header found the back of the net and the cheers turned to disbelief as City were denied. A relief for the Cove though as it looked a little soft. A raft of subs saw both sides shake up their teams, but it was the combination of Green and Lowe at it again with 15 minutes to go, Lowe racing on to a neat free kick to slot home like the seasoned goal scorer she has become. That was enough for the City keeper who was replaced. All eyes were now on Whyman, who was going for the record number of consecutive clean sheets, and she did have plenty of work to do to keep her goal intact. Sydney FC had won and the final whistle sounded.

Baby steps in getting the post-game right. This time, the men didn’t race onto the field like schoolboys reserving the handball courts at the beginning of recess. Good to see, let the women have their moment to thank the opposition and have the field to themselves for a few minutes. The players came around the advertising hoardings to celebrate with the growing Cove and linked hands in salute, which is always a nice touch, but the music and babbling adverts were absolutely blaring, the players couldn’t hear our chants and a lovely moment was missed to connect with the team again and to serenade Jada Whyman for her exploits.

It’s starting to grate a little. Get it right between games of a double header, it’s not that hard. It was better last week as the music was turned down at the Cove, perhaps the memo wasn’t passed on this week. Far out, I’m having a whinge, eh?

The 45 minutes of dead time between the two games was spent realising just how many of my Hottest 100 picks wouldn’t even make the top 200, and an eerie but cheery atmosphere was enveloping Jubilee Oval as the congregating Cove worked out just how this sitting and singing malarkey would work. “We are Sydney” rang out, but failed to have the same effect, the security marshals making sure that everyone sat down when they were singing.

Now, there’s little point in going into the game in detail here. Firstly, well, if you wanted to read how the game went you could go on the Sydney FC website or any of the many football sites and get a professional point of view. But secondly, I could simply copy and paste from any one of Sydney’s home games this season. The team selection, the tactics, the substitutions, the key moments, they’re all becoming a tired recipe. Let’s say you make a great new meal for the kids one night and they love it. They lap it up and it makes you feel great, everyone is happy and they talk about how good that meal was. Skip forward to the tenth time you make that meal, slightly too frequently, and it loses its effect and the kids ask you not to make it again. We’re at that stage now. You’ve got to mix it up, change your tact, introduce something new and better.

The first half was rubbish. Bobo was isolated up front. He flung himself at an Elvis cross at the far end, but didn’t seem close, and we had corners that were as ineffectual as always. Max Burgess looked like a threat and Anthony Caceres was his measured self, but too often, the good work in getting behind was undone by a nothing ball into the area. Brandon O’Neill received a lot of love from the fans, and he seemed to be everywhere for the visitors, ghosting around the field in his fluid fashion, popping up where needed. A Glory shot sailed over from distance to cat calls from the crowd, but goal action was limited. There was no sign of the main attraction Daniel Sturridge, who was firmly sat on the bench as his teammates frustrated the home side, and the now traditional unnecessary water break was slotted into the half, a horrible by-product of this exciting new era of TV coverage.

The Cove did their best to stay interested. There were plenty of laughs. The capo had the fans standing and clapping (no singing). There was bouncing on seats, rowing back and forth and a muted call and response to the Hill and the main stand. The second half continued in its familiar way. There is no doubt that the approach play is pretty, and the intricate skills on show would rip a lot of NPL teams to shreds, but this is the A-League and the end product is not there. When the most predictable subs in world football happened around the hour mark, we instantly saw the class of Milos Ninkovic, his little touch to bring a high pass out of the air and flick into the path of his teammate was truly sublime. The scene was set for another half an hour of knocking on the door and hoping that Perth would let us in.

When the Hottest 100 winner was announced by our capo, the unlikely Wiggles cover of Tame Impala’s Elephant, that was enough to make this weird and wonderful evening even more off-the-wall, and the Cove sang Hot Potato and the Big Red Car with smiles on their faces and delirium in their eyes. Perth took the lead at the far end, O’Neill pouncing on a save from Andrew Redmayne and keeping his head to slot home. No one in the home end seemed to care, and the football was now secondary to this trance-like state. Sturridge was on, Amini was on for Sydney, and the Cove was by now on their feet and singing, the pointless and unenforceable rule by now out of the window. Trent Buhagiar smashed a shot miles wide and there was another wild shot from Amini that had hands on heads. A last throw of the dice saw the dejected Joel King replaced by Conor O’Toole and Rhyan Grant showed his disgust at being replaced by Harry Van Der Saag, who could not possibly have merited a spot after his disastrous cameo on Tuesday. Elvis was upended when sneaking the cheekiest nutties through his marker, but the freekick was wasted. Perth then ripped apart Sydney with a counter attack that saw some lazy defending punished, a routine finish past Redders making it 2-0. It was enough to see some people leaving in dismay already, but the party continued in Bay 18. The fun “Sydney Football Club” chant was keeping everyone amused, litter flying through the air as the atmosphere returned to its normal raucous levels.

Somehow Sydney set themselves up for a grandstand finish, Amini was adjudged to have been fouled in the area and Caceres finished nicely to accept the referee’s gift. With four minutes of injury time, there was still time, but more wasteful and aimless passing into the six yard box left the players and the fans frustrated in a frantic climax.

The sight of Patrick Yazbek sitting forlornly on the turf, and Brandon O’Neill saluting the Cove’s chants told you everything you needed to know tonight. The players didn’t seem too interested in applauding the Cove, and most had gone by that point, all the Liverpool shirts making their way down the far end to catch a glimpse of their former hero Daniel Sturridge, who had quite frankly done nothing to attract the adulation.

We were out of there when all three of our iPhone batteries died, a true indication of the 2020s, and a very quick trip back up King George’s Road had us back in Ryde by 10.30pm. There was little talk of the game, more of how the Wiggles took out the Hottest 100, backing up their headline appearance at the Matildas v USA late last year.

So, how to sum up today… it was the girls that carried us on the football field, they play some quality football and are sweeping aside all opposition in the search for dominance in the Premiership. The miniature women’s Cove does its best to create an atmosphere, we need more numbers, but the players are giving us lots to sing about. The men were schooled again at home; the rinse and repeat tactics from Steve Corica will surely start to come in for heavy criticism, but we’ll be positive as always and cheer on the players with all our hearts. We move on to Tuesday night now for a trip to Melbourne Victory and the Big Blue. Despite the pandemic robbing us of another good 90 minutes of A-League women football, we’re all booked up and will use that additional pre-game time to get our voices oiled for a good old sing-song. Stand by for a big week, and thanks for reading. Drop me a line if you got this far!

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