Blue skies at Leichhardt

Sydney FC turned certain defeat into a majestic win on Sunday afternoon in what was the coming of age of Anthony Caceres in a Sky Blue shirt. We’ve long known that we have a serious talent in the number 17, but today we saw leadership and poise, so much so that it was like having two Milos Ninkovics on the field at once. Down 2-1 and feeling the heat, Sydney FC were again the comeback kings and gave their season a big kickstart at a crucial time.

Today was a bit rushed. We had a quick turnaround from the Gladesville Ravens’ midday NPL game in Concord, and luckily we were at Leichhardt, so not such a long drive. Snagging a car park right by the Orange Grove Hotel on Balmain Road, we had beaten the main rush and were there in good time to grab a feed and a few drinks. The pub filled up, and the food area was full of Mariners and Sydney fans mingling together, a lovely atmosphere. We left the pub a little later than planned – it was thinning out in there – and ahead of us was a ten minute walk to Leichhardt Oval. Once there, we would be at the mercy of the queuing gods, and this time our luck was out, and a long line had formed at the Hill entry.

Luckily the queue was moving quickly, and we were in the stadium just as the players were getting ready to kick off.

I’ve never actually gone in that entrance before; usually for low key games the only entrance is the main one on the other side, but this was Sunday arvo in Leichhardt in the sun. There were a lot of people about. We made our way around to the Cove and took a seat next to the most active, mirroring our Bay 19 Kogarah position and were instantly absorbed in a fine game of football.

A swift break by a lively Sydney FC, with Amini having a busy start, saw Trent Buhagiar race clear. Evading what could have been a red card challenge from the last man, he steadied himself and sorted out his feet before blasting the ball wide, a horrible miss. New pantomime villain Jason Cummings then tested Tom Heward-Belle with a turn and shot up the far end that had the Coast fans off their seats. Buhagiar was set clear again soon after, and he chose to go around the keeper, wasting the chance again, another glorious chance a la Ivanovic. The crowd was getting restless. The makeshift big screen showed Canberra A-League women for a short while to the amusement of the fans. Sydney were looking the goods but had nothing to show. When the referee adjudged a harsh handball when right back Callum Talbot struck, a penalty was the outcome. Everyone secretly wanted Buhagiar to take it, but our man of the moment Anthony Caceres took command and tucked the shot into the net before saluting the Cove. Sydney had the break through, 1-0 up at the break.

Half time saw a crowded 9 v 9 game in front of us, then it was time for the toddlers race – one of the young stars was craftily intercepted by Dad before running into the powerful sprinkler. The family atmosphere was great, the youngsters who eventually made their way to the goal to score were given a roar from the crowd, there were kids in the Cove, it was an afternoon primed for making long-lasting football memories.

So when the Central Coast equalised and then took the lead with two carbon copy goals at the start of the second half, it was a real kick in the teeth. First, their captain Bozanic was left all alone at the edge of the area following a corner and he had time to pick his shot, the ball striking the underside of the bar and in for a lovely goal. The celebrations in front of the Cove were big, and they were again soon after when Cummings found himself in a similar position and turned to fire a shot in off the post. The stadium was stunned. The marking for the first was bad, but the way the Mariners had time to fashion their second was unforgiveable. The Hill was by now deserted, all the fans taking cover in the shade with only a few die-hards remaining in the beating sun.

Steve Corica’s alarm went off and the sublime Milos Ninkovic made way for Max Burgess in the preset 67th minute substitution. Buhagiar was finally replaced too. This looked dire. However, Harry Van Der Saag lifted in a cross soon after and Bobo swept the ball home, and despite confusion as to whether or not there was an offside, the goal stood after two minutes of VAR and we had our equaliser. Set for a grandstand finish, Elvis Kamsoba wriggled into the box and squared the ball for Caceres, who flicked the ball home for a dramatic third goal. Sydney FC had done it! There were still 15 minutes or so to go, the impromptu drinks breaks adding some time on, but Sydney survived and the perfect afternoon was complete, another fighting performance to grab points from a perilous position.

The players saluted the Cove, who had turned up in good numbers today despite Melbourne Covid keeping some away, and the Callum Talbot cheer squad remained to pump up their man on his full debut. The sun was still fierce, the amount of cans and bottles left behind were testament to a fun afternoon, and we headed back through the leafy streets of Leichhardt and the horrible traffic jam to our car and headed for home and a quarter-final Women’s Asian Cup tie for our beloved Matildas at 7pm. Surely nothing could spoil the day?

Now that’s a scoreboard.

Thank you Leichhardt Oval for making this an extra special afternoon. We’ll be back on Wednesday night to see if Sydney FC women can extend their lead at the top of the ladder. Catch you then.

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