Sydney FC 0 Macarthur FC 2
A pivotal moment early in the piece completely changed the context of an all-Sydney affair on Saturday night as Macarthur FC burgled three valuable points; Andrew Redmayne harshly received his marching orders after only quarter of an hour and the visitors bided their time to survive an onslaught from the ten men to come away with the win. Ufuk Talay must be wondering what he’s got himself into; another home defeat and another goalless evening at Allianz Stadium.
Flying solo today, my better half on the other side of the world and my football-loving daughter away for the weekend, there was time to reflect as the train rattled between Burwood and Redfern on this stinking hot day. With half of Sydney at Accor Stadium to watch the Foo Fighters, those travelling by train for the first time in a while would have marvelled at the volume of grafitti along this stretch of track in the Inner West.
In fact, it had me thinking what visitors to Sydney must think of the city, away from the CBD and the beaches. A train ride through the suburbs, so often associated with catching a train from an airport in some otherwise sanitised overseas city, met by grime and grafitti, light industry and disrepair, this was the real Sydney. See if you recognise any of them, and apologies if any of them are offensive or politically motivated – I wouldn’t have a clue. I can’t even make out what most of them say, but some of them are works of art.
Anyway, the changeover at Central was straightforward, and the shade was welcome at the light rail stop, Sydney sweltering through its hottest day in a long while. Alighting at Moore Park, there were plenty of sky blue shirts around, all making their way directly to the stadium. Sydney FC have started doing match programmes, just a single sheet, and it is a welcome momento for a game – they may have been doing it for a while, but I’ve only just noticed recently.
Today was the day I stepped into the stadium superstore for the first time, and after a 20 minute wait in the queue with the other Christmas shoppers, including Jayden Kucharski who was picking up a harbour splash shirt with his mate, there was just enough time for a walk around the stadium and to pick up some food and drink. The sushi place was closed, damn it.
The Macarthur fans were strangely spread out, only a handful congregating in the centre behind the goal, the rest spread around the away end and even around the corner on the Eastern side. Never the most supported team, they had been doing well this season under the guidance of Mile Sterjovski, so an away win would not be a shock here tonight. With a crusty, mouth-slicing baguette sandwich and a couple of cans of over-priced cider I was in place next to Steve, Chris and Rory just as the players entered the field. The rest of Cove Heights was barren, the Foo Fighters the culprit in many instances.
The Cove was in fine voice, and the songs were prolonged. The game started at a decent pace and it looked as though we were going to be in for an entertaining encounter with a bit of a bogey side for us in home games.
Macarthur had the ball in the net early on right in front of us, but the ball was deflected in by a player a mile offside, and the brief groans were replaced by cheers at the assistant referee’s flag. Uli Davila and Valere Germain were going to be thorns in the Sydney defence and were looking lively.
We only had to wait 15 minutes for the key moment of the game, and it came as Redders came unashamedly careering out of his goal, getting wrong-footed as Matt Millar took the ball in his stride. When Millar went to lift the ball over him, it struck the stranded Sydney keeper and he had to act as a desperate defender with his goal unguarded, eventually clearing the ball to cheers from the crowd. The Macarthur players were appealling vehemently to the referee, who held up play and then made the walk to the monitor. There was no expectation of this going against Sydney FC, after all VAR has been very kind over the years, but when the action flashed up on the big screen, doubts began swirling around the stadium.
Redders was dismissed, much to the shock of everyone in Sky Blue. It hit his sleeve surely – fair play if he actually played at it, but the handball rule regarding the top of the sleeve had been in place for a couple of years at least. The fact that Millar’s shot was actually on target could have swayed the decision, but the red card stood, and it was poor Paddy Wood who made way and Adam Pavlesic came on to take the vacant spot in goal.
His first task was to save the free kick and then he plucked the corner out of the air to shouts of Pavlesic ole ole ole from the Cove, before the home fans turned their anger on the visitors with a rousing chorus of F*ck Off Macarthur. Sydney had a chance when Fabio raced on to a deft pass, but his shot was brilliantly touched wide by Filip Kurto. The Bulls took the lead not long after when Germain raced away on the right – what he lacks in pace he makes up for in vision, and his lovely ball to Jake Hollman saw Corey’s older brother place a beautiful shot past Pavlesic for 1-0. It was no shock to be behind, but the home team had matched their opponents following the sending off, so it was annoying to say the least.
