Glorious, glorious entertainment

Sydney FC 4 Perth Glory 2 – A League Women

A key fixture in a busy end-of-season schedule brought a fired-up Perth Glory to Kogarah in search of a result to catapult them into top-four contention. In their way were Sydney FC, hoping to build on the weekend’s big result and take themselves to the summit of the A-League ladder just in time for the final game on Saturday. What we got was a game of pure entertainment, a Cove of unbridled passion, and smiles all round at the final whistle. You should have been there, it was one of the best!

As usual, a 7pm kick off means a rush through some pretty dense traffic in Sydney, and due to work and an unexpected football training drop-off, we were already running late, leaving the northern suburbs well after 5pm. No opportunity then to make use of my ill-thought-out five-year membership at Club Kogarah, and it was straight to the stadium. Alas the VIP parking spots right in front of the only open gate were all taken, but there was plenty of space opposite the school, so we only had a two-minute wander up the walk of fame to Gate B. Shane and his membership crew were there to welcome us to the show, and we knew what was at stake. Fail to win and the Premiership is out of our hands, but a win would send us top with one final game to play.

Stadium dinner again tonight, but it was freshly made; Michelle was back on the cans tonight, but I was heavily refreshed the night before, watching the Ecuador game, so made a conscious decision to detox, and anyway I was driving.

There was a meagre crowd, not surprising given the time and the venue, and the Cove had optimistically relocated themselves to Saturday’s prime undercover spot. The acoustics were much better there anyway. As the Cove started to assemble, our marshal for the evening relocated everyone to the open-air spot at the bottom left of the main stand. Word was that the agreement was to house the Cove there, the more cynical in our group understanding that it was so the Kogarah Oval fun police could have us in plain sight of the security cameras to administer their usual heavy brand of customer service.

Cove capo MMTV was, as always, first in position. The group grew and, perfectly timed as I finished another boxed dinner, the first chant started, “We Are Sydney…” echoing around the sparsely populated stadium as the players emerged and went through the pre-match routine. Super fan ‘the Hawk’ was ball crew today and the mascots were an older mob, so the players had to almost high five each other over the top of the mascots. The chanting continued well after the opening whistle, Sydney shooting towards the deserted ice-cream van end in the first half.

Super coach Ante Juric kept faith in 15-year-old sensation Indiana Dos Santos who played a central midfield role, quite the starring role for a fresh-faced young star, but she was already part of the Sydney machine and was relaxed and aware whenever she had the ball.

Perth looked very capable opposition early in the game, soaking up pressure and making in-roads themselves, but that all changed midway through the half when Cortnee Vine picked up the ball on the right, danced past her tenacious defender and squared the ball across goal. Rachel Lowe was in amongst it, and who should be following up but Dos Santos and she buried a shot past Morgan Aquino for 1-0. All the outfield players raced to congratulate the scorer, which confirmed to the watching crowd that it definitely was Dos Santos. What a moment. The Cove responded with an impromptu ‘In-diana In-In-diana’; quite a tragedy of a chant, but great timing and enjoyed by everyone.

The Cove drum, expertly played to ther point that no one would have noticed a stray drumstick flying to the ground mid-song on more than one occasion, was having a few issues remaining in place on the seat and was tied in place. There was something a little special about the atmosphere. It was fun, it was loud, and everyone was eager to make as much noise as possible on an otherwise still night. On the field, Princess Ibini was upended in the penalty rea but the referee was inexplicably looking the other way and she sat with her arms out wondering what had happened.

Mackenzie Hawkesby then fired in a shot from the edge of the area that bounced off the bar, and Sydney looked to assert their dominance and were looking for more goals. Perth though were persistent. As half time approached, a good move by Perth saw Sydney FC picked apart and Sarah Hunter was harshly adjudged to have brought down her player, somewhat off the ball, and a penalty was awarded to jeers from the Sydney fans. Up stepped former TV star Alana Jancevski to slot home perfectly, and it looked for a moment that she was about to run straight to the active fans and give us a serve. She stopped on the edge of the area though and was swamped by her teammates. This could be a turning point in a vital game for Perth and they looked pumped.

The scores were level for a minute or so. Dos Santos rolled the ball out to Vine. She looked to go around her defender but ended up just bundling through the middle of two Perth players, think Amor Layouni for the Westie scum at Adelaide in that crazy 4-4 draw. She steadied herself to finish low into the net for a terrific goal. Bloody fantastic. The Cove were in full voice. ‘Cortnee Vine, drinking some wine’, went the chant, one of the favourites at a women’s game over the last few seasons, and we seemed to be making one hell of a din.

That was the end of the action in a cracking first half. If the second was anything like this, we’d be in for a treat.

Perth made two subs at the break, the two players coming on looking like the tallest players on the field. Sydney looked sharp at the start of the second half. Vine was rampant. The game took a twist though within ten minutes of the restart when Hannah Blake misdirected a cross that floated goalwards. Jada Whyman realised and scrambled to make the save, but somehow, instead of tipping the ball over, she could only parry the ball into the path of Perth substitute Gabriella Coleman who stooped to loop a header back across Whyman and into the goal. It was a dramatic moment, and the Sydney fans were thoroughly expecting Perth to push on and try and get the winner. We would be expecting a completely open game now, and so it turned out.

Whilst Perth weren’t exactly in all-out attack mode, they were leaving gaps and Sydney were seeing more and more of the ball. Ibini and Cortnee Vine were motoring down the wings, and the corner count was rising, Hawkesby lifting in the crosses from both sides. It was a Hawkesby free-kick in the end that opened up Perth. Sub Madison Haley lost her marker in the six-yard box and when Vine challenged for the header, the ball dropped for the American striker who smashed the ball into the roof of the net.

The Cove was the place to be. There was mischief in the air. The chants were getting louder and louder, longer and stronger, and even when a ‘Bondi’s Beach’ line disappeared from one chant, it didn’t matter and the singing continued. I would go as far as saying it was a frenzy, akin to an evangilistic healing session at some crazy church in the USA.

There was always a chance that Perth might sneak back into this game, and Sydney should have put it well beyond doubt, Vine guilty of another horrible miss and Ibini failing to pull the trigger from the edge of the box when well-placed. It took until almost the final minute for the three vital points to be confirmed. There didn’t seem to be much on when Vine raced after a lost-cause down the right, but Hawkesby helped her pick the pocket of her defender and race away. Ibini was unmarked in the area, although Vine’s cross wasn’t the best. Somehow the ball evaded the defender racing back to block, and Ibini took the gift and placed a low shot past the keeper for a delightful fourth goal. Game over.

There was still time for Vine to make way for a famous name, Anika Stajcic making her first appearance in sky blue to applause in the final throes of the game, but it was lost on the crowd as the celebrations and singing were in full flow.

The scenes at full-time were nothing short of amazing. Endorphins were running high in the Sydney team as they came to celebrate with the Cove. Even our marshal was giving the twinkle fingers as the players linked arms and celebrated. A rendition of “We Are Sydney…” had the players dancing before captain Nat Tobin was urged to do a call-and-response – “Come on you girls in blue!” – which was repeated back to her by the buoyant Cove. Again the players danced, Macca bouncing around to the hypnotic beat.

Indiana Dos Santos was either speaking with family or giving an interview into Dave’s phone at the end. The players were full of happiness and enjoying the company of their family and friends, and were more than happy to endulge the fans who had assembled at the front of the main stand with selfies and signatures.

