Jump up in the Cove!

For those of you not fortunate to be at Kogarah Oval on Friday night for the A-League womens’ semi final, Sydney FC vs Melbourne City, sit back, grab a coffee and have a read. Scroll through the photos. Soak in the atmosphere. For the rest of us, we had 72 minutes of on-field struggle followed by a magnificent fightback, but most importantly we had 120 minutes of singing and encouragement that eventually got our girls in blue over the line and into the Grand Final in our own back yard. This was one night in Kogarah to remember.

This game was a 7pm kick off, and news came in earlier in the day that the Premiers Plate presentation would take place at 6.10pm, ten minutes after the gates opened. The planned meet up at the Kogarah Clubhouse was jettisoned afer a longer-than-usual trip in Friday evening rush hour, and we made our way in through Gate B to take up position centrally to take in the event. A banner had been set up, and there were pyrotechnics of some variety being prepared – surely not one of those glitter bombs, especially when kick off in this one was less than 45 minutes away. The players emerged and made their way across in jovial mood, and the hoisting of the plate by Tobinho sparked a big celebration and streamers raining down on the players. It was a lovely sight, however out of place and out of context it was.

After Tuesday night’s monsoonal ACL qualifier saw the Cove relocated undercover in the main stand, we were keen to be close by. It was a good place to see the players warm up. The stadium was a hive of activity, photographers doing their stuff, the players doing sprints, Jada Whyman plucking crosses out of the air with ease, the puffle man putting out his pitch-side microphones. After setting up banners and making our home in the far left corner, the supporter marshall appeared and gave the news that we had to go to the assigned North19 bay. Hopefully this wasn’t a sign that all eyes would be on the Cove waiting to pick off miscreants for standing on seats, like the big doll in Squid Game. The lower section was negotiated, Capo and newly crowned women’s football hero Michelle was content, and the party could commence. The Cove boys and girls arrived. The songs started. The battle had begun.

Premiership winning goalscorer Paige Satchell was in the starting line-up. Cortnee Vine was on the bench. That was big news, but it was justified – how could she be dropped after such a fine display and wrapping up the Premiership with a goal. City obviously won the toss and changed ends, so Sydney were shooting towards our goal in the first half. The early stages were high on tension and low on quality, passes not finding feet and Sydney’s attack consistently thwarted by the assistant referee’s offside flag. Capo Michelle received an early first warning for her foot on a seat, as the Cove belted out song after song. Charlie Rule nearly found a rampaging Rachel Lowe early on, the ball skipping past her boot to City keeper Melissa Barbieri. Taylor Ray dinked in a free kick that found Lowe soon after, and the finish looked like a formality from six yards, but it was easily saved by the evergreen City keeper, the Sydney midfielder left holding her head in despair.

The warning signs were there at the other end, the olive green clad City team burst down the left and a shot was acrobatically tipped away by Whyman. The subsequent corner was swung in and somehow stayed out. We didn’t have to wait long for the opening goal; again the play was spread wide down the left and a delicious cross-field ball into the danger zone was presented to the powerful City striker Hannah Wilkinson by an uncharacterstic horror mistake from captain Nat Tobin and she tapped home for 1-0. City continued to soak up pressure and catch Sydney on the break. Another raid down the left saw a cross from NZ star Rebekah Stott volleyed over the bar, then Princess Ibini thrashed in a shot that went perilously close to going out for a throw-in. This was a tough watch for the Sydney fans. The half ended with a glorus chance for a second, the shot up the far end seemed to be from much closer in than it was on the replay on the big screen, Whyman getting down easily to hold the ball. So, 1-0 at the break, and probably a fair reflection of the game. The Cove cleared out for half-time, to reconvene all refreshed for the second half.

Vine for Satchell was the half-time swap. The Kiwi winger had run her heart out, but Sydney needed more. Could this turn the game? Vine had an early chance in the half after Lowe’s shot deflected her way, but it was way over. City then snatched a second goal on the counter attack, once again down the left. A clever reverse ball and a neat cross saw Wilkinson get her second, arriving at the near post. From where we were standing, we couldn’t see for the advertising hoardings, but the sight of the ball rippling the net was all we needed to know. Mid-song it was difficult to continue singing with a home Grand Final slipping away, but continue we did, defiantly urging on our girls to get back into the game.

