A miniature crowd, generously reported as 1700, braved the elements and an early start to cheer on Sydney FC in the poor man’s Sydney derby at Kogarah. What looked like a training run for Macarthur FC in the first 30 minutes, changed complexion with a Trent Buhagiar goal before the break. An early own goal levelled up the game, but neither side could snatch a win in a second half dominated by the Sky Blues.
It’s amazing what difference the extra 40 minutes makes – a 7.05pm kick off means leaving extra early to avoid the peak traffic and there are less people in the venues around the stadium as a result. We were there in good time though, just enough to be able to grab a quick bite at our favourite watering hole, the Kogarah Club, and we walked through the gate as the players were coming out. The minimum possible food and drink outlets were open, the eftpos terminal in the drinks line was out, Michelle deciding there and then that this would be a sober night. There were hardly any people there. We took our spot next to the Cove just after a group of Macarthur fans had gone past, giving it large and attracting vitriol from the home supporters.
What happened next summed up the security regime at this stadium. The jobsworth on the gate separating the North end and the main stand wouldn’t let them through, and the unlucky clowns were made to walk back in front of the Cove. A bit of common sense would have seen them escorted through the main stand to the far end, but no, they were paraded like prize donkeys in front of a baying Cove, the police got involved and a situation was manufactured seemingly to agitate both sets of fans. In reality it turned out that there weren’t many more than those four fans from Macarthur who had made the journey. The kick off was delayed for ages, there must have been a long advert on TV, and the game was finally underway.
Sydney had Kosta Barbarouses and Trent Buhagiar starting, but also Bobo, so there was at least a little physical presence in the attacking third. Kosta lashed in an early shot that hit the post, Sydney shooting towards the home end in the first half after seemingly losing the toss. Moments later Macarthur had taken the lead. Who knows what the Sydney FC defence was thinking, Ben Warland played into a tight spot by Mustafa Amini, and he never looked comfortable, Ulises Davila nicking in ahead of a weak back pass to Tom Heward-Belle and the Sydney shot stopper taking out the striker as he skipped over his leg. Surely a red card then, but no, the ref applied the letter of the law and Heward-Belle remained on the field to see Davila’s penalty beat his dive. What a start.
The following 20 minutes were abject to say the least. This was like defence v attack at training, Macarthur on the offensive without really breaking sweat. Buhagiar did get a run and shot away, but it was going wide when the keeper saved. A second goal seemed inevitable, Heward-Belle saving from right in front before a cross was lashed home on the volley by a Macarthur defender at the far post. This was bad. The Cove continued to sing, the words echoing off the barren grandstand. Sydney were given a lifeline when Buhagiar slid home a Callum Talbot cross. VAR intervened when the flag was raised, Buhagiar denied the celebration he needed to boost his confidence, but getting his goal all the same with a good finish. Half time then, and it could and should have been a bigger deficit to claw back.
The second half was a totally different game. Sydney FC were in the ascendency from the beginning, forcing plenty of corners and grabbing an equaliser within ten minutes. This time Maxi Burgess burst down the left and fired in a cross, which goal scorer Susjnaer deflected into his own net. I’ve got to admit I didn’t see it, and the sight of the net bulging was the only sign of a goal. A delayed celebration from the Cove then, but we were back on level terms, although barely deserved.
The now customary Sydney rain bomb then caught everyone out, wild rain lashing down for three minutes and making it miserable for everyone out in the open. Honestly, when will this rain event end? The offside call was the biggest influence on the game, numerous attacks thwarted by the assistant’s eager flag. Amini’s little dink over the top for sub Paddy Wood saw him shoot just wide, but the referee had already whistled for the offside.
The game was held up for a long injury to a Macarthur player, the visitors had some half-chances at the end, but the excitement had fizzled out of the game long before. Applause for the home players when they eventually made it across, Rhyan Grant jumped the hoardings to hand out handshakes to everyone – it still looks either like a protracted goodbye or a player genuinely appreciative of the support from the fans. Whichever it is, we love you Rhyno. The Cove made it clear what was on their mind, anti-Wanderers songs being sung ahead of Saturday’s big clash back here at Jubilee Oval.
Plenty of carry-on in the main stand as the security steward continued to turn away people from his gate that separated the main stand from the uncovered North section. Shouts and barracking were heard. We filed back out of Gate C and into the night, not remembering which side street the car was parked in. The early kick off meant we were back in Ryde by 9:30, a thoroughly civil midweek school night end to an evening’s entertainment.
A horribly low-key derby this was; hopefully we can get a few more to the weekend’s proper derby game, which could be a security guard’s worst nightmare at a stadium not known for its successful segregation of fans. At least they’ll have their hands full and won’t bother the Cove so much.
Oh, and Daniel bought a book. That was the biggest news of the night.