We left the stadium as the sparse crowd thinned out to only the family members, and made our way back around to the car. Interesting to note just how the livery and branding of Kogarah Oval has changed since last year. No flags up, no banners, this is simply not our home. We were out of there quickly, swinging back past the stadium and out into the night, arriving back home about an hour after kick off, so quite early!

This had been a terrific evening. Everything good and wholesome about an active support was on display here. Chants sung with gusto, some chants that continued at full volume for ages, and even some that were so succinct and abrupt in their ending that it seemed to be choreographed. This was such a happy occasion. If you’d had a shit day at work, and you’d battled the traffic to get here for an early kick off, what a reward this was. A tip of the hat to our fearless capo MMTV, our legendary drummer and everyone who made it to Kogarah to make some noise for our girls in blue. I know everyone feels the same – Saturday at the pub is cancelled. The Cove will be out in force for the final game of the A-League women’s season in the double-header – be there for another exciting game as Newcastle Jets come to town to try and spoil the party.

Forza Sydney FC.

Our fanous number 22, now forever known as Whatsie

Nobody said it was easy…

Gladesville Ravens 0 Manly United 5

… no one ever said it would be so hard. Gladesville Ravens’ Girls Youth League Under 16 Division 1 team found out exactly what they’re up against this season, going down to a second successive home defeat by five goals and starting the season at the wrong end of the ladder. First half goals from Elissa Hariri, Mirabelle Peupion and Eva Morgante had Manly in the box seat, but they were made to work in the second half and only a poacher’s goal from Sahara Carter and a last gasp close-range finish from Caitlin Elphick added to the pain for the home team. The game left Ravens with many puzzles to resolve, and a reluctance to take the game to their opponents made this a comfortable ride for Manly at the home of football, Christie Park.

Today’s match had a number of sub-plots. A Gilbane sister coaching teams from each club, twins Stefanija and Sofija Lakic squaring off against each other and the return of ex-Spirit player Sage Melhem to another of her former clubs. A quick turnaround from an exciting and close Under 15s game saw the Under 16 players enter the field and kick off quickly, following the standard 3-2-1 huddle. Jasmine Crawford and Benita Rossello anchored a strong defence for Manly, with Sofija Lakic on the left in front of goalkeeper Zoe Edwards. The lively Morgante was in midfield with Melhem out on the right.

A cagey opening gave way to a Manly onslaught. Carter teed up Hariri for an early shot from distance that Ravens’ debutant goalkeeper Jemma Horley tipped over. Ava Pirozzi had to be alert to intercept clever moves on the Ravens’ left, and from one interception, Lara Green galloped away down the wing but chose the wrong option, playing the ball straight to a Manly midfielder. Hariri was running the show for the visitors and from her shot from distance, Horley had hearts fluttering, grabbing the ball behind her legs and giving a wry smile as she held the ball tightly. A free kick from the Manly left was fired into the side-netting by Morgante, then a tricky turn by Peupion was marshalled expertly out of play by Abby Duggan for a Ravens goal kick.

It was all Manly, and Morgante was the next to test Horley, who was down early but could only parry, but she was alert to grab the rebound quickly to avert any danger. The breakthrough came courtesy of a corner. Isla Giron did well to halt Carter on the Manly right, and the resulting corner was floated in to a dangerous area. Horley came to punch and was never going to reach it, and Hairiri had a simple close-range header, guiding the ball past Sylvie Karena on the line and punching the air in delight.

Ravens midfield was gifting the ball back to Manly after they had worked so hard to win it. Anika Watson was at her industrious best though, sticking to her player like glue, and making it hard for Manly to build on their lead, but the forward momentum too often broke down and Manly came flooding back. Zara West romped down the Manly left, jinked inside and played a delightful low ball across the penalty area where Peupion connected beautifully to send the ball into the top left hand corner of the goal, Horley given no chance this time. Two goals up and coasting, Manly continued to look for goals.

Peupion fired in a shot that Horley saved well. Beatrice Power raced on to a clever pass by Peupion to fire in another shot. Horley got down to parry the ball, but it fell perfectly for West at the far post. Horley though did enough, and was brave to stop a certain goal and Ravens breathed a sigh of relief. Sophia Grindlay was introduced and immediately made an impact, her dynamic running raising alarm bells

The third goal before half time was simply sublime. Morgante seemed to be going nowhere when she picked up the ball outside the area, but showed quick feet to dart between two players and lash a shot into the net, over Horley who again had no chance. This was a Rolls Royce of a goal, and Ravens had nothing in return. When West powered in a cross-shot after a corner, Charlotte Phillips went close with a header. The introduction of Anna Wroughton for the Ravens brought a different dimension and she showed fight and determination, making the visitors work for possession in defence instead of being left alone as they had been for most of the half. The half-time score was fully justified. Ravens had offered little up front despite plenty of endeavour, and there was work to do by coach Dali McDonald to give the team hope for the second period.

Ravens started the second half brightly. Karena played in Wroughton, who galloped after the ball, but goalkeeper Edwards raced out and cleared. Power then turned past Aurelia Smith and fired across goal, Sienna Bell with the only option to clear back across her own goal, but the ball was bundled behind for a corner. When Phillips arrived at the far post to shoot, the ball rippled the side-netting, most of Christie Park believing it was in, but the shot had gone the wrong side of the post.

Ravens pushed forward. Karena galloped away down the Ravens left and squeezed through a cross under pressure that Edwards saved. Back up at the National Park end, a cross from Jasmine Crawford was pushed away for a corner by Horley. Carter then beat Smith and raced in on goal, but Smith tracked her all the way to get a toe in as she shot and another corner was the only reward.

A moment to forget for Ravens then saw them even further behind. A speculator from outside the box was knocked down by Horley, but as she went to gather the rebound, in came Carter to prod the ball home for four. Horley was adamant that she had her hands on the ball, but the referee waved away her protests and Carter rather apologetically retreated to half way and celebrated with her Manly teammates.

Peupion was running riot now, and raced through to shoot narrowly over the bar. She then played in Rossello whose shot was brilliantly saved by Horley, but the offisde flag would have ruled it out anyway. Stef Lakic was unleashed further up the field for Ravens as they started to creep forward, and a through ball sent her racing through, but the defender came across her and drew the foul. Alessia Rizutto then worked a great opening for Maya Jones, whose shot was well blocked, but the ball spun out to Lakic on the right, who had to take the shot early and steered it just over the bar to ooohs from the stand.

A well-worked move saw Smith launch a ball through the channel for Jones to sprint on to; she teased in a fabulous ball that Green pressured her defender into passing just the wrong side of the post for a corner. The corners today were ineffectual, but at least this time Edwards was forced into action, punching the ball clear under heavy pressure.

An inoccuous accidental handball by Watson was waved play-on by the referee, but Hariri was incensed, and her choice words were rewarded with a ten-minute sin bin, a rare occurence at this level, but a move that gave Ravens hope. Rizzuto played in Bell, whose cross was contested by Edwards and Green, the Ravens winger adjudged to have fouled the Manly keeper and the chance was gone.

Sarah Whelan raced through midfield and was unceremoniously scythed down outside the area for a free kick right on the edge. The shot, evading the rather ramshackle defensive wall, was saved by Horley, but the follow up was tucked home by Caitlin Elphick for the fifth Manly goal. There was only time to kick off before the referee brought this one-sided game to a close, but Ravens were still smiling as the players embraced old friends and family after the final whistle.

This was the proverbial ‘tough day at the office’ for the Ravens today. A choice had definitely been made to stay compact and refrain from pushing forward in the first half, and the result was a comfortable stroll for the Manly defence who were then able to join the attack and overrun the home side. The second half offered more in the way of attacking options for the Ravens, and they will look back on the second period as a much improved performance despite conceding another two cheap goals.

