Double headers involving Sydney FC are good for one thing only, and that’s reinforcing the chasm in quality of the men’s and women’s squads in their respective leagues. Yes, the women are a class outfit, they know the way to goal, they create chances, they might not score them all, but there’s a constant stream of positive moves being created. They dominated the first half but did fade towards the end, and perhaps a clean sheet was fortunate, but they were creative throughout. The men on the other hand have reverted to the dark days of last season, and whatever ‘change in formation’ that was purported to be coming our way this season has evaporated into thin air. If there was ever a case for a change in coach to instigate a change in product on the field, today’s non-performance against Macarthur FC was it.
This Christmas Eve 2.20pm kick off at Allianz Stadium did prompt me to get moving early in the day to make sure everything was done for the big day, alas Michelle was destined to be caught up in the Christmas whirlwind, so would join us later. Leaving at 1pm to catch a train to Central and then a quick light rail trip to Moore Park, we arrived at Allianz Stadium with just under 20 minutes to spare. It was hot. We clapped Aurelia’s cousin Anais onto the field, handing the ball to the referee to start the game, and headed around to the sparsely populated Cove, in full sun, just in time to belt out “We are Sydney…” once the blasting music had stopped and the game kicked off.
The stadium was looking beautiful, set against the blue sky, all drenched in sun. The die-hards were all ready to give it their all for the women, and it was good to be back at home where Sydney FC have a good record, at least in regular league games. The line-up for the home team was strong, Nat Tobin back after suspension, and in Cortnee Vine and Remy Siemsen, they boasted a high quality forward line up against a youthful Western Sydney Wanderers defence.
Three minutes were on the clock when Princess Ibini took aim for distance, firing in an arcing shot that looked destinated for the net, but the Wanderers keeper acrobatically tipped the ball over, a fabulous start to the entertainment, right in front of the Cove. From the corner, Charlotte McLean smashed the short corner routine goalwards and the ball bounced off the bar and away. This was thrilling! It took though until midway through the half, after the first drinks break, for Sydney to strike, and it was a most bizarre moment, again from a corner. The heads went up and, as the ball was cleared, the referee pointed straight to the spot. There seemed to be absolutely no reason for the penalty, and any replays could not provide any clue as to why it was given. The Wanderers players were stunned, but Mackenzie Hawkesby accepted the gift and placed her penalty perfectly for 1-0. We didn’t really care what it was for, but it would have been good to know what the referee had seen. If anyone has any insider information, please let me know.
If that was a strange way to take the lead, the second goal, five minutes later, was something truly spectacular. Hawkesby launched a long ball forward for the rampaging Vine to run on to. Her touch was a little heavy, but allowed her to turn inside onto her left foot and pick out the top left hand corner of the net from just inside the area. What a goal! The chant about drinking some wine and doing a line was sung with delight from the home fans. This was really enjoyable! Vine then galloped forward and slipped in Siemsen. It looked odds-on that she would cross for Ibini to finish at the far post, but instead she unleashed a powerful shot that the Wanderers keeper did very well to palm away.
There was action at the other end as the Sydney FC defence parted to let Sheridan Gallagher in, but Jada Whyman was straight out and blocked the shot well. At 2-0 this game was still in the balance, and a goal for the Wanderers could change everything, but it was Sydney who very nearly added another, Ibini playing in Kirsty Fenton for a lung-busting run into the box, but her shot hit the post and she collapsed heaving onto the floor in exhaustion. That was some run! Half-time was upon us. The score reflected the dominance, but the game was not won yet.
The break was a good time to refill with water and apply sunscreen as the sun was unrelenting, and the second half was underway before most people got back to their seats from the shade of the inner bowels of the stadium. Sydney FC were shooting away from the Cove in the second half, so the action was a little harder to follow. At least the coverage on the big screen was working this week, and the Sky Blues continued to maintain their pressure on goal, despite not creating many clear chances. It was the Wanderers who almost scored not long after the hour mark, and it was McLean’s error, underhitting her backpass to Whyman, that almost let them in. Whyman was first to the challenge, but when the ball broke free, she seemed to catch Amy Harrison, but pounced on the stray ball before the referee could make up her mind about a penalty.
