Reward for the hardcore

This was an evening when everything went right for Sydney FC as the Central Coast Mariners were swept aside in a five-star performance. With the season grinding to a disppointing finish, this was a reward for those Sky Blue fans who kept the faith following a four goal mauling in midweek. A game day that will stick in the memory. If only we could have done this a few more times this year.

Fresh off the plane from Townsville for the Matildas Friday night late show, it was a quick turnaround to get back on the road, this time only a short drive up the M1 to Gosford. Leaving around 5pm, the journey from Ryde was probably quicker than a trip to Kogarah, and we were in the swanky Hotel Gosford for cocktails and premium brews just after 6pm. The pub was busy, but thinned out when the Cove assembled down the side of the building for the march to Central Coast Stadium. As we left, an ageing Mariners fan stumbled out of the pub and was swept up into the march, giving the thumbs down as the visiting fans laughed and chanted about the time “there were thirty minutes to go”.

The march continued through the car park where we’d left the car, cars still coming through despite us taking up the road. We past the Bay Road brewery, vowing for the umpteenth time to make it there one day. The stadium was a lovely setting as we turned the corner, a fantastic structure so close to the centre of town.

There were a few less food and drink outlets than usual, and there were a few less fans too. The stadium was quite empty as the cheerleaders came out to form the guard of honour for the players, the safe smoke billowed across the home end, and the canon blasted to herald the entrance of the teams. The palm trees and sauce bottles at the scoreboard end were still, this being the perfect evening inducive to a good game of top-flight Australian football.

Sydney had included Max Burgess and Milos Ninkovic in the same team, a rare but welcome sight, and Anthony Caceres was in too. A tasty midfield, with plenty of firepower on the bench too. Jason Cummings was up front for the home team, and they had enough class to give any opponent a good fight. Pink shirts for the home team, no obvious reason why.

The Cove sang “We are Sydney” well into the game, as the two teams fought out the opening stages of the game. Cummings was lively, and Mariners had a few corners which came to nothing. With almost half an hour gone, the visitors took the lead up the far end, Adam Le Fondre taking a swipe at a shot and getting a kind bounce to get a second go at it, finishing sweetly and wheeling away. The Cove went crazy. So this is what it feels like to be in the lead away from home? The lively Beni N’Kololo bent one in that struck the bar as the home side tried to get back on level terms before the break. Meanwhile the away section was going off. The “Sydney Football Club” litter chant was animated, the security guard at the front frothing at so many cans and bottles arcing through the air.

Applause rang around the away section at the conclusion of the half. One lucky soul had their birthday celebrations, the Cove singing happy birthday to the youngster who had a great cake to go with the sing-song. There was a relaxed feel to half-time with the players too, Bobo and Luciano Narsingh taking turns to head in crosses and practice their celebrations.

And celebration would be needed in a second 45 of pure elation. Le Fondre crossed low for Caceres to bundle the ball home for 2-0, Mariners scored and their fans celebrated only for VAR to intervene. The home fans nearest us, seperated by a large flag, were still celebrating as the game restarted, not knowing that the goal had been chalked off. Such a sweet moment. The security guard at the front of the Cove had his veins popping out by now and was being heavy-handed. The police were eventually called to quell any unrest in what was a celebratory mood, the black-clad Alf Stewart lookalike seccy called away to cheers and jeers.

Sydney scored again, Trent Buhagiar romping down the right to roll the ball to Le Fondre who smashed the ball home. The action was coming thick and fast, and a great move saw Caceres tee up Le Fondre for a brilliant strike for the hat-trick. The celebrations in front of the Cove were long and joyous. Four goals up with still half an hour to play! The inevitable subs cooled things down somewhat, but Sydney still threatened to blow the score out further. Some Mariners youth made it into the Cove and were ejected by the police. No one was in any mood for nonsense, this was an active bay full of love and happiness. So much so that the seccy was allowed back in his spot at the front and given more jeers as he did. The megaphone even lost its voice in this one, such was the fervent singing.

The game was now a procession, Callum Talbot did a complete airswing as he went to shoot, falling to the floor in discomfort and embarrassment. It didn’t matter. Mustafa Amini received lots of love when he came across to take a couple of corners. We were singing away right to the end when Burgess crossed delightfully for Bobo to crane his neck and steer a glorious header past Mark Birighitti for a fifth goal. The rain was sprinkling on an off, and no one gave a shit. The Sydney fans were in pure celebration mode, and let the home supporters know what the score was. The final whistle came too soon, we needed to bottle this atmosphere up and take it to the next game.

Adam Le Fondre tried in vain to get the match ball. The Mariners pitchside crew were being dicks and removing balls whenever he came close. Evenually he got his ball, but that was a moment of zero class by the Mariners.

All the players came across to celebrate, and they eventually filed in to the corner to shake the hands of all the fans at the front. A great moment of connection between fans and players, the team knowing that they had the support of the Cove despite their faltering season and the manner of the defeat midweek in Melbourne. Jeez, it was good. Memories of Macarthur away, and eveything had gone right.

We were probably the last out of the stadium, and were out of the car park in no time, back on the road south to Sydney. A massive day finally drew to a close as we rolled in at 11pm, hanging for a sleep after a huge few days.

Sydney FC hosted Adelaide United on Tuesday, but an outrageous clash of events saw us head to Canberra instead to watch the Matildas. With no A-League for a month for our beloved Sydney FC, we now look forward to a few weeks of watching the boys on TV in the ACL while we watch the club slide out of finals contention.

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