Ravens travel to Northbridge next to take on the Bulls Academy, and will need to be at their sharpest to contain another team that has made the sizeable leap to GYL Division 1. The only way is up. Forza Ravens!

A quick slushie and the car ride home is a peaceful one for the Lakic family

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.

No mercy from Socceroos in Sydney

A low-key Friday night friendly match at Commbank Stadium against fellow World Cup participants Ecuador turned up a positive performance from Australia’s national team as they showed a clinical edge to win 3-1. This was not an emotional welcome home to rival that of Argentina the day before, nothing like it in fact, Sydney’s football community will be savaged for not providing a bigger crowd, but those who were there did their best to create an appropriate atmosphere for the occasion. Football cannot fail to provide positivity during this World Cup year in Australia, and for the Socceroos on the field, this will be a very pleasing result.

When you have a midweek game in your own city, life gets in the way. There was no way I was going to be anywhere near Parramatta before 6.30pm, with work and football drop-offs to do. Add to that some key train cancellations causing delays at Strathfield, and this would be quite an abridged pre-match at the Woolpack, enough time for a swift schooner amongst familiar faces from Qatar and fellow Socceroos active supporters. There had been no communication between active fans and Football Australia until only the night before, so nothing was organised, this would be as organic an active home support as could be.

The short walk to Commbank Stadium suggested that there would be more than the anticipated 15,000 fans. We stopped for a fan interview with MMTV and met the friendly local police before heading in to Gate B, essentially the main supporter gate of the stadium. The stands were still quite empty, with less than 15 minutes to kick off, the mood was jovial; after all, there was no significance to this game other than to say ‘well done’ to the Socceroos for their exploits in Qatar.

After saying hi to ex-teammate Gerard, in his authentic Tim Cahill training top no less, and taking a spot in the traditional home of the RBB behind the goal, the usual faces were in place to try and get the crowd going. The stadium switched to mood lighting, the fire blowers fired, the fireworks boomed and after checking our watches and wondering when the players would come out, the show got underway. The welcome to country was clear and concise, the national anthem from Ecuador took a while to get to the words, and we could see that the Ecuador fans were in the usual international away section at the far end. Alas, with both sets of fans in yellow, it was difficult to differentiate home from away fans, but the noise after the anthem finished gave a good indication where the majority of the South American fans were located.

The Australian anthem was belted out with gusto, a high proportion of those around me singing ‘young and free’ by habit, and the players went into a huddle in the middle of the park as the captains sorted out who would kick off. There was genuine excitement at seeing international football again, and with Aidan O’Niell in the team, there was anticipation for more debuts and cameos during the evening.

Australia started brightly, attacking towards the Ecuador fans at the far end, but they had to watch out for the tricky Brighton attacker Jeremy Sarmiento who was sharp on the ball with fast feet. A free kick was awarded out left as the Socceroos attacked. Craig Goodwin lifted in a cross, after his trademark stuttering run-up, his cross was somehow reached by Mitch Duke, who fired the ball back across the goal and there was Jackson Irvine to sweep the ball home at the far post for an excellent opening goal. Suspicion of offside, but look, no VAR!

A ridiculous dive up the Ecuador right saw Aziz Behich booked, deemed to have impeded his man by holding his shirt. The free kick was wasted, but recycled and Sarmiento evaded O’Niell’s over-commitment and lifted a cross in for Felix Torres to head home easily, right in front of us. The players celebrated at length, two of the Ecuador players down on their knees in prayer. The Socceroos fans didn’t like that one bit, and the Australian players looked gutted to have conceded so easily.

Cue a fantastic moment on the half-hour. Ecuador tried to play their way out from the back and got caught in a swarm of Socceroos players pressing high, Irvine’s long leg getting the touch to steal the ball and Awer Mabil absolutely lashing the ball into the roof of the net with an outstanding finish. Clinical, cut-throat, devastating. It was simply fantastic to see. Mitch Duke then tricked his way into the box but his shot was blocked, and the rebound hacked to safety.

Half-time seemed quick, as if they were making up time for the late start. Two players received caps from Football Australia CEO Jame Johnson. James Meredith was one, I can’t remember who was the other, but it was very low-key. The field was full of half-time heroes, and it all cleared away as I braved the beer queue to grab some fuel for the second half. Luckily it was fast-moving and I was back at my seat for the whistle, with cans instead of plastic glasses to avoid losing half of it en route.

We would now see the Socceroos shooting our way. It was exciting. The assistant referee riled up the home crowd with some questionable offsides, the instant replays allowing us to see just how ropey they were, but again, no VAR, so it didn’t matter – you win some and you lose some, them’s the breaks. Ecuador had a good chance when EPL star Moises Caicedo smashed in a shot from the edge of the area, but Maty Ryan was able to beat the searing shot away.

The Socceroos were denied a definite penalty by an incorrect offside call soon after, Jackson Irvine picking the ball up before having his legs whipped away from under him, and there were boos around the stadium for the assistant as the replay showed there was no offside at all. Bring back VAR, all is forgiven! Kye Rowles had a shot well saved after his central defensive partner Harry Souttar had headed another Goodwin free kick into a dangerous area. Brandon Borrello came on to huge acclaim but didn’t really hit the heights, Alex Robertson was locked in to the Socceroos with his debut and was busy, and then we had Marco Tilio and crowd favourite Garang Kuol come into the game late on. There was some Aussie Aggro as Robertson reached out to throttle his opponent, and almost an all-in as the referee tried to calm the players.

The Socceroos wrapped up the scoring with another VAR-free moment as Aziz Behich held his run and crossed for Kuol to stumble the ball home. There were perhaps two shouts for offside in that move, but the assistant must have used up all his offsides and the Socceroos took full advantage. The crowd singing for Awer Mabil after Kuol had scored was a head-slappingly bizarre moment, and then Milos Degenek went in for a thunderous challenge at the far end that had the crowd even more hyped up. The final whistle was met with cheers and applause, and that continued as the team took a lap of honour around the stadium. The Ecuador players disappeared from view, and didn’t seem interested in meeting their fans, who had turned out in good numbers.

The handful of flags and banners packed up, and the active support was straight off to the Woolpack. I was keen to see the post-match scene, and we had some of the players doing the rounds. Mitch Duke was signing shirts and taking selfies with the keen Wanderers faithful at the home end until chaperone Ann came along and rescued him to pantomime boos from the fans, and a shirtless Kye Rowles was showing off his impressive body art.

Photographers had their photographs taken as momentos of the occasion, media man Carlo played football with the young kids, and head of media Bec coralled the last of the players to get them back in the changing rooms. Last ditch efforts by young fans to acquire shorts and socks were ignored by players and the goals were removed immediately, as if to cleanse Commbank Stadium of this horrid round-ball game.

I headed off back to the Woolpack to rejoin the active fans, intercepting the friends and family as they came out. I was asked if I was part of Jackson Irvine’s family, as I had the 22 on my back, and got chatting to some family of Aiden O’Niell, who were so proud of him making his debut today.

One beer was enough – I had to be home and fresh for the next day, and was fortunate that Carla was heading past my house and jumped in with her for the ride home. Nice one Carla!

