APIA Leichhardt 0 Sydney FC 2
The newly crowned NPL premiers APIA Leichhardt were no match for their A-League neighbours who cruised to a comfortable victory on a rotten rainy night in the Inner West of our beautiful city. Second-half goals from Patrick Wood and Anthony Caceres were enough to seal the Sky Blues their berth in the Australia Cup quarter finals, but they were far from convincing. There is still a long way to go in pre-season before we see a team at peak fitness and sharpness; the realistic goal of a safe passage to the next round was achieved, and that was the most important thing tonight.
This was a wet and miserable night that put the FIFA Women’s World Cup weather into perspective (how lucky were we?) as the Cove descended on one of their many home stadiums. Leaving fairly late to make the short journey, via the new M8 tunnel, a wrong decision in a tunnel of not many exits meant that we had nearly made it to the airport before battling back through the heavy traffic towards Leichhardt. Only time for a swift drink at the Orange Grove Hotel before venturing through the rain and dodging the ankle-deep puddles in the shadows through the back streets to the historic stadium.
The game was a few seconds old when we arrived and scanned through, and there was a steady stream of latecomers coming through well into the first half. The Cove were set up in the Keith Barnes stand, at the opposite end from the usual corner that was open to the elements. The acoustics were great, the proximity to the APIA fans made this a jovial affair, and the Sydney fans were in good voice.
Robert Mak was victim of the referee looking the other way as he slid in and was shown the yellow card when it looked as though he was the recipient of the rough treatment. Sydney threatened down the right with Joe Lolley, keen to run at the defence, but his finishing was definitely pre-season. Steph Catley’s future brother-in-law Anthony Bouzanis in the APIA goal got lucky when his inoccuous pass out of defence was allowed to run through to Lolley; the speedy striker took the ball forward, but he took a touch too many and Bouzanis was immediately at his feet, the ball bouncing off the Sydney FC striker’s knee for a goal kick. He lay on the turf in contemplation at a bad miss.
The Sky Blues had plenty of opportunities from set pieces, but the delivery was tame. Mak even managed to hit the wall with one free kick, and the ball must have brushed him on the way out as the referee was quick to award the throw-in to the NPL side, much to the bemusement of everyone else in the stadium. Goalless at the break, Sydney didn’t seem in any danger, although had been helped by the offside flag earlier in the half that was up early to deny APIA a goal.
The half-time heroes had amassed by the fence in front of the Cove and were making themselves heard. The youthful cheer squad from Leichhardt made a din in the adjacent stand, fifty high-pitched voices singing “Let’s go APIA, let’s go” audible over the Sydney FC chants and the Cove had to up the volume. It was glorious, good-natured fun.
The second half produced the goals. Caceres picked up the ball in midfield to advance, and his quick feet saw him glide effortlessly to the edge of the box, where he unleashed the perfect finish, low into the corner giving Bouzanis no chance. It was a thrilling goal, and an impeccable piece of skill from a player that looked in his element tonight. The rain had stopped to let a few fans venture into the seats and even onto the hill to get a better view, and they would have enjoyed that skill.
The second goal was a fine moment too. We’d just had some expert commentator in the crowd bemoan Paddy Wood for still being on the field – to be fair he hadn’t looked on the pace tonight – when Lolley cut inside and played the perfect through ball for Wood to lash the ball in for 2-0. “Paddy gives me Wood, Paddy, gives me Wood” went the song and the mood was lifted again in the antique Keith Barnes stand.
Defender Kealey Adamson found himself in space up the right and floated in a cross for Mak to head on goal from right in front. The header was saved and it looked like a tap in from Mak, but he took his time to sort out his feet and could only drill the ball at the defender’s legs and the ball just went wide of the goal.
Redders did his John Burridge-style warm-ups as the half wore on, but he did need to stay alert as APIA tried to claw their way back into the game. The call of the hot drinks and doughnut stall was very strong as the game drew to a close, and Sydney FC had advanced comfortably into the quarter finals of the Australia Cup.
The extended time it took the players and officials to work out where to take the banner photo for the victorious team, and a lot of fans had left the stadium. A handful of players came to show their appreciation, which was warmly returned, but the low-key nature of the victory and the eagerness of the fans to get out of the rain meant that it was a smattering of applause as opposed to a hearty roar. No linking of hands and cheers from the Cove to greet this famous cup win.
The short walk back to the Orange Grove, with traffic snarling up in the narrow back streets adjacent to the stadium, and we were in the car and off home, happy with the night’s result although not overly convinced with the performance. Early days yet, the big test will be the next round, and we found out that it was Western United at home in quarter finals. This Australia Cup format is ideal pre-season preparation for the A-League teams, and we hope to see the Sky Blues with another two weeks of training under their belts and perhaps one or two new faces to make a good fist of their cup journey. Remember, Asian cup competition is at stake.
Great to be back amongst like-minded football fans, and we really look forward to the next fixture. Forza Sydney FC!