Rhyan Grant and Luke Brattan, who had been in the wars a little in the first half, then conjured up a classic throw-in routine, Grant throwing the ball into his captain’s back when faced with no other options. It worked a treat, and Sydney’s confidence grew with every ball; there was no option but to go on the front foot and try and tease the opponents into tackles, really heart-in-mouth football, but very clever at times.
The half-time whistle was met with boos for the man in the middle, before the field filled with bodies, the exact opposite of last weekend’s deserted half-time scene.
To be brutally honest, Sydney FC went on to give their best showing of the season at Allianz in the second half. It did highlight the key area that has let the club down over the latter years of the Steve Corica dynasty – the lack of pentration with the final ball – but some of the approach play was devastating. The home team looked the most likely to score.
Robert Mak was played in over the top by Brattan and somehow connected with a round-house kick on the run to loop the ball over the keeper and in off the post. The brief moment of elation was curtailed by the assistant’s flag. Pavlesic made a great save as Macarthur finally found their way past the depleted home side, rushing out to block, but it was refreshing to see the Sky Blues taking risks and willing to leave gaps in exchange for more bodies in attack.
Gabriel missed an absolute sitter with Sydney’s best chance of the game, slicing wide of goal with only Kurto to beat, Lolley was magnificent on the right, but the one time his control let him down was when he had stolen a yard on his defender. Joel King lived up to his billing as the safest player in world football, refusing to shoot when well placed and his crosses were of similar quality to his teammates, never hitting the intended target. Fabio had a couple of headers that were way off target, but good chances, Grant found himself in good positions in the box but couldn’t find a player. It was all Sydney FC and it was thrilling. Even King started to abandon his post at the back to join the attack, but again the final ball had no target.
Robert Mak helped his opponent off the field when Macarthur made a substitution, giving him an almighty shove. The referee further annoyed the home fans by stopping play for a player to get treatment and then once the player was back up, doing a further substitution when it could have already been done. Anthony Caceres squared up to a Macarthur player, showing that the quietest of the home players were getting fired up. Some of the football that Sydney played was simply outstanding, the players knowing that they had to hold on to the ball longer and had to fend off multiple opponents to retain possession. Gabriel then went face-to-face with Tommy Uskok as Macarthur forced a series of corners, and the game was fizzing.
Just as the game was reaching boiling point, Macarthur struck again. They exploited the space well on the right and the low cross was flicked home by Germain, who raced off to celebrate with his personal fan club on the far side. He should have added another soon after, shooting into the side-netting when played clean through. The final act of the referee was to move a free kick all of 50cm, holding up play again, which riled up the home support even more. The final whistle was greeted with indifference – the game had been long gone, the performance and effort of the players had been outstanding, but the quality of the final ball had been woeful.
A whisp of smoke appeared in the away end as Macarthur celebrated, the Cove applauded the players for their effort, and the packing away was done efficiently as the stadium emptied. It was difficult to be upset with the players – they had all battled so well and should have been ahead even, and a selection of the players still gave and received a lot of love as they made their way around the stadium to the tunnel. The Hollman brothers were photographed together, Jake having been interviewed at the Paramount Plus desk just next to where Corey was signing autographs.
I wasn’t hanging around tonight and made it back to Central quickly and easily, the Cove congregating near the light rail station as if they were saying goodbye to the Macarthur fans. The trains however were in bits, and a lengthy delay at Central for a ‘person causing a disturbance at Wynyard’ meant that I didn’t get back home until at least 11.30pm.
Another Sydney FC home game that didn’t go the way it was expected to go. It certainly makes it exciting this season. It could have been the heat that affected the game, but as soon as the game kicked off, the wind started howling around Allianz Stadium, sending plastic tumbleweed flying through the air, and it was surprisingly brisk. No, this time it was an early sending off that made / ruined the spectacle, and Sydney FC were forced to play with ten men for the majority of the game. A quick turnaround this weekend – hopefully heading to Newcastle on Sunday now that circumstances have made it possible. Can we get a win please?