Tonight had been a strange evening. I switched from work to play way too late in the day, endured issues with transport to the game (there’ll be none of that in July, right?), the stadium was maybe at 50% capacity despite claims of a 20,000 crowd, and the crowd had been a difficult one to stimulate into action. Fair play to Ben, who reprised his role from the Brisbane farewell game, and Hugo, who helped make the noise and did have the whole stadium going on a couple of occasions. No chance of making it down to Melbourne – the cost of living crisis is culling some of the extras from the budget and it was too difficult to justify a night in Melbourne when there’s mouths to feed and work to be done. Here’s looking forward to the next Socceroos game; Melbourne you’re in for a treat, and hopefully your ‘welcome home’ crowd will be a bit more lively than this one.

Sydney FC no show in derby calamity

A non-performance of alarming ineptitude from Sydney FC at their new Allianz Stadium home told us everything we need to know about the disintegration of Steve Corica’s tenure. Vast open gaps in midfield, defenders outpaced and an attack that never looked like scoring despite numerous clear chances, underlined the state of our once-proud club. The day was such a good one until the football started, perhaps we should skip it altogether next time.

A stinking hot day in Sydney had it’s usual game day transport issues just like last week’s train and bus woe for the women’s game; we caught the train replacement bus from the northern suburbs to Strathfield and then endured the slowest ever train ride to Central, despite there being only one stop. The police cameras outside Central Station gave an indication that this was a high-profile game, and the short light rail ride to meet Siobhan saw a lot more sky blue shirts than usual. We walked into the Crown Hotel ready to be fed and watered, deciding against the roaring and boiling upstairs bar in favour of a seat downstairs in the relative cool.

An unfortunate issue with the fire alarms saw the fire engines onsite, but no one flinched inside and the party was starting to get going just as we had to leave to join the march at the footbridge over to the stadium. The police stopped the traffic to let the crowd down to Moore Park, the lovely breeze hitting us as we crossed the main road, then it was like a scene from Braveheart as the hordes of Sydney FC fans descended across the grass to the meeting point.

Flares, chants, singing, jumping, this was the real deal. Bystanders watched on perplexed as the bridge was filled with blue, the red smoke in the blazing sun giving this a festival feel. The stadium came into sight as the bridge shuddered under the bouncing fans. There were Ninkovic shirts with his name covered over, the bathers in the swimming pool all stopped to pop their heads over the wall to see what the noise was, the police were keen to make sure the crowd made it to the gate without spilling into the away fans. This was proper derby conditions on a fiercely hot day. The stadium would surely be a cauldron.

Due to the early arrival of the march, we were ahead of time, maybe 45 minutes to kick off, so I wandered around to see the sights. The away end hadn’t started to fill up yet, kids were getting faces painted, almost every food and drink outlet was open with bored-looking attendants not realising just how busy they were soon to get. They even had the kiosks open to buy your 3.5% Hahns and the express queue was open for Furphys. I was on kid pick-up duty later in the night so I wasn’t having any more, but there were plenty of people who were going for it on this balmy night in East Sydney.

The stadium filled up, although the bare areas in the upper tier in each corner were still bare as the players filed out for the line-ups. This would be under the 30,000 hoped for, but the atmosphere was starting to build as we approached the kick off. The Wanderers fans congregated together behind the goal at the far end, and the end mirrored the Cove as the chants and vitriol began to ring around the stadium. We had flags to wave under our seats, and these were the home-made variety – a bit of blue cloth, a sawn-off length of conduit for a handle and a bit of strong gaffer tape. There were loads of them, and someone had obviously gone to a lot of effort and expense to put these together. We waved them furiously as the players cane out, as the players shook hands and as “We Are Sydney…” was belted out. A prophetic quip from Dale asked the question of how many of these stumpy flagpoles would end up on the field.

Our confidence going into this one was close to zero. Wanderers were having a fine season, Sydney were ekeing out the odd win to stay in contention for the finals, despite playing badly for the most part. Still, on their day, we were sure that a performance tonight was possible, given the occasion and given the high stakes.

The game kicked off before we’d really had time to digest formations and starting line-ups, but from having seen the Wanderers play a number of times this season, their midfield was mouth-watering, with our former hero Milos Ninkovic ready to cause mayhem. Luke Brattan was hauled down resulting in a booking from World Cup referee Alireza Faghani, but Paulo Retre must have said something pretty tangy to the official and received the first yellow card before the Wanderers play had received his.

There was a shout for a penalty as Kusini Yengi seemed to be bundled over as he went to round Andrew Redmayne right in front of us, the result somehow being a goal kick despite James Donachie getting the last touch. It wasn’t long before the opening goal came, and it was new Socceroo Brandon Borrello who split the square defence with an inch-perfect ball, Tunisian star and Harry Styles lookalike Amor Layouni controlled and laid the ball on for Yengi to stroke the ball home. We were sure it would be pulled back for offside, whether the first ball from Borrello or the final pass, but the alarming thing was just how absent our defence was. After a lengthy VAR, Sydney kicked off to groans from the Cove and Wanderers were looking good, their fans bouncing at the far end of the stadium.

It got worse soon after. Rhyan Grant took a dive when he knew his one-two with Brattan had failed, and there was no hint of a foul or any hint of defensive midfielders playing for Sydney FC as Yengi fed Ninkovic in the centre of the park. He had acres of space, and we all know the quality that was unappreciated in his last two years at Sydney FC, as he slipped a delicious ball through for Layouni. He was in the clear but off balance, and it didn’t look as though he’d get a shot away. He did, and it crept inside the post, trundling across the line with the Sky Blue defence already giving up the chase.

It could have been more, Retre was caught trying to dribble past four players on the edge of his own penalty area – to be fair there was no option whatsoever – and Borrello’s shot was saved by Redders.

Half time couldn’t come quick enough. Sydney had been second best. Their approach play as always had been pretty, but the balls into the box were to no one in particular, and the Wanderers defence gobbled up any high balls. We were two goals down, but with hope of singing “two nil up and you fucked it up” still there, we weren’t throwing in the towel just yet.

The second half started in spectacular fashion. Sydney looked like a team transformed. Clearly someone had said something motivational at the break, and it was unlikely to have been any of the coaching staff. Jaiden Kucharski was on for the ineffectual Joel King at the break, joining Jack Rodwell on the field who had come on for James Donachie early in the game. Sydney had ten minutes of complete and utter dominance, until Layouni raced down the right, cut in and blazed wildly wide to put a stop to the one-way traffic.

The flag poles rained down on the field as Lawrence Thomas started to get a little time-wastey, and the Cove capo was straight onto it, telling off his fellow Sydney fans who were putting their fellow supporters at risk.

Western Sydney’s possession was simply much better. Some of the touches from Ninkovic were sublime, opening up the game with quick passes in and out of the box. From one such move, the ball was fed to Nieuwenhof, who advanced slowly, a statuesque Retre, looking like he’d just finished mowing the lawn and was ready to knock the top off a cold one on a hot day, making a half-arsed attempt to close him down. We knew all about Nieuwenhof after his amazing goal at Wellingong a few years back, so it was no surprise to see him take up the opportunity and smash the shot from distance like a missile past Redders for 3-0. He didn’t know whether to celebrate or not, but looked pleased with himself. Take a bow, son, cracking goal and a total ‘fuck you’ to the club that let him go for no reason.

Western Sydney had yet another goal as Sydney failed to clear in midfield, Borrello playing the ball through for Layouni, who was kept on by the static Grant, and advanced to tuck home an easy finish for four. Still fifteen minutes to play too. This could get ugly. Ninkovic made way, and touched the sideline as he did, making it look like a bow – what a way to show Corica and his blundering coaches exactly why he should still have been in the prime of his career at Sydney FC.

