Sydney FC cup win at WIN

There’s something magical about the Australia Cup this year. Maybe it’s the way the fixtures are shoe-horned into the rest days of the FIFA Women’s World Cup, maybe it’s just the hype and hysteria around football right now. Whatever the case, this round of 32 clash between Sydney FC and champions Central Coast Mariners lived up to the billing of the match of the round and delivered an unbelievable conclusion. Sydney’s two-goal lead was wiped out and extra-time saw the Mariners coasting to victory only to be denied at the death. As the Cove sang for Cortnee Vine after her heroics the previous evening in the world cup, that record-breaking penalty shoot-out in Brisbane was eclipsed only 24 hours later here in Wollongong. What a finish to a crazy match.

Today started in balmy Brisbane in a world cup daze. One horribly early flight later, and after NPL Girls Youth League media duties at a warm Christie Park and a NWSF women’s Over 40s semi-final, these football tourists were on the road south, heading into the mist and down into St George territory in the drizzly Gong. Arriving some 15 minutes after kick off, the walk to the stadium was eerie, not knowing what the score was and praying that we’d missed nothing.

Sure enough, as soon as we’d gone through the gate and taken our positions in the Sydney end, Central Coast Mariners struck, a long range effort bouncing through everyone and past Andrew Redmayne. No sweat though, a comical offside flag denied the goal, and the Sky Blues had somehow survived.

Sydney FC boasted a strong side, Corey Hollman and Kealey Adamson the two unfamiliar figures, and the hallmarks of a Steve Corica performance were there to see. Crisp one-touch passing and little penetration. The Cove sang about “Cortnee Vine, drinking some wine” and this was an occasion where everyone was happy just to be back in amongst the action with their fellow Sydney fans.

The Central Coast fans were tucked away in the main stand up the far end, and their team had their own new names, the massive Jing Reec up front with Brazilian Mikael Doka in midfield and a couple of young blokes, Nathan Paull and goalkeeper Jack Warshawsky, who didn’t look out of place at the heart of the Mariners defence.

Just before half-time Sydney struck, and it was a tip-toeing run by Robert Mak up the left, who cut inside and fired in a precise shot that nestled inside the far post. It was up the far end, and was unexpected, and was celebrated well by the Cove; “and every time we score…” was like a warm hug on a cold day.

After a long queue for a pie in a slow-moving food outlet, the second half started brilliantly. The sight of the most barrel-chested player ever to play A-League football, the super-talented Christian Theoharous, last seen tying Adelaide United in knots in the semi final in Gosford, looked ominous, but it was Sydney who increased their lead as the swirly rain continued to fall. Joe Lolley found Robert Mak with a suspicion of offside, who crossed first time and there was Paddy Wood to turn the ball in at the far post. Sydney looking good now and playing some decent football.

What happened next was the stuff of nightmares. Alou Kuol was unmarked up the far end to head in a cross after a corner. The Sydney defence had gone to sleep. Sydney toiled, but Mariners kept on probing, and when Theoharous ran into Brattan to con the referee in the last ten minutes, the Sydney fans were resigned to seeing their team capitulate. Marco Tulio stroked home the penalty, Sydney now had to weather the storm to even make it to extra time.

Despite making it to the extra thirty minutes, it was no surprise to see Sydney behind in the first half, the irritatingly skillful Dylan Wenzel-Halls conjuring up a lovely pass that eventually landed at Harry Steele, and his mis-kicked volley wrong-footed Redders and found the net. The shit-housery from the Mariners was impressive from then on, time-wasting of the highest order and Sydney looked dead and buried, despite throwing everything forward and wasting some glorious positions. Mariners even struck the post with a header that would have killed the game completely. What a pleasure it was then to see Tulio dispossessed in midfield when trying to be too fancy, Brattan hoisted a ball forward in borrowed time, and Jaiden Kucharski took his time to control, cut inside, dummied his player and curled an absolute beauty into the net, right in front of the Cove.

The scenes were of joy and incredulity. If Steve McQueen had ridden past on a 1940s German motorbike, shaking dirt out of his trouser leg, it would have been totally appropriate. This was an escape of the highest order. There was no time for any more action, and we were set for penalties. The penalties were taken down at our end, and we were well versed in this process, having experienced a 20-kick shootout just last night.

Disbelief from the Cove as an equaliser comes at the very end of extra time

It was time for Redders to show off his new array of antics, his Wiggles routine now consigned to the bin with the new rule changes. An impromptu forward roll had the Cove roaring with laughter; he waited as long as possible to take his position in goal, walking as far as he could to grab a towel to wipe his gloves, and even waiting for a Powerade to be brought around from the bench to try and distract his opponents.

It was brilliant theatre. The penalties were impeccable until Steele’s was easily saved by Redders, giving Adrian Segecic the chance to wrap things up, but his was brilliantly saved too. The penalties kept going on and on, until finally we had been through the whole outfield team and we landed on the two goalkeepers. Warshawsky’s was saved, teeing up Redders to thunder home a missile to wrap up the penalty shoot-out, 10-9 the final tally.

What a way to end the biggest weekend of football in living memory

What a game! What an escape for Sydney FC. The Mariners will be bitterly disappointed to have thrown away the lead so late in extra time, and they looked good value for that lead. Sydney FC will know that their performance as a whole was not good enough, there were echoes of the grim days of last season but also plenty of positives. Mak and Lolley looking good, Anthony Caceres looking every bit the superstar that we know he is, and a makeshift defence doing as well as could be expected against a lively Mariners attack.

The scenes in the away end were fantastic. It was great to be back. The fans knew that the Sky Blues had pulled that one out of the fire, and it was a happy return home through the rain up to Sydney, eventually arriving back home after 8pm, absolutely destroyed after a mad weekend of thrilling football.

Looking forward to the next round, and if it’s anything like this one, we’ll be in for a treat.

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