When the opportunity arises to follow your team in a continental tournament, you jump at it, right? Tonight the obstacles were there to keep all but the most foolhardy away, another prolonged deluge during the day and promise of more to come, warnings to stay off the roads, a late pitch inspection and all trains gone to shit. For those who did make their way to Kogarah Oval for the Asian Champions League Preliminary round game between Sydney FC and Kaya Iloilo, they experienced a real timeline cleanser, a return to the days when Sydney used to score goals for fun, and qualification to the group stages was assured.
A late pitch inspection and then no word to say whether the game was on or not left us in limbo just before 6pm. Luckily Sydney FC CEO Danny Townsend tweeted to say the game was on, and we quickly mobilised and got ourselves on the road by 6.15pm. Warnnigs were in place to only drive if essential, and the train system has been in turmoil since the beginning of February, so we were fully expecting a low crowd and a hellish drive down King Georges Road to Carlton.
To our surprise, the rain had gone, the journey from Ryde only took 45 minutes in peak hour and we jagged the perfect car park on Jubilee Avenue adjacent to the stadium. Wet weather gear was essential, Michelle had the gumboots on, and we made our way around to Gate B, a sure sign that the Cove would be closed tonight and that we’d all be in the main stand.
There wasn’t much time before kick off. A group of Filipino fans soon moved when they realised they were right next to the home active support, and we settled in with some stadium food and drink in the makeshift Cove for the night. There was a great turnout and familiar faces who were out to erase the memory of Saturday night’s debacle at CommBank Stadium. New crowd favourite Mustafa Amini had a brand new chant that was aired early on and then repeated in recognition for his appreciation of the support in Western Sydney on the weekend. The Active bay was bouncing, and with a roof to echo the noise, the playlist was extensive and sung with gusto. The scoreboard was on, unlike in other low key games when it remained black, Aurelia nodding her head sagely, remembering how the scoreboard was always off during the women’s games here.
Straight from the kick off, it was clear that the Philippines team were not here for a holiday, and they took the game to Sydney, aided by a breeze that was increasing as the half wore on. An early corner into the swirling wind saw Andrew Redmayne pluck the ball out of the air in unorthdox fashion thanks to a massive stretch, a heart-stopping moment as the attackers circled. Aside from a three-on-two situation that was wasted and some misplaced shots from distance, the visitors had very little to cheer; all the action was up at the Jubliee end of the stadium.
Kosta Barbarouses was making inroads down the right with Trent Buhagiar aiding and abetting, but the usual failings of an aimless ball into the centre or a striker totally switching off instead of pouncing were there for all to see. The early half-chances were easily dealt with by the goalkeeper, Buhagiar hit the bar when he should have scored, Max Burgess had a close-range chance blocked and Connor O’Toole was felled and a penalty waved away. It took a long time for Sydney to make the breakthrough, and they did when a long sweeping cross was turned goalwards by Barbarouses, the keeper saved and Buhagiar let the ball settle before thumping the rebound home for 1-0. The score remained at 1-0 until the half time whistle when the majority of the Cove, drummer included, dashed across to the tunnel area to serenade Amini with his new song.
Half time saw the arrival of the rain, and with it an even stiffer breeze. Sydney FC would be playing with the wind in their favour in the second half. And we didn’t need to wait long for a second goal. A minute after the restart, Bobo started and ended a clunky move that relied on deflections and luck to end up at his feet in front of goal, and the master craftsman made no mistake. “Always believe in Bobo” rang around the main stand, and the Brazilian had yet another goal to add to his collection in a sky blue shirt.
Bobo was on hand soon after to convert a penalty when Rhyan Grant was upended in the area picking up a pass from Barbarouses, coolly slotting home at the Cove end to make it 3-0. Danny Townsend was again the hero, appearing down below brandishing some leftover pies from half time, and he was given a song as he headed back up to the safety of the corporate area. Lovely gesture, showing just how close the top of the hierarchy is to the fans. The subs started circulating, the replaced players jumping straight into the stand out of the wild rain, young Adrian Segecic getting a chance to shine and Adam Le Fondre coming on to get match minutes and hopefully goals. And moments after he came on, he did score, meeting another Amini corner to head home. Amini’s corners were fabulous, especially from the left, inswinging and causing all sorts of issues for the Kaya defence, and he continued to receive a lot of love and noise from the Cove, who moved into position near the corner flag whenever he came near.
A horrible goal kick that caught up in the wind was then returned with interested, Patrick Yazbek winning the header, Paddy Wood instinctively playing an instant through ball for Le Fondre, who finished low beneath the keeper for 5-0. There was time for plenty more, Le Fondre was adjudged to have handled when finishing off a cross from the right, and he should have scored deep in injury time, the post denying him from close range. Harry Van Der Saag then somehow fluffed a four-on-two situation which should have been ruthlessly converted. There was a lovely moment when Wood stretched the leg of a prone Kaya player, the Laurel and Hardy comedy duo of visiting physios unsure what to do. The visitors were in fact an inch away from a late late consolation, the screeches from the Filipino fans at the far end of the main stand at full volume as the ball flashed past the post.
The game was won. A Kaya team full of endeavour in the early stages had been comprehensively demolished in the second half that was played in monsoon conditions. The Sydney FC players all came over to thank the active fans, the megaphone relaying a message of support to the players and thankfully someone had the wherewithal to turn down the booming music to let it happen.
There was no reason to hang around and every reason to get out of the swirling rain, and the stadium emptied very quickly. Estimates at a crowd of 200 in the bottom tier, but maybe more up above, this had been the ultimate test for the Sydney fans to make a 7.30pm kick off when result of the pitch inspection had only been communicated 90 minutes prior.
The playing surface at Kogarah had held up nicely, a few divots here and there, but still as green as it was at kick off even though water was starting to pool in places as the game entered its later stages. Well done to everyone who made this happen. The 100m walk to the car was wild as we turned the corner into the buffetting wind, the umbrella well and truly consigned to the bin, and the drive home was treacherous with the windscreen wipers on full as Sydney’s never-ending rain event continued.
Thanks to the Cove for making this a fun evening, and we’re all happy we were there to see goals, to see a win and to sing songs under a roof. We know the opposition was weak, we know the problems remain, but it was a thoroughly enjoyable experience for everyone at Jubilee Oval tonight. See you Friday for some A-League Women’s semi-final action. Forza Sydney FC!