Sydney now had Jake Girdwood-Reich, Paddy Wood and Adrian Segecic on the field, and seemed to give it a go at least with the clock running down. Segecic in particular looked full of running, but when Kucharski and Wood combined to set up Rodwell for a shot, the ball fell perfectly for Segecic to finish off and he hit it straight at Thomas instead of into the unguarded net. Sydney were never going to score tonight, even if they played another three hours – we’d already seen Grant spurn a golden opportunity from right in front, and any confidence in front of goal, or anywhere near the goal for that matter, was non-existent.

Four minutes of stoppage time followed. Four long minutes of watching the Wanderers fans lapping it up, quite rightly. An away derby win is something to savour, and they’d had two of them this season. The flags and banners from the Cove were simply dumped in a pile in front, the Sydney capo was clearly disgusted as the final whistle sounded. The usual love shown between the players and the active fans was obvious in its absence, the few players that chose to engage the fans given a flailing arm of disgust in return and plenty of one finger salutes and there was plenty of booing. Paddy Wood made it to the fans on the far side, Retre still went along the front of the Cove but there was hardly anyone left. The photographers took photos of the mangled tifo all crumpled on the ground. This was like a post-battle war-ending defeat, all the flags, folded paper clackers and one-page programmes strewn around, no one caring to have any reminders at home of such a dismal evening.

The rest of my group were heading out for more; I was heading back to the northern suburbs, conscious that I would be on the light rail, the train out west and the train replacement buses with plenty of happy Wanderers fans. In the end, it took ages to get home, but I bumped into my old teammate and Wanderers fan Sjonni, who had endured that 5-0 win with me at ANZ Stadium all those years ago, so tonight had a happy note to finish on. I was just in time to fetch my daughter from work at midnight. She couldn’t believe the scoreline.

So, let’s try and sum this one up. A team devoid of confidence and attacking ideas, a coach who had clearly not done his homework on the opposition, and a fanatical supporter base fast losing patience with the club that they support. Remember those dark days at Kogarah, when some shit team would come and win, it would be raining and miserable and we’d all be pining for our new stadium. Feels like we haven’t moved one bit since then. This is not progress. This is treading water. We do not deserve a top-six finish and the horrible fare that has been served up for the last two seasons is nowhere near the aspirations of this club. Must do better.

Institute given scare by plucky Ravens

Gladesville Ravens Girls Youth League Under 16 Division 1 began life in the top flight with a visit from the mighty Football NSW Institute at Christie Park. A rasping effort from Mikaela Gavranic got us underway, and further goals from Milla Singleton and Hope Cleur had Institute three goals up, but a spirited fightback from the home team saw Maya Jones and Alessia Rizzuto reduce the deficit to a single goal at the break. After Sylvie Karena had hit the Institute bar early in the second half, eventually the class of the visitors shone through, two further goals from Matilda Dias Watewitz and a screamer from Gavranic completed the scoring. Ravens will be pleased with the way they fought back into contention in this one, but in truth this was a baptism of fire for the league’s newcomers and every point will be precious in their debut season in Division 1.

An overcast Christie Park, these were beautiful conditions for football, and the main field was looking pristine, new advertising hoardings signalling the increase in interest in women’s football in Australia in this World Cup year. The scorching sunshine of late summer was absent, but temperatures would still be testing for the players, and it was the home team that got off to a lively start, springing into action straight from the kick off. The first opportunities though fell to the impeccably-credentialed visiting team, Gavranic turning sweetly on the edge of the area to fire in a shot that Ravens shot-stopper Chloe McCredie saved comfortably. Abby Duggan was penalised for handball soon after, and Singleton shooting straight into the wall from the resulting free kick.

A tremendous tackle from Isla Giron then prevented a great break from Institute, but the offside flag had already come to Ravens’ rescue. Ava Pirozzi’s free kick found touch and the visitors were back on the attack immediately. Good work by Cleur found the dangerous Gavranic, and her low shot was well saved by McCredie on the stretch, pushing the ball behind for a corner. McCredie juggled the cross from the corner, and breathed easily when she grabbed the ball ahead of the incoming striker. With Ravens confident in defence, it was with dismay that they were undone by a loose ball. Pirozzi played a long back pass to McCredie, who invited the Institute players to press. The measured ball out from the back was easily cut out by Gavranic, who took aim and fired low into the bottom right-hand corner with McCredie well beaten.

Ravens toiled up front, chasing and harrying well, but Institute continued to attack, and they won a corner down the right. Singleton flighted the ball into the six-yard box, McCredie got nothing on it, and the ball somehow bounced goalwards, and despite the attempt of Giron on the line to keep the ball out, Ravens were two goals behind and in danger of unravelling.

There was a moment of confusion as Stef Lakic didn’t realise there was a player behind her, and Gavranic was through, but McCredie made a smart save to keep the score at two. A quickly taken free kick by Institute then led to a smart passage of play down the right and a beautiful lay-off was smashed goalwards by Cleur, the ball evading the dive of McCredie and sneaking inside the post for a fabulous third goal. Ravens had it all to do now, barely a quarter of the game had gone.

Impressive play from Sinead Fisher up the right then allowed Jones to get in a shot for the Ravens. Buoyed by that sight on goal, unbelievably Ravens were back in the game when a disastrous pass from goalkeeper Sofia Fante was intercepted by Jones, who advanced on goal and swept the ball into the bottom right-hand corner of the goal. Ravens almost shot themselves in the foot soon after though, as they were robbed when trying to take one touch too many, Laura Errichiello straight onto the ball, firing a superb shot just over the bar.

Institute’s number 10, Dias Wadewitz then advanced and smashed a piledriver from outside the area that whistled over McCredie’s goal. There were five minutes left of the half when Rizzuto and Alexia Mavraidis forced the ball out to Fisher. Expert hassling from Anna Wroughton allowed Rizzuto to pick up the ball and advance, and she took her chance, firing in an incredible effort from 25 yards that sailed over Fante and just underneath the crossbar for a spectacular second goal for the Ravens.

This had been a remarkable turnaround, and Ravens were now only a goal down with everything to play for. The half ended with Sophia Grindlay reaching for her asthma puffer, such was the pace of the action, and the referee brought a fascinating half to a close with the odd goal in five separating the teams.

A goalkeeping change for the visitors saw Anabelle Croll come in, and it was Ravens who took the second half by the scruff of the neck and dictated the opening stages. Fisher’s ball through found Mavraidis down the right, and she was upended on the edge of the area. Up stepped Karena to float a shot over the ever-encroaching wall, and the ball smashed off the bar. Giron, one of four Ravens players unmarked in the box, was unable to keep her header down from the rebound and a glorious opportunity was spurned.

One of those football moments that happens once a season then had the Institute defence fired up and angrily remonstrating with the referee. Mavraidis stole a ball from Hayley Hazouri and advanced on goal. The speedy Sophia Kelleher raced back to deal with it, and her backpass was handled by Croll, the referee possibly the only person to pick up on it, and he awarded an indirect free kick to the Ravens. There was total confusion; Ravens had no idea what was going on, the coaches were all bellowing in unison from the sideline, but Wroughton and Mavraidis got themselves into position to take the free kick right on the edge of the six yard box as the referee ushered the defenders to the goal line.

Wroughton’s touch was a little obvious, and Mavraidis was charged down, but the referee had seen the defenders coming off the line well before Wroughton had touched the ball. There seemed to be more confusion as the unhappy defenders were again ushered back onto the line, this time Aurelia Smith rolling the ball back to Mavraidis, whose shot was deflected over the top and Institute had survived. Karena’s corner was fired over by Mavriadis and Ravens may look back and rue that missed opportunity to draw level.