Soon after, the Wanderers had their golden chance, the fantastically-named Cushla Rue in space in the box, but her placed shot hit the post with Whyman beaten and the ball was hacked away. Very unlucky. Following the final drinks break, that coincided with a Wanderers player down in the penalty area, the visitors looked likely to be the next scorers, but it was substitute Rachel Lowe who should have wrapped it up for Sydney FC. A superb crossfield ball from Tobin, after advancing through midfield and making space for herself, left Lowe in space, but her hurried effort was smashed just over the bar.
Michelle finally arrived to join the Cove. With Wanderers caught on the attack as the final whistle approached and Sydney FC hanging on, the chance of the half fell to the home team. Former Sydney player Angelique Hristodoulou missed a high ball, allowing Vine to race away into the Wanderers half. She had two players unmarked to her left screaming for the ball but held on to it before placing a clever pass into the path of Lowe. She checked her stride and confidently fired goalwards, but the keeper made a great stop and another chance had gone begging. The speed of Vine though on the break was fantastic.
The game ended and the men raced out onto the field as the blaring noise from the speakers started. A few moments later the players came around to celebrate with the Cove, now swollen with a few more fans arriving for the men’s game. Everyone was a little jaded, the players sapped of energy, the supporters toasted in the hot sun, and in truth the second half could have easily seen a goal or two for the Wanderers. Nat Tobin was my pick of the players today, she looks powerful and in good condition, the perfect player to lead us to glory. The Wanderers keeper Jordyn Bloomer was easily their best player and saved a number of shots in the first half. It’s not for a couple of weeks, but the midweek game at Leichhardt against Western United is looking like being a blockbuster that we all need to get to.
With the starter, main course and dessert out of the way, it was time for the cheese platter (the course that no one wants or needs after a sumptuous feast), a poor man’s Sydney derby against Macarthur FC. Sydney FC’s capitulation at Central Coast and the generally poor performances will have had a lot to do with the sparse crowd that was in the stadium on kick off. Coupled with the APL unrest, the hot sun and the fact that most people had a family get-together to attend, will have also contributed to the low numbers. To be honest, most people were sheltering from the sun inside the stadium and only just appeared when the game started.
The fans who had turned up did give a good account of themselves though, and ‘We Are Sydney…’ was loud and proud as Sydney kicked off, shooting away from the Cove in the first half. Luke Brattan was missing. Max Burgess too. For some reason Aaron Gurd didn’t continue after last week. This was a patched up side, Patrick Yazbek coming in and Adam Le Fondre leading the line. The first five minutes though looked good. Anthony Caceres raked a long ball to Joe Lolley who set off on one of his typical runs on goal, and he cut inside to fire in a shot that Filip Kurto got down to, pushing the ball just past the post. A positive start, and the call and response from the Cove was loud.
It wasn’t long though before the Bulls started getting into positions; first we saw Al Hassan Toure’s multiple stepovers bamboozle the defence, then Ulises Davila stormed towards the box and smashed a shot just over, before Toure again did his stepover routine and could only hit the side-netting with Rhyan Grant and James Donachie not offering any sort of defence.
Midway through the half, Davila stepped inside and launched a fierce shot on goal, Andrew Redmayne flying to his right to push the ball away. Macarthur were looking dangerous, and when Robert Mak, having an infuriatingly poor game, simply pushed his man to the ground instead of challenging for the ball, Davila could fire in another great shot that Redders saved brilliantly. The goal, when it came on the stroke of half-time, was typical Sydney FC. We were on the front foot down the right, but as always, any impetus had been taken out of the attack by the mindless short passing routine that has been a feature of the Steve Corica era of late. The Macarthur defence, initially stretched, was given ample time to get back and defend by the pedestrian attack, and when Sydney lost the ball, Macarthur showed them exactly how to do it. Toure raced down the left, fed Craig Noone down the wing, who crossed for Bachana Arabuli to easily out-manouevre Adrian Vlastelica to tuck the ball home for a proper striker’s finish. There was no pissing around the ball, it was direct and there was a definite plan of attack – something that Sydney FC simply do not have in their locker at the moment.
Half-time couldn’t come quickly enough, and there were boos froom the home fans.
