Tuba guy, George Michael and the octopus

An absolute treat of an afternoon at Allianz turned into a six-point Saturday as Sydney FC picked up two great wins in the A-League, the men’s team finally winning their first game at their new home in the league. The women’s team led the way, albeit after an unconvincing opening, and finished the game strongly to blow out the scoreline in a four-goal haul. The fans were then given a reminder of why the A-League is one of the most entertaining leagues in the world as Joe Lolley inspired a 2-1 home success for the men.

We’ve got George Michael in the Cove…

This was a homecoming after a mad month away that had seen this football tragic take in 29 top-flight overseas games, and being back at Allianz Stadium was like being back at the Al Janoub Stadium in Al Wakra, with the swirly pattern of the seats and the beautiful blue sky, alongside a number of Sydney-based Socceroos fans in attendance who had been barracking for Australia in Doha only a few days prior.

Conditions were perfect. Super fan Michelle was leading the chants, and a smattering of active fans were ready to help try and get some echoes from the cavernous surrounds. Sydney FC had some faces that I’m ashamed to say I wasn’t familiar with, Deborah-Anne De La Harpe in for the suspended Nat Tobin at the back, Shay Hollman in midfield and Madison Haley in attack and it took some time to realise that it wasn’t in fact Taylor Ray in the centre of the park. The usual spot for the Cove, right behind the goal with the cross bar often in the way, is not the best viewing position, but it is the best spot to sing and be heard, and once everyone had got into their rhythm, it was quite a tuneful afternoon.

All the play was up the other end in the first half, but it did take Sydney some time to get to grips with the right wing play of the tricky Brisbane forward-line. Haley smacked a shot off the post from distance early on, as the Sydney-sunset third kit dominated proceedings. She did get her goal on the half-hour though, when Princess Ibini raced forward and drilled a cross at Haley, and she placed a low shot into the corner of the net, quite tricky to see from our angle, with the scoreboard having given up on the live coverage in favour of some shots of the media box. An extended view of Tuba guy would have been appropriate as Allianz Stadium had its Fox Sports moment, but Sydney FC had the lead. There was more to come ten minutes later as Sarah Hunter slid a pass through and Haley ran on to the perfect through ball. There looked to be too much to do, but Haley out-paced her defender and scooped the ball past the Roar keeper to notch a second, quite the goal, but again up the far end, so not the easiest to see.

The second half was again a one-sided affair, and it seemed like a matter of time before we saw another goal. When Mackenzie “Bob” Hawkesby was picked out by a first time cross by Courtney Vine, surely it would be a third, but the marvellously-named Hensley Hancuff was equal to the first shot, Hawkesby mis-hit the rebound and then the second rebound saw Bob forget which way she was shooting. In reality it was a dreadful miss and the Sydney fans were holding their heads in disbelief.

With Remy Siemsen now on, the home team were purring, but a late chance for Brisbane saw them scythe through the defence and only the crossbar saved Sydney when a goal looked likely. With the score still at 2-0 that could have set up a great finish to the game. Instead, Sydney went down the other end and Siemsen’s low pass to Sarah Hunter saw the Sky Blue Wonder unleash a cracking shot into the top left hand corner of Hancuff’s goal for a wonderful finish. After waiting all that time for a third, unbelievably there was time for another, Charlie Rule’s persistence presenting a chance for Siemsen and her shot squirmed under the unlucky Roar keeper to round off the scoring. There was still time for a fifth, but Hancuff saved, and as she lay injured on the ground, the final whistle sounded to great applause from the rapidly-swelling crowd.

After a few minutes the players came across to the Cove and enjoyed a celebration with the fans. It was a lovely moment, and great to see smiling faces, dancing from the players and a broad grin from Ante Juric. What a good result to take into the second part of this double-header.

Attention immediately turned to the men; they were already out warming up. This was the first opportunity to see Jack Rodwell in action, who was preferred to the impressive Aaron Gurd in the centre of defence. There was no sign of Robert Mak, so the home team was bolstered by everyone’s favourite player Max Burgess, coming in to add some X-factor to the attack. We retreated to our home in Cove Heights, after sampling some of the delicacies on offer inside the stadium, and it took a moment to remember which aisle we were in – it’s been a while!