Wroughton and Mavraidis then combined again to set Fisher away down the right, but her cross was well fielded by Croll. Smith did well to win a goal kick, her attacker lunging in with a heavy tackle, and when Giron and Hazouri traded pushes up the Ravens’ right, it was clear that the Institute players were rattled. When Gemma Odes scythed down Mavraidis on the edge of the box, up stepped Lara Green, but her effort was safely into the arms of Croll.

It was time now for Institute to turn the screw. Dias Wadewitz played the ball out wide, Sienna Bell was outpaced, Smith was turned on the byline, and the cross was expertly prodded home from close range past the despairing McCredie by Dias Wadewitz for the fourth Institute goal. The visiting team’s nerves had disappeared, and they played a terrific move from defence to attack, Gavranic cutting inside onto her left foot and unleashing an absolute screamer over McCredie for 5-2.

There were still ten minutes remaining, and Ravens had to keep going. Grindlay did just that, winning a corner and Rizzuto’s corner was cleared back to Grindlay who fired in a shot that was well blocked. Up the other end, McCredie had to deal with a snapshot after a corner was floated in, and then back up the M2 end, Rizzuto managed to get in a shot that was again deflected behind. The resulting corner was floated in too close to the keeper, but Giron was challenging the Croll and the ball was palmed away to safety.

There was time for Lana Elkordi to fire in a shot from distance that was saved, Grindlay won a corner from a cross when well-placed. The swift Catalina Wyrzynski then raced past Smith to fire in a shot too close to McCredie and Institute ended the game on the attack, Dias Wadewitz with a snapshot that McCredie did well to save.

It was a shame to see the game end; this had been fabulous entertainment for the healthy crowd. Institute had definitely been rattled, but their smooth-running motor clicked up a gear when it mattered to put the game beyond the Ravens and secure the three points on the opening day of the season. Now that the Ravens know what they’re up against, they will need to work hard against Bankstown next weekend in their first away fixture of the 2023 season. See you all there.

Note : Thanks for reading. I hope you’re enjoying coverage of the Gladesville Ravens 2023 season so far. Feel free to browse around the website for previous season’s games – you might even notice some of our players starring for opposition teams in years gone by.

Sky Blue nadir in woeful display

What was meant to be a day of celebration, Sydney FC Women’s members’ day, went from self-congratulation and back-slapping to the most alarming non-performance from a team still stacked with stars. Wellington Phoenix showed determination and a work ethic that was far superior to their illustrious opponents, and Sydney FC got what they deserved for a showing of such ineptitude that the fans in the stadium could only shake their heads and laugh at the final whistle. Wine was turned into water at a sunny Kogarah, this result and performance was not in the script.

Our Saturday started early – we had late notice on Friday to be at Kogarah for a 12.30pm start for Sydney FC women’s members day, so we assembled at 11.30am, setting off soon after for this trip down south for our second visit to Jubilee Stadium in six days. Membership guru Shane was there to welcome us, and guided us through a trade entrance, past the drug testing lab and through past the Wellington Phoenix changing room that was being set up ready to welcome the players. The Sydney FC changing room was on the other side of the walkway and was split into two parts. The first area was like a gathering area used before heading out onto the field, the second was where the players would get ready for the game.

What struck me first was the missing names above the shirts for the players who had just signed. Of course this was due to Sydney FC having a mass shortage of players for this fixture due to Matildas Under 20s action, injuries and suspensions. It may have been a better look to take them all down or replace them with something other than names, but still, it just looked a little ragged – as if the names had been stolen or knocked off by the cleaners. There was a table of nutrition, similar to a table you might see en route in a long-distance running race, and a table of exercise equipment, weights and bands, that sort of thing. This was definitely a place of preparation, and it felt like we were intruding a little on the serenity of a hallowed space for the players. The fitness tracking devices were charging ahead of the game, ready to slip into their harnesses to provide vital data about the physical performance of the players.

We were then led into the members’ lounge upstairs and invited to take the time to get photos with the women’s trophies that had been placed out for our viewing delight. The second wave of members would be coming through, and we waited a few minutes for them to catch up and join us in the members’ lounge where we sat. The rugby league line-markings were rather unconvincingly being covered over in green as we watched out of the window. Shane invited questions and giving us an introduction, before handing us over to our fearless women’s capo, Michelle.

This was great, Michelle having a forum to explain what active support was, why it was important, and why more people were needed to help the women’s Cove grow as a concept. Up next was Ante Juric, super coach of the women’s team, who gave up his time for a Q&A with the very appreciative members. And then we had the suspended Nat Tobin, captain of the squad and long-time Sydney FC player, who was open and honest with her audience, and answered a flurry of questions.

We were genuinely pumped for the football, and we could see fans arriving into the stadium and the coaches setting up ready for the warm-ups. The idea that we had a threadbare squad was barely discussed; after all we had lethal weapons in the starting line-up and we would be fine. We were offered raffle tickets to win prizes at half-time, four lucky members were chosen to watch the game from the player’s enclosure, and two others were invited to partake in the half-time entertainment, a cross bar challenge. Capo Michelle shot her hand up, and immediately nominated my Michelle as her adversary. Game on!

We filed down into the seating area and through the tunnel onto the field where the players had just started to warm up. We strode out hand in hand like a player with their mascot. We were pitchside, watching on like a pack of photographers scrutinising the players’ every move. The main stand, at least the bottom section, was starting to fill up, and we eventually found our way back to the stand, and took up position in the north end, the area chosen for the women’s Cove when the actual Cove area is closed.

We had every reason to be cheerful. Sydney FC had beaten the league leaders here last week. We had a few out, but we had top-class players across the park and there was nothing to suggest that basement team Wellington Phoenix would offer much resistence to this classy Sydney FC team. No time to get to Kogarah Club, we had to take our pick of the stadium offerings, which to my delight, was delicious – light and fluffy fish and a generous helping of chips, and I was enjoying mouthfuls in between verses of “We are Sydney…” as the players came out, did their line-up and the game kicked off.

The big screen on the far side remained turned off for the duration of the game, and Sydney started the game in confident fashion, shooting towards the empty southern end of the stadium. Anna Green got hold of a ball from a melee in the penalty area to loop a shot goalwards, the Phoenix keeper touching the ball over. Cortnee Vine looked lively when Sydney found themselves on the break, and with Rachel Lowe in attack, and full of praise from Ante in the pre-match chat in the members’ lounge, we were confident to see some goals. Lots of promising attacks on the right ended with the wrong option though, but we had the possession and the firepower to get in behind the Phoenix defence.

The game didn’t pan out like that though. Sydney were weak in the challenge and Wellington could sense that the game was there for the taking, and they started to look more and more confident. Sydney FC’s midfield seemed to be the issue, the link between defence and attack simply wasn’t working. Sure enough, half an hour in, a corner from the right was half-cleared and Kate Taylor was unmarked to smash a shot past Katie Offer for a deserved lead to the visitors. Half time came and whilst the performance was below par, the vociferous Cove fans had no doubt that we’d come good in the second half.

The Sydney subs were about to have a warm-up with one of the coaches, but the ball crew took all the balls and wouldn’t give them back, leaving them with nothing to train with. The Michelles went on the field for the crossbar challenge, Prasad’s choice of thongs for footwear never going to aid her quest, and after four efforts each, only one close range shot from Morris was remotely near the cross bar. That was good entertainment, and the half-time members raffle saw members of the Cove score some booty too, as signed shirts and match balls were handed out to lucky recipients.

