Wishing I was lucky

Yes, it was Wet Wet Wet at Kogarah on Saturday night, the kind of shitty drizzle and heavy rain that spurs many an Englishman to escape to Australia. With the Cove in good voice and in good spirits though, the conditions brought the best out of the Sydney FC support and we enjoyed a cracking contest against a very impressive Western United outfit.

Today’s journey started at 4.45pm, swinging by to get Michelle and making the pilgrimage down King Georges Road to Carlton. Despite a first game between Wellington Phoenix and Adelaide being in progress at Jubilee Oval, there was still plenty of parking in the streets nearby, and we were in the the Kogarah Clubhouse by 5.45pm. A snap decision saw us go ‘fancy’ and opt for The Pearl, the Asian restaurant which adjoins the club, and we were well fed as we headed to the gate well in time for kick off. The rain was holding off, alas that all changed as we went through the turnstiles and the heavens opened.

Most people had come well prepared, coats, rain jackets and extra layers justified, and luckily we all had the necessary attire to get through a wet evening. The sprinklers were on. Not sure if that was needed. There were brave souls on the hill, and the usual members were on the field holding flags and banners, with the kids forming a tunnel for the players to emerge to.

A stirring pre-game speech from our fearless capo urged the Cove to go the extra mile tonight and turn a thoroughly miserable evening into something special. With the rain now teeming down, those words were put into action and We Are Sydney rang out around Kogarah.

The action got underway with Western United immediaely on the break; a needless free kick out on the Sydney right led to master playmaker Alessandro Diamanti hitting one in from distance which was easily fielded by Tom Heward-Belle, maintaining his place ahead of returning Socceroo Andrew Redmayne. A quick scan of the personnel on the field saw that the mythical midfield duo, the two players never previously allowed to be on the pitch at the same time, Max Burgess and Milos Ninkovic, were both in the starting line-up, Anthony Caceres missing due to illness. Steve Corica also persisted with Trent Buhagiar up front with Adam Le Fondre; one day he will come good, in Stevie we trust.

The excellent Leo Lecroix (we’ll have him when we have retirements at the back soon) was then bundled off the ball by Le Fondre up the other end but three players surging into the box couldn’t give us the finish we needed and Le Fondre blazed the loose ball over. For some reason there was a drinks break, in cool temperatures that did not warrant it, and there was unrest from the crowd at the sight, a situation clearly manufactured to allow for TV breaks. This has to stop. It’s not in the rulebook and it cheapens the spectacle. Sydney then should have scored. Buhagiar raced away onto the exciting Elvis Kamsoba’s pass, but his touch looked heavy and his options reduced. He did find Ninkovic at the far post who controlled and fired in a shot, the ball ricocheting off the post as we were preparing to celebrate.

Western United were very economical in possession, stroking the ball around well, but aside from a couple of scares as the ball bounced around the six-yard box, Heward-Belle was under-employed; playing out from the back looked to be the only way we would be caught out, and our defenders threaded the needle a few times to keep the fans on their toes. Goalless at half-time then, and this one had 0-0 written all over it, the young footballers waiting for their moment on the field providing more entertainment than the game, dancing to the Cove songs.

The Cove was deserted at half-time as most people ducked for cover from the elements. T-shirts were wrung out and there was brief respite as the mini-football kicked off. That wasn’t going to last long though, and the second half started as another wave of rain swept across Jubilee Oval.

This was one for the purists. Western United had the game by the scruff of the neck, and Lachie Wales was finding space down the right, but it was a break from Connor Pain that broke the deadlock, his ball in helped into the path of Steven Lustica whose shot from way out seemed to catch Heward-Belle unaware and the ball flew past him into the net. A lengthy VAR check for an offside for the player interfering with the sight of the goalkeeper was unnecessary – we could see he was onside on the replay – and Sydney FC were a goal down early in the second half.

Ninkovic then wasted a golden opportunity, caught in two minds whether to shoot or pass, and the ball trickled out of his control with the numbers stacked in the Sky Blues’ favour. This looked like not being Sydney’s night, but the Cove was not going to be silenced, the crowd favourite ‘Sydney Football Club’ chant getting everyone moving and it was a party-like trance state in Bay 19.

That urged the players to another level, Rhyan Grant’s cross nodded down by substitute Bobo to Ninkovic, and his quick feet saw the ball played to Burgess. The shimmy inside and the low shot right in front of us was perfect and Sydney FC had the equaliser they craved but had barely deserved.

There was still a lot of time for either team to snatch the win. Another drinks break was roundly booed. Western United had a spell of possession that just seemed to keep on going, they were crisp in the pass and effortless in their movement. There were chances for the visitors, and Sydney FC were wasteful when they found themselves in enemy territory, Connor O’Toole especially with his crosses straight at goalkeper Jamie Young. A few flashes of promise led to nothing, Bobo needing a few extra centimetres to reach the crosses from the left.

And so into injury time and an incident that will probably not be remembered beyond this weekend, but one which defined the game. The visitors were pressing hard for the winner, a cross was lifted in, sub Dylan Wenzel-Halls headed and the ball seemed to strike Rhyan Grant’s upper arm as he jumped. This was up the other end, and we had no way of knowing, but the referee pointed to the spot. There was uproar, and we then waited and waited for VAR, the ref eventually heading over to the screen and slowly agreeing that he had got it wrong. No handball, too high up the arm. A massive relief for Sydney FC. The Cove erupted, this time in joy, and the final whistle sounded during a fantastic final song that went on after the game had ended.

The way the game had finished, a point was very welcome for Sydney FC. They had been outplayed for long periods of the second half, but were tenacious in clawing back the game from a losing position once again. The players were slow to come and applaud, meaning that a number of drenched fans had gone. We were literally the last ones out after stopping for a chat to Uncle Nicolas, and headed off into the night where people were getting changed in their cars and the fans were keen to get home out of the rain. The short 35 minute trip home was very welcome, and we were back home in great time ready for an evening of EPL.

The games come thick and fast towards the end of the season now, we’re up in Newcasle for the A League Womens clash tomorrow, probably our last chance to see the women before they end their regular season with three interstate games and move into the finals. Back at Leichhardt next week for an away game against Wellington, this is the season that keeps giving. Forza Sydney FC.

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