The stadium wasn’t exactly busy; the expected big crowd to follow the Socceroos success at the World Cup simply hadn’t materialised, but at least there was a decent turnout from the away fans, including two mysterious octopus costumes that took up a load of seats each.

Go on then, why are there two octopus costumes in the away end?

The City fans wore mainly red and white, which was mirrored by their team on the park, the home team again clad in the black and orange Sydney sunset strip. Sydney made a good start. They moved the ball nicely, although it was without much penetration, and Luke Brattan was clearly the instigator of everything that was positive going forward. It was with some surprise then that City grabbed the advantage, and it was a peculiar moment. A high ball was brought down by Mathew Leckie and Brattan instinctively stuck out his hand – we couldn’t see it from our position, but Leckie was adamant, and the ref had no hesitation and gave the spot kick. Jamie Maclaren hammered home the penalty despite Andrew Redmayne guessing right after his Wiggles dance, the power too much to handle.

The lead lasted barely a minute though, Burgess swung in an inviting ball for Paulo Retre to meet on the head from a few yards out. City keeper Tom Glover was equal to it, pushed away the rebound, but when Retre wrangled the ball from his defender, there was Joe Lolley to slam a shot home from six yards and wheel away in celebration. What drama!

Redders then made a smart save down to his right from a long-range effort, before Sydney contrived to miss the chance of the half – Anthony Caceres was played in and rode a challenge in the box to pull the ball back for Paddy Wood with Glover stranded. His shot towards the empty net hit the only defender and Burgess was unable to turn the ball home. Terrible miss, and so close to half time that it would have changed the complexion of Steve Corica’s half-time team talk. The scored locked at 1-1 then, and at half-time there was obviously a problem with Rodwell, so we saw Gurd appear to partner James Donachie at the back.

The lo-lo chant made an appearance, rubbish flying in the air, and it was a sight to behold, and for some reason Sydney Forever was the chant of the evening, many people instead singing Sydney Croatia, a chant heard at the Australia Cup final some months ago and perhaps this was in reference to the Croatia victory in the World Cup earlier in the day.

Adam Le Fondre came on, and it wasn’t long before he scored. Caceres teased in a free kick. The clearance went as far as Lolley who smashed in a shot that Glover did well to save, but Le Fondre was there to head the ball back towards goal and the unlucky City keeper just didn’t have enough reach to keep it out, the ball dropping over the line and Le Fondre racing off to salute the Cove. What a relief this was and the stadium was bouncing. The lead though never looked safe, and sure enough, late in the game as Sydney were trying to clear their lines, ex-Sydney star Marco Tilio galloped towards the area and bent in a terrific shot that smashed off the crossbar. Hearts were in mouths, and they were soon after when Glover ventured out of his area and cleared straight into Le Fondre. The ball cannoned into Glover and he grabbed the ball. He was well outside his area and the ref was quick to give the yellow card, the players and fans around him baying for a red – he was after all the last player and had handled intentionally outside the area. Given the Sydney conspiracy it was a surprise to see VAR not recommend a straight red and play continued. Not for long though, as there was little more time, and the arms went up as full-time sounded.

A first victory in the league at the new Allianz then, and it was great to sing Bohemian Rhapsody for a change and celebrate with the players for a hard-earned victory against the reigning premiers. Once the players had filtered away, a signing had been organised for all of the Socceroos players and a healthy queue started to form that put us off waiting.

We were back amongst the crowds at the light rail stop at Moore Park – a little bit of unrest as some City fans were given some barracking, but nothing untoward. We were home soon after 11.30pm with the choice between sleep and World Cup making for an interesting conundrum. This had been a great return to Sydney FC action after missing the opening games of the women’s season and also the previous men’s game. With results going well, hopefully now is the time that the fans start to return in numbers; a full Allianz Stadium would be a sight to behold.

Thanks for reading!

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