The second half got underway as the fans were still getting settled, and the Cove did its best to get the atmosphere going, but this was a tough watch. Mackenzie Hawkesby repeated her trick from the first half and her corner went behind the goal to puffed cheeks from the crowd, Kirsty Fenton looked sluggish, Charlie Rule seemed to be running in weighted boots and even Cortnee Vine was struggling to execute the basics, far too often the ball played from midfield to the strikers being intercepted or miscontrolled. After all the pre-match inflation of Rachel Lowe by Ante Juric, it was staggering to see her substituted on the hour, and the younger stars of the squad were being called on to rescue the game.

Our main threat would come from Princess Ibini down the left, and she bundled into shooting positions twice without pulling the trigger. Former Sydney FC winger Paige Satchell was lively until her withdrawal. The chances started to come for the Sky Blues, but Brianna Edwards was equal to everything that Sydney threw at her, and she played an immaculate game, taking the time to go to the floor to eat up valuable seconds as Phoenix sensed victory. The diminuitive figure of Michaela Robertson was outstanding for the visitors on the left, linking play beautifully. Auntie Carol was getting agitated by the referee’s refusal to award Sydney FC free-kicks, but to be honest there was little to cling on to for the Sydney FC fan.

Wellington did notch a thoroughly deserved second goal, with not long left on the clock, but an offside call ruined the moment. Vine seemed to spring into action with time running out, and galloped through on a lung-busting run, the fans on their feet, and young Indiana Dos Santos showed incredible feet to skip down the left once the game seemed to be out of reach, increasing her stock even further. “We are Sydney…” rang out loud and proud as the whistle sounded, the Phoenix players racing to congratulate each other, and the Sydney FC players remained in the technical area, a picture of disconsolation, as Ante tried to find anything positive to take from the game.

The players and fans interacted well after the game, one youthful Cove member getting phone numbers or instagram handles from players, and the parents of the young Sydney FC stars showing how proud they were despite the result. The goalposts were immediately removed and replaced by the rugby league version in preparation for the Sunday St George game here, and we were in a daze as we left the stadium, the life having been sucked right out of us. It was great to see the Phoenix fans enjoying the moment, and there were family and friends of the Wellington players with broad smiles. We couldn’t begrudge them their happiness, and the Western United result having gone in our favour did nothing to lift our spirits.

Luckily, after an easy drive back to the northern suburbs and a couple of beers in a friend’s swimming pool, we had washed away all memories of today’s horrible performance. The members open day was well received, loved that and thanks to Shane for organising, hopefully Jasmine Black enjoyed her Anna Black book, and we hope our girls rouse themselves ahead of a difficult trip to Melbourne City on the weekend.

Bruising Western win for Sydney FC

The reigning A-League Women premiers gave a terrific account of themselves in an emotional return to Kogarah and gave their chances of retaining the crown a massive boost in this six-pointer against leaders Western United. A second-half double from Rachel Lowe and a thumping finish from Princess Ibini were reward for their patience, but the game was littered with injuries and the referee drew the ire of the crowd with some unusual decisions. Sydney FC will need to call upon their squad depth for next week’s game, and the race for the title is not over yet.

Shoe-horning A-League games into Sundays is a challenge at this time of the year, with pre-season club games and the NPL underway. This one fell perfectly for one half of this football-loving partnership, however Michelle had to forego her pre-season game, and we were running late as we set off from Christie Park in the northern suburbs of Sydney just before 3.30pm. Luckily it’s a direct route, and by 4.10pm we were parking up in the appropriately named Park Street and heading towards the mecca that we know as Netstrata Jubilee Oval. There was no indication of any other gate than Gate B being open, so we headed for that entrance, under the main stand, and trotted down to the front of the stand where the Cove had taken up residence. The setting was beautiful, what a lovely stadium, we should play here more often. Said no one ever. But the field was looking pristine, and the blue skies and hot sunshine made us feel at home.

Sydney FC toiled in the first half, Western United had missed a chance early on by all accounts, and Hannah Keane was looking every bit the powerful forward we knew her to be. Almost as soon as we’d arrived, Cortnee Vine raced through the middle on the counter-attack to tee up Mackenzie “Bob” Hawkesby who rattled the cross bar, and Vine herself took aim from distance, the US keeper Hilary Beall diving full length to see the ball wide. It took a while to work out the formation, and Nat Tobin was in midfield, with Lowe up front, a definite reshuffle but an attack-minded structure that would hopefully result in some goals in the second half. Western United gave a good account of themselves, and they managed a number of dangerous crosses into the area to no avail.

The half-time break saw Sydney FC CEO Adam Santo appear at the Cove for a chat, alas without any leftover catering goodies. He had one eye on the NPL game going on, and was interested in results elsewhere, but was in good spirits with this game still at 0-0 and was happy to answer questions from the fans. There was a family atmosphere in the main stand, all other sides of the stadium closed, and with shade from the sun, this was actually a very pleasant place to be.

The second half wasn’t that old when Sydney FC struck, just after they had been pulled up for a marginal offside. This time Hawkesby fed Vine and her inch-perfect ball in saw Lowe race clear and pick her spot, finishing impeccably with a side-foot shot for 1-0. The Cove was bouncing.

A second goal followed, Western United gifting the ball to Vine, who advanced and took the ball all the way to the byline. It looked unlikely that she would be able to squeeze the ball through to the centre, but her low ball evaded two lunging stretches, and Lowe was there to sweep the ball into the net for a quick-fire second strike.

There were stoppages as Western United needed the physio on two occasions, one of those allowing a drinks break to take place, before a third goal arrived. Tobin lifted a lovely ball over the top for Ibini to run on to; her pace, when she chooses to use it, is impressive and she took the time to steady herself and smash a left foot shot in off the bar, the ball bouncing twice before we knew it was in. What a finish, and Ibini was mobbed by her teammates who knew they were coasting now to victory.

A baffling sending off then occurred with ten minutes remaining. Tobin beat her player and play went on, but the Western United player raced to the referee in protest and the referee decided that what she said warranted bringing the ball back and booking Tobin, who had already had a yellow card and was subsequently shown a red. Honestly, who’s the ref? Is this normal? What a calamity. The fans couldn’t believe it. We had already seen a blatant push in the back go unpunished earlier on that had the Cove’s Auntie Carol off her seat, howling in disgust, and this was the icing on the cake. Tobin trudged off in disbelief.

Just as the Cove was starting the “We are Sydney…” chant to round off a wonderful performance, a ball was played in to the Sydney FC area, Jada Whyman came to collect and collided with a couple of players, one of those clearly in distress being Charlotte Mclean. Both Whyman and Mclean made way as Sydney were forced into two late changes, and the final ten minutes of added time went without incident for the ten remaining Sky Blue players.

Sydney FC had taken the vital three points, scored three good goals and given their fans a second half show. Charlotte Mclean had an ice pack to the side of her face as she received a big hug from Cortnee Vine, the whole squad minus the casualties came across to celebrate the win with the Cove, and there was plenty of time for the fans to meet the players and share the love. This was the ideal A-League Women post-game scene and players and fans alike would have left with a wholesome feeling after that one.

We had to get back to Christie Park for the end of the Gladesville Ravens v Sydney Olympic fixtures, and were quickly back on the road for our fourth game of the day as the sun set over a fabulous footballing weekend.

Next up, Sydney FC Women v Wellington Phoenix on Saturday, members’ open day, and we’ll see another big reshuffle in personnel by super coach Ante Juric as the Sky Blues look to cement their unexpected spot at the top of the ladder. See all you lovely people there!

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!