The benches were a little tetchy, yellow cards being handed out to both managers, as the game reached boiling point. Ante Juric made a massive call just after the hour, and it looked like a real gamble at 2-0 down – off came Matildas’ Remy Siemsen and silky midfielder Rachel Lowe to be replaced by Chilean Cote Rojas and the Sky Blue Wonder, Sarah Hunter. A huge roll of the dice by Sydney FC. The offside flag ruined the momentum on a couple of occasions as the game shifted to all out attack by the home team. And they grabbed a lifeline with 20 minutes to go when Ally Green burst through down the left to cross perfectly for Cortnee Vine to head home, not an easy header, but she executed it perfectly. Game on!

All smiles in the Cove, although one unlucky soul cracked something in celebration and ended up with the paramedics getting checked out. Sydney were now piling on the pressure. The songs had not stopped and were reaching fever-pitch. Vine drilled into the side netting when she should have done better, Ibini took a touch too many down the left, it looked like it wouldn’t be our day. Vine raced onto a through ball from Green and smashed the ball off the bar. There were four minutes on the clock and “We Are Sydney” had started when Mackenzie Hawkesby spun and lifted a through ball to Vine who raced clear. Barbieri came out to make it difficult but Vine beat her to it, but was then brought to the ground by the last defender. From the other end, it could have been in the box, it could have been the keeper fouling Vine, but it wasn’t. After an eternity, with the defender in agony on the floor, the red card was shown and Sydney had the chance from a free kick after the defender was helped to the sideline. Ibini blazed over, and with it our numerous chances seemed to have run out.

Nat Tobin then bundled into the box and went to ground under a challenge, the ball was helped back in where Hawkesby turned and Rojas took over, a weak shot somehow finding the bottom right hand corner of the goal for a dramatic equaliser with the 90 minutes well and truly up. What a moment. Pure joy in the Cove.

Against all odds Sydney FC had forced extra-time, when they had looked down and out a mere twenty minutes prior. With the extra player, they had all the play, shooting again to the Jubilee Avenue end of the stadium. Rojas tricked her way to the byline and almost caught out Barbieri, who pushed the ball onto her bar before catching the rebound. Vine won a corner; Hawkesby lifted it in, Hunter was in the right place, unmarked, and didn’t really have to jump for it, thumping the header in fromclose range for 3-2. Massive celebrations! The party continued into the second half of extra time, the game stretched, and Rojas seemed to take an eternity before releasing the ball to Vine on the burst and in acres of space. Her control was perfect, and her finish in front of the Cove was sublime. 4-2 to the girls in blue. There was time for more drama as Barbieri controlled the ball with her hand ouside the area and was sent off to a chorus of ‘bye bye’. Some unnecessary but expert game management down by the corner flag saw the final few minutes out, and the arms went up as one and players rushed to celebrate with each other.

The players then raced over to the Cove to celebrate, dancing with their fans in a scene that will stay in the memory for a long time. The cameras were lapping it up. What an end to the game, 120 minutes of noise from the active support was surely appreciated by the players and the club. In fact, free tickets were promised to everyone in the Cove for the big dance on March 27th back at Kogarah, such was the impression made by capo Michelle and her crew of eager Sydney FC supporters. The celebrations were long. The Cove bounced out of the stadium serenading Cortnee Vine, young Sydney players were interviewed like seasoned pros. What a great evening.

We left the stadium as the players were thinning out and slipped back to the car that was parked less than 100m from the main gate. Back home by 10.45 or so, this had been the perfect way to spend a Friday night.

We’ve got a week off now. City have to play another semi next week without their first choice keeper and with changes in defence. It could be a bridge too far and the chances are high of welcoming Melbourne Victory to Kogarah Oval for a repeat of last year’s Grand Final. Congratulations Sydney FC Women, well done the Cove, and we’ll see you soon! Forza Sydney FC!

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