Sydney FC let Adelaide off lightly

A second half display to rival any other performance this season saw Sydney FC women take apart their visitors Adelaide United at a surprisingly rainy Kogarah Oval on Saturday afternoon. The United team stood and watched Rachel Lowe roll in the opening goal in an even first half, and close-range finishes from Nat Tobin and Mackenzie Hawkesby added to the scoreline in a one-sided affair after the break. This was a welcome relief after a shoddy fortnight for the Sky Blues and coach Ante Juric will be delighted by the manner of the victory as his team hit form at the right time.

This was another case of football getting in the way of football, and this time of year is always a challenge to maximise the opportunities to avoid awkward clashes. Today was Aurelia’s birthday and with Michelle attending a music festival and Aurelia choosing not to work on her birthday, it was only the two of us. We left after a football session at Blacktown City in the morning and were on the road just after 1pm. Traffic wasn’t as bad as it has been in the past heading south, and we were parked up in front of Club Kogarah and enjoying a terrific lunch well before 2pm. There was no one around. Not a single Sydney FC fan in the club. Loads of parking available, and instead of leaving the car at the club we took the opportunity to drive even closer, parking within 100m of the stadium in the deserted streets. Such luxuries we can only enjoy in our former temporary home. There was no one outside the stadium, in fact it was difficult to imagine there being a game on, had it not been for the music coming from inside the walls as we walked up to the single open gate for the day into the main stand.

Eventually the Cove assembled, MMTV relieved that a number of the boys made it down to support the die-hard women’s Cove regulars, and we had a loud rendition of “We Are Sydney…” in our adopted section at the front left of the main grandstand as the players came out and the game kicked off. As with the previous evening at Commbank Stadium, the players seemed to leave their appearance very late. The context for this game was tough on Sydney after their patchy results of late and the controversy of Canberra giving us three points only for them to be taken back, which meant that Sydney FC were going into the game with their premiership crown out of their hands and it was Western United’s to lose in the game kicking off simultaneously in Melbourne.

Before a ball was kicked, there was drama in the crowd. Mackenzie Hawkesby’s number one fan was told by security to take off the head of her hawk costume – a security concern was the reason, only at Kogarah, and we all got a reminder of the anti-football security at this godforesaken venue. It was like the premature de-masking of the masked singer, and there was disillusion amongst the crowd once they realised what was happening.

Sydney FC started well, spraying the ball around, and Cortnee Vine was the obvious outlet on the right wing for most of their attacking moments. Adelaide though, to their credit, took the game to the Sky Blues, and looked good value, creating good space and taking a leaf out of Wellington Phoenix’s book with good pressure. Jada Whyman looked beaten from a long range shot on the break from the Reds, we were more or less in line with her goal and she did very well to reach to tip the ball over the bar. It was some surprise then that the Sky Blues took the lead, and it was a freak goal. Nat Tobin strode forward from the back and tried her luck from way out. Her wayward shot struck teen sensation Indiana Dos Santos and fell perfectly into the path of new attacking option Lowe, who was the only player to react, sprinting onto the ball to bundle past the United keeper and roll the ball nonchalently into the goal. What a moment! Cue bedlam in the Cove, fantastic stuff!

Annalee Grove in the Adelaide goal was having a good game, pulling off a save from Hawkesby and then tipping over a deflected cross from Vine. Up the other end, Whyman was equally under pressure, and she had to tip one over the bar after some powder-puff midfield challenges had let the visitors in up the right again, Emilia Murray being made to look like a world-class player.

Adelaide looked dangerous from corners, stacking the six-yard box to the extent that we could only see Whyman’s gloves reaching above the crowd, it was certainly an interesting tactic, but the delivery was at times substandard.

A further effort from the twinkle-toes Murray just went the wrong side of the post when everyone thought it was in, and Sydney survived to the break with a slender but vital one-goal lead, with the other key game also going our way with Western United down by a goal to a resurgent Canberra.

The heavens opened at the break with little notice, the sound of rain on the roof warning us just before the heavy drops fell, and everyone at the front of the main stand relocated, the Cove retreating to the back left corner of the undercover section, a position not taken up since that infamously wild night in Asian Champions League qualifying two years ago. That changed everything for the Cove. The singing had been relentless throughout the first half, but when the first chant went up with the roof to help, the noise was amplified times ten.

The second half was one-way traffic from the start. When Grove played a terrible pass out from the back, Lowe was already reading it, and teed up Princess Ibini for a clear shot on goal, but she opted to change to her right foot and Grove made amends, turning the shot just past the post. Sydney racked up the corners, Hawkesby playing the ball into the same zone on each occasion and her teammates unable to take advantage. From one of the first from the other side, the tall Adelaide defenders made a mess of the clearance and the ball fell invitingly for Tobin, who smashed a left-foot shot past the last defender and into the net for a striker’s finish for 2-0. Her team swarmed her, the goal obviously meaningful in some way to the team’s top performer so far today.

The Cove were joyful, the constant stream of songs giving fellow fans the ignition to join in. A group of mini players in the adjacent section, all in their blue Sydney FC shirts, started singing “Come on you boys in blue” and the Cove had no hesitation in replying to the call and response, much to the joy and amazement of the excited junior fans. The supporter marshal, who was continuously reminding MMTV of her foot to seat ratio in case the eagle-eyed Kogarah security wankers pounced, then revved up the crowd, asking everyone to stand up and get their hands up. Proper supporter marshalling there, going above and beyond the remit, fantastic stuff.

A joyous second half got better too. Ibini checked her run and substitute Madison Haley played a delightful through ball with the outside of her foot to set Ibini away. The sight of Ibini in full flight is always welcome, but she does tend to hesitate to show her speed. That was evident this time; instead of burning her defender and getting the shot away, she made for the byline, cut in and, just as we thought the chance had gone, lifted in a cute ball to Hawkesby, who flicked the ball into the net a la Garang Kuol for a third Sydney goal. It was thoroughly deserved, and Sydney FC were all over their opponents.

There was time for Vine to miss a couple of straightforward chances, not taking heed of her teammate Hawkesby’s clinical finish, and Charlie Rule found herself in an advanced position to meet a cross with a clear shot on goal but the ball was blazed over the bar, the defender’s hands over her face in realisation that she really would never get another run up front after a classic defender’s finish. Sydney FC rung in the changes towards the final whistle, but kept the pressure on, three goals scant reward for their total dominance of the second half.

Confirmation that Western United had been trounced by Canberra came through, re-opening the title race, but by the this time, we were on the way to the car to make a swift exit. I had sacrificed the first half of my pre-season friendly to watch Sydney FC, and I was not going to miss the second half as we drove through the rain through the back streets to join up with the main road to the northern suburbs. The players would just be linking arms for the Cove by this point and we were already half way home.

Today had been a fabulous experience. The fun police, a meagre crowd and the rain failed to dampen spirits, Sydney FC had secured a priceless three points in a superb performance, and the Cove had underlined their status as the number one women’s matchday active scene in the country. Wednesday night becomes crucial to set up a grandstand premiership decider in the double-header on Saturday. Will the premiership be in our hands by then? Find out soon, see you all there for the climax to the 2022/23 regular season.

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