Sydney FC toy with Victory

There was something in the air on Saturday at Allianz Stadium. Only those in the Cove will be able to tell you what it was, but it coincided with a thorough dicking of Melbourne Victory in the Big Blue. Somehow there was only one goal, but plenty to shout about, as the once-proud Melbourne team squandered chances and Sydney FC clung on to their lead, finishing the game with ten men after Maxi Burgess was sent off. This was perhaps a turning point for Sydney and winning ugly is better than not winning at all.

A casual 4pm departure from Meadowbank Station saw us on the light rail from Central and then walking down Crown Street to make our new Cove pub debut upstairs at the Crown Hotel. It was like walking in to a surprise party, with loads of familiar faces and a summery feel with everyone in shorts to keep cool on another hot Sydney day. After a decent feed and some pints to quench the thirst, the first of the chants went up, one of many asking today’s opponents where to go. It was loud, it was raucous, the megaphone made it even moreso, and an impromptu moshpit formed in the middle of the pub as the songs got louder and louder.

As the crowds began to thin out and the bulk of the Cove supporters left for the stadium, we wandered along Cleveland Street wondering just why we were heading there so early. Luckily our senses took us to the next pub, Bar Cleveland, where they were giving away free margaritas, the drink of choice of one half of this football-loving couple. Don’t mind if we fucking do. Cleveland Street was a hub for sights for sore eyes and the pride theme of the weekend was prevalent making it a joyful atmosphere ahead of the walk to Allianz Stadium.

Past the Bat & Ball, across the park and onto the bridge, this was our own mini-march, and the fading light was casting a beautiful scene across the skyline as the stadium came into view, adorned in its multi-colour sign and shining new facade. This felt like being at a new stadium, and having missed the last home game, and being a few pints in, I was loving life!

The new stadium superstore was open, we could see through the windows as we approached our gate. Turns out that my wingspan isn’t that much shorter than Andrew Redmayne, but I might have twenty kilos on him. After the cursory bag check and ticket scan, we were in and headed straight to the bathroom (how many toilets was it again at the new stadium?). Coming up the stairs and out into Cove Heights felt like the first time I’d done this. The stadium was looking beautiful, the players were coming out for the line-ups and smoke filled the air from the fire-breathing machines and fireworks around the sides of the main stands.

Melbourne Victory fans had foregone the away bay in favour of the opposite corner of the far end, perhaps continuing to make a statement about the ridiculous APL decision to host the grand final in Sydney for the next three years. A North Queensland Fury fan found himself in Cove Heights. It looked like he was lost. Victory had turned around the teams, obviously winning the toss and being arseholes about it. More reason to hate them even before a ball was kicked.

Sydney were up for it from the kick off and made a blinding start, but once Victory had weathered the storm, the game reverted to a familiar pattern of Sydney possession and Victory counter-attacks. Midway through the half, Joe Lolley received a pass and fed Robert Mak in the middle, who turned sweetly and placed a shot into the goal beneath us, sending the Cove into raptures. The celebrations were intense, but the spectre of VAR hung over us, and it eventually became apparent that Lolley had started from an offside position in the lead-up. Boo.

The Cove was rocking. The call and response with Cove Heights was brilliant, and the sea of sky blue and black was bouncing to the capo’s rhythm. What a sight!

An odd moment from a Mak free-kick saw Wilko clearly knee the ball behind, but he was keeping quiet when the corner was awarded, the Victory defenders up in arms at the injustice. The corner was played short to Burgess who fed Anthony Caceres, and he advanced on goal and simply lashed the ball into the roof of the net, leaping the advertising hoardings and joining the Cove in their delight.

A single goal up at the break, but at the other end we’d seen some poor finishing, Chris Ikonomidis firing wide when well placed, and Bruno Fornaroli seemed only interested in playing with his back to goal looking for fouls. This was a Victory team devoid of luck and confidence and lambs to the slaughter, surely we could knock in a few in the second half.

I had a good walk around the stadium at the break, on an extended route to the bar where I could get drinks still in a can instead of poured into a plastic cup. Great to see super-fan Lewis from Melbourne, the stadium concourse looked more like an artist’s impression than the artist’s impressions that we’d seen before the stadium was finished, and there was a power bank for mobile phones, which I’d never noticed before – anyone know how it works? Do you pull it out and take it to your seat? The superstore was pumping, the handful of food outlets that were open were busy, but there was little waiting time at the bar to get drinks. By the time I got back to my seat with the goods, the players were out ready to go for the second forty-five.

Straight from the kick-off Mak was released clean through, this time he did look a mile offside, and there was no expectation of a goal, and he put the ball wide anyway after giving up the chase. A free kick from Josh Brillante was then headed goalwards, forcing Andrew Redmayne into a full length stop to palm the ball away. The ball fell perfectly though for Ikonomidis, whose confidence must be at an all-time low and he showed no intent to score, and instead of smashing a left foot shot into the unguarded net, he simply placed the ball back into Redders’ hands. A massive escape for Sydney.

The game then descended, or ascended as you might see it, into a haze of wonderful A-League weirdness. An impressive sex toy made its way into the Cove and was launched through the air for five minutes to “dildo in the Cove”. The Siem de Jong chant got an airing as a result, while on the field Luke Brattan managed to play himself out of trouble while he was on the ground, and a Sydney FC ballkid at our end of the stadium entertained the crowd with some time-wasting antics when retrieving the ball for the Victory goalkeeper.

Jack Rodwell came on, and I might be reading too much into this, but his teammates refused to play the ball to him. There were a good five minutes of play and ample opportunities to feed him a pass, but the only touch he got was when Brattan had no other option when under heavy pressure. If I hadn’t witnessed it with my own eyes, I wouldn’t have believed it. Tell me I’m wrong.

Victory had a good chance from a ball over the top that Fernando Romero forced on goal, but Redders saved well, but there was something going on down by the benches and play stopped to allow the referee to have a look at something on the monitor. Turns out that Burgess had kicked out, a la 1998 Beckham World Cup fiasco, and was immediately dismissed, the fan favourite leaving the field with his head in his hands.

Ten minutes then to survive, but Sydney looked like the team playing with the extra man and Victory were toothless. As the clock hit 90 minutes, we noticed that the clock kept going. Fantastic! This is one of the most annoying things about watching in the stadium, you never know how far through the additional minutes you are unless you set a stopwatch, and this was gold. Someone with scoreboard controls noticed and switched it back to 90 straight away. Again, boooo!

The game was over though, and Sydney managed the final moments well.

We dropped down into the Cove for the post-match celebrations, Caceres singing on the mega, and the home fans loving the atmosphere as Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody came over the loud-speaker to bring back memories of victories of yesteryear at the old Allianz Stadium. Wilko was signing shirts, the hot conditions seeing loads of people simply strip off their tops to hand them down to him to sign, and Diego Caballo, a player who is growing on the Sydney fans, was melting hearts with his kickabout with his young one in the goal at the far end. This was a great end to a fantastic day.

This long-time Sydney FC fan has seen many ups and downs during the years, but today was just spot on. Maybe it was the fact that it was a later kick off so you could get everything done before heading to the game, maybe it was the cold pints I had at the Crown, maybe it was just the general buoyant mood of all the Cove fans, but this was something special, an atmosphere to savour and a great reminder of why we go to the football in the first place.

Our luck was in with the light rail and train connection, and we were back home in time for the EPL to start with the 11.30pm kick-off to keep the football theme going. An emotional return to Kogarah to come tomorrow, bring on the W-League Women in their top-of-the-table clash with leaders Western United. Forza Sydney allez!

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