The half-time Miniroos legends playing football got a bonus shower when the sprinklers were set off as they were playing, but it was so hot, it would have been a blessing. I had resigned to drinking to try and numb the pain, and thirst was being quenched by beer instead of water. What a sorry state of affairs.
Things didn’t get any better in the second half. Noone shot just wide up the other end, the replay showing that it wasn’t actually as close at it seemed realtime, Daniel De Silva fired wide when it looked odds on that he would score from close range, and Sydney FC were all over the place at the back. Soon after came a turning point. Lolley over-ran the ball in the centre of the park and went lunging in on De Silva, the referee producing an instant red card. We couldn’t see how bad it was from our position, but on replay, as De Silva was down receiving lengthy treatment, it was definitely a bad moment for Lolley, his studs up, over the ball and catching the Macarthur player for a deserved dismissal. That was the excuse perhaps that Sydney FC needed for the defeat that seemed to be nailed on now.
The Cove continued to enjoy themselves, the football secondary to having a good time. The Wham classic Last Christmas earned a new version for Andrew Redmayne, there was a Christmas carol about the Wanderers and Centrelink that was entertaining, and the Lolo song had rubbish flying everywhere as usual. The sun had come back to haunt us, creeping into our spot in Cove Heights and it was as warm as it had been for the women’s game.
On the field, the game hadn’t really changed that much – Sydney FC used their dynamo Grant to play defence, midfield and attack – but it was the Bulls who looked the most dangerous, Charles M’Mombwa having a shot well saved by Redders. When Toure was held up down the left, he played the perfect ball in for Davila to stride past the defence and fire in a second goal and the game was pretty much wrapped up. When James Donachie got himself all tied up trying to get the upper hand in an aerial duel, he found himself wrapped in Arabuli and the referee raced over to show him the red card, being the last man. This one was tenuous, and we awaited the VAR to do its job, the red card immediately rescinded once the ref had seen the error of his ways on his monitor by the tunnel. Still, playing with nine men for the last fifteen minutes may have been more entertaining for everyone.
The sight of Le Fondre rousing at Adrian Segecic for another lousy cross too close to the keeper was not a good look. In all honesty, the home team were abject across the board. Even when they seemed to get into good positions, there was nothing in the middle, no one to aim at, and the frustration was showing. When Daniel Arzani arrived onto the field, thoughts were of how many Sydney would concede, and sure enough, with a few minutes remaining, a low cross was fired home expertly by Arabuli with very little resistence from the home defence. Redders was fuming.
The contest was over, the whistle finally brought the game to a close, and a 3-0 home defeat was confirmed. There was a feeling of unrest. The Cove snubbed the players who came across to applaud the fans. The youngsters at least did come around to sign shirts and keep the younger fans happy. Redders gave his gloves to the young fan who had run on the field the last time out, while Dwight Yorke was happily interviewed by the Paramount+ hosts right in front of the Sydney fans, as if to rub our faces in it.
The fans in Cove Heights just sat and contemplated life for a few good minutes after the game. Once the players had headed off, we headed off into the low sun, passing Luke Brattan who was kindly giving out selfies to anyone who asked. Then back to the light rail, which took us back to Central. A group of Macarthur fans was sat on the platform and offered a fist-pump and an ‘unlucky’, a very gracious way to take home the three points to Campbelltown.
Today was the day when my patience ran out. I’ve tried to remain positive in the face of a growing catalogue of dismal performances; the obvious unaddressed short-comings of the team and the way they play makes it even harder to take. I’m now on the ‘Corica Out’ side of the fence. The insistence on maximising passes and slowing down promising attacks has run its course. Other than Anthony Caceres, we simply don’t have personnel to play that way, and we have Joe Lolley who simply loves running and beating players, which he never seems to get the opportunity to do. And Robert Mak, that was a performance to forget – lazy, uninterested and inept. Have a look at Rhyan Grant if you need a reminder about workrate. Sydney FC are desperate for an injection in the centre of defence, and we need to play some running football using the fantastic youngsters we have on the bench. End of rant, it was a team effort today, and we got what we deserved.
See you all on New Year’s Day, if the night before allows me to drive a car so early in the day. 2022 has been a forgettable year for the men’s team, but let’s remind ourselves how successful the women’s team have been and continue to be in a very competitive league this season.