Unexpected cruise reignites finals push

Kogarah Oval on Saturday night was a joyous place to be for the home crowd, for those who had made the effort to follow their beloved Sky Blues and salute Anthony Caceres’ 100th game for the club. Sitting in sixth place, having played way more games than those around them, Sydney FC have not exactly set the league on fire this season. Those that were there though were treated to a totally unexpected romp that could and should have been more.

This game crept up on us on a busy Saturday and it was with very little anticipation that we were in the car at 5.45pm for the journey south from Ryde to the back streets of Carlton. With barely any traffic after Flemington markets, we were parked up and in the Kogarah Clubhouse by 6.30pm. Good signs of a decent turnout – no tables spare, so the dining option was the obvious one, next door in the self-titled Asian Eating House, the Pearl. A marvellous feed with some equally marvellous accompanying cocktails got the evening underway, and we were out in the street in good time to make kick off with 15 minutes to spare.

I’m throwing a few photos in from the walk to the stadium, as we’ll soon be looking back on Kogarah Oval with misty eyes and rose-tinted glasses. This is suburbia. Houses encircle the stadium, trees line the English Road end and a high fence separates those inside from those outside. A good old-fashioned football stadium. We’ve done this walk loads of times, but we’ll miss it, we will. It’s so close to the Kogarah Clubhouse and parking is easy as. Come back to this blog in five years’ team when we’re enjoying the glitz and glamour of our new space-age stadium at Moore Park and tell me you don’t look back on this fondly.

The sky was a beautiful midnight plum as kick off aproached. The member flag-bearers and junior flag-wavers were in position and the stadium did appear to have a few more than usual on the Hill, but the main stand was pretty sparse. We’d never noticed the Norm Provan Grandstand sign before, maybe it’s heralding the dawn of the new rugby league season. The Cove were in place, “We Are Sydney” was underway as we took our place at the back of section North18, ready to give our all.

Team news centred on whether Andrew Redmayne and Rhyan Grant would be available following their national team call-ups. They were and they were starting. There was also a start for new Cove darling Mustafa Amini, and Luciano Narsingh was partnering Adam Le Fondre in attack, with Connor O’Toole missing out in favour of the impressive Callum Talbot at left back. James Donachie was in disguise, having given himself a peroxide shock of white hair a la Nikolai Muller.

Now, there’s plenty of places where you can catch the highlights of the game, and professional journalists have written up the action within minutes of the final whistle for all to see. But not many will have been in total uproar early in the game and shouting obscenities into the night when Donachie completely missed an inoccuous through ball, leaving the Ibrahimovic wannabe Aleksandr Prijovic to dink a beautiful ball over Redders to open the scoring in the first minute. Roars of disapproval were averted by the assistant referee’s flag and Sydney had the biggest let-off possible; it didn’t look offside, so it came as a massive surprise and an even bigger relief.

The game settled into a familiar pattern of dominant possession for the Sky Blues and counter attacks for the away side. Just as the game stared to look predictable, a moment of sheer magic opened up the Western United defence. We were at the opposite end of the stadium, but the play opened up and everyone could see the gap and the beginning of an audacious run to prise open the defence. Imagine our surprise and delight when Amini threaded the ball through for the clever run of Grant. The crowd rose to their feet as he teased in a cross that Ninkovic volley triumphantly into the net. From our angle it wasn’t obvious who was the scorer, but news filtered hrough quickly and the Cove heralded the goal by roaring his name. What a goal, what a moment!

Sydney were on the front foot, Narsingh was warming to his new teammates, Grant’s kung-fu Go-Go-Gadget leap almost created a chance, stretching every sinew of hamstring to cross in a seemingly lost ball. This was almost unrecognisable Sydney. Western United didn’t really offer much in the way of attacking drive, and it was the home team who looked in good shape as the half time whistle went.

The Cove had been in good voice. It was almost a carnival atmosphere. The Sydney Football Club litter collection chant was awesome, chants went on for longer than usual, and everyone was in the best of spirits. The second half would provide much more for the fans to cheer too, but not until Donachie had again gifted another chance to the visitors, Prijovic this time watching in suspended animation as Redders tipped his header over the bar at the far end.

When Narsingh played an extended on-two with Milos Ninkovic approaching the hour mark, this was his chance, and he delivered with a Prijovic-like dink over Jamie Young to make it two. His thespian kneel in front of the Cove was lapped up, and the real comedy of the night started. Firstly, Young became the focus of the barracking of the fringe Cove fans with some lovely banter, but more importantly a Narsingh song was born out of the “Where you go we always follow you” chant. Our super-capos mumbled majestically through lines of the song to fit in the name Narsingh and the chant evolved from nowhere with the Cove filled with laughter. Bloody brilliant. “Na na na na na na na Narsingh.”

Ten minutes later Sydney were cruising and it was an unexpected gift as the out-of-sorts visitors decided to play out from the back despite heavy pressure from the fizzing home team. When one of their players stood on the ball, after being sold a tricky ball by Young, Amini was there to pick up the pieces and lash the ball low into the net. There were plenty of subs happening, Trent Buhagiar one of them and he romped clean through on goal with a great run. The Cove rose as one to salute the dawning of a new goalscoring era for the out-of-form striker, but all we got was a Luke Ivanovic special, well wide of the gaping goal. Unbelievable! We really do want him to succeed, much as we did with Luke, but the wait is testing even the most patient of fans. John Aloisi copped a yellow card for his protests at something or other, while the Cove bounced along to song after song and the party continued.

Plenty more subs, and a few more chances, a series of corners leading to nothing, and Sydney FC had a very welcome win, and quite a margin considering the calibre and form of the opposition. The players came to salute the Cove, Redders just too slow to join the linked hands for the final bow after he prised himself away from media duty. Rhyan Grant made a point of joining the Cove to shake hands and get selfies. This smelled like a goodbye. Last time we had Socceroos call-ups, we came back with one less. Hopefully this wasn’t a sign, and he was just saying thanks while he was away for a week with the national team.

Amini was left holding the baby over on the Hill while Grant shmoozed the fans, and we filed out of Gate C and into the dark night. This had been an exceptional evening’s entertainment. Goals, drama, songs, heroes. It was all there, and whetted the appetite for more.

Back home by 10:30pm along clear roads, this had a been a cracker of a night. Can’t wait to do it all again. Unfortunately we’ll miss the Jets away this Friday, but we’re back for the big dance on Sunday, a swift return to our soon-to-be-former home.

Great stuff, Sydney FC, we love you through thick and thin!

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