Ravens click in final pre-season run out

Gladesville Ravens 4 Sydney Olympic 0

Gladesville Ravens Girls Youth League Division One Under 16s flexed their muscles ahead of the 2023 season opener with a comprehensive victory over Sydney Olympic at a blazing Christie Park, bringing an end to a tough pre-season. A double from striker Maya Jones, with defender Abby Duggan scoring, and captain Alessia Rizzuto emphatically notching a fourth goal, saw the Ravens finally show strength in the final third after a barren opening to the year. With clean sheets for Jemma Horley and Chloe McCredie, this was a performance that oozed confidence and showed that this team can compete at the top level of girls youth football.

Conditions were becoming extra-warm as the kick-off approached; Olympic lined up with Julia Mallam in goal, with a strong back-line of Karla Almeida-Longo and Jade Robinson, captain Alana Ghany in midfield and Elise Biurra in attack. An early free-kick just inside the Ravens half from Robinson set the tone, the long-range effort bouncing harmlessly through to McCredie. Olympic started brightly, and had the measure of the Ravens in the opening exchanges, but a long ball from Ava Pirozzi gave the hosts a first half-chance, Sylvie Karena racing through but Mallam doing well to clear.

Ravens defender Isla Giron then smashed in a shot from an outrageous distance that gave us a hint of what today was all about, but the threat was always there from the visitors as McCredie’s clearance was charged down and Ravens survived.

Angelina Zaiter then showed quick feet to feed Karena, and when the ball popped out to Lara Green, she took aim with a low volley from outside the area that Mallam smothered well on the stretch. Some trickery from Green on the left with a clever header allowed Karena to lash in a shot that Mallam saved, while at the other end a stray pass from Aurelia Smith was intercepted, the attacker clear of the last defender, but the effort was wild and into the building site behind.

The temperature was rising steadily, the synthetic turf of Christie Park adding ten degrees for the players as the players struggled to maintain the pace. Jones raced on to a searching ball from Stef Lakic and pulled off her new skip trick again, a corner somehow not the result, and Pirozzi galloped the length of the field only to be bundled over as she crossed, the referee right on the spot and shaking his head. When Rizzuto played in Karena who delivered a teasing cross-shot, Jones was on the spot with Mallam who missed the cross altogether, but her defender smashed the ball away under pressure. That was a good time for a drinks break.

Sinead Fisher played in Jones who advanced, but she didn’t catch the shot at all well, before a glorious move involving Alexia Mavraidis, Jones and Karena was pulled up for the most marginal of offsides by the assistant referee. Olympic’s Biurra and Ravens’ Giron were having a great battle, and Talia Butcher was providing additional energy as Ravens started to take control. McCredie did well to race out at Biurra’s feet to clear, and from that clearance Ravens created a wonderful move. Mavraidis and Jones played a one-two up the right, Mavraidis racing down the wing towards goal. She opted to hit the byline and cut the ball back beautifully for Jones to slam a shot into the net from close range, Ravens into the lead and looking good.

Stern words between Ghany and Alexandra Capararo followed as Butcher caused mayhem inside the box, and Ravens had a corner. With the referee being fussy with the first corner, a second attempt was swung in by Rizzuto. Up went Duggan in the challenge and the ball darted towards goal, Mallam unable to keep it out and Duggan was completely unaware that she had scored until she was swamped by her gleeful teammates.

Within seconds Duggan had given the ball away, rescued by McCredie who made a routine save from Eva Buterin’s shot, but Ravens were soon on the attack again, Anika Watson with good work to set up Fisher, whose shot whistled wide. Olympic were really struggling to get the ball out from the back from goal kicks, and Fisher teed up Jones who fired in a shot, and was unlucky not to see the rebound fall her way as the Mallam did well to block.

A shot from Anna Wroughton was then blocked, before a penalty shout was again waved away by the lenient referee as Mavraidis had her feet taken from under her as she raced into the box. Watson was proving to be a great option just outside the box and fired in a shot that was well saved, and Rizzuto opted to play a free-kick short to her midfield colleague who again pulled the trigger from distance and Mallam saved well down low.

The half ended with a half-chance each. First McCredie had to race out of her goal to block with her feet, then Mallam watched as a blocked shot from Jones went past her post and the half-time whistle sounded, an opportunity to get into the shade and take on litres of ice-cold water.

Both teams changed goalkeepers, Horley on for the second half and Abbey Stone on for Olympic, and it was Stone under pressure early on, Samara Chiert misplacing a pass behind. The corner led to nothing, but in the next move we got to see some dazzling skills from the home team. First Wroughton gave us a silky shimmy that took two Olympic players out of the game, then Green faked a pass and sold the nutties to her defender, drawing oohs from beneath the unbrellas of the crowd. Zoe Twining then took aim from distance with a searing shot that was blocked.

A corner for Olympic was then headed on goal by Ghany, but Horley plucked the ball out of the air with confidence and delivered a long clearance upfield. The ball bounced perfectly for Jones, who raced through and fired low into the net past the unfortunate Stone for 3-0.

Olypmic certainly weren’t out of the game, and Ghany fired in a shot from a free kick that Horley got down well to save. Ravens should have scored soon after though, Zaiter played in Green on the charge, who raced clear, but fired her shot straight at the keeper, the follow up from Karena also straight at Stone, who saved again and Olympic were let off the hook.

Jones raced clear again moments later, but opted for the early shot after perhaps running out of legs, Stone fielding the ball comfortably. At the other end, Erica Ciaparra set up Buterin for a shot that Horley saved, and Ghany fired in a free kick that deflected for a corner, the referee giving the players another chance to grab a drink before play continued.

That break almost paid dividends for Olympic, Biurra having two bites at the shot, Horley equal to both, smothering from close range, and when the ball popped out again, Biurra smashed the ball off the bar, the referee blowing for a foul by the bustling striker and Ravens’ goal somehow remained intact. Olympic looked determined to turn the game around. Biurra again shot just wide, the impressive Alisha Maunder dribbled past two players to screw the ball past the post and Buterin tested Horley from distance.

Ravens had plenty of the ball themselves, Smith raiding up the left with Wroughton to keep the ball in the Olympic half, Karena jinked past two defenders to shoot wide. Zaiter then played in Karena with a lovely ball, Stone out quick to foil the Ravens forward with the ball at her feet.

A moment of skill from Jones then gave her the chance to add to her haul, Karena intercepting and Jones juggling the ball over her defender to race away, but again she shot too close to the keeper and the chance went begging.

Horley was again called upon to smother at Biurra’s feet before Karena repeated Jones’ trick and flicked the ball over her defender and raced away, this time the shot was tame and Stone easily saved. There was more hard running from Smith and Wroughton up the left as Ravens tried to exploit the space behind the Olympic wide players, and Rizzuto tried to provide the spark to spur on her team to further goals.

It was perhaps fitting that Rizzuto rounded off the scoring late in the game, a fabulous move in midfield involving Karena and Zaiter saw Rizzuto race away and she provided a lethal striker’s finish low past Stone and inside the left-hand post to give Ravens an unassialable four-goal lead.

The game was brought to an end by the referee and Ravens had given a good account of themselves. On another day, better finishing from Olympic could have seen a closere scoreline; conversely, the number of chances spurned by the Ravens attack was masked by the four goals that they they did score, and there is definitely work to be done to increase the conversion rate – the chances are there.

Pre-season is over. The real season kicks off next Sunday with the visit of powerhouse, the Football Institute of NSW. These are the up and coming stars of NSW football and while they generally play younger players in each age group, they will provide an amazing spectacle for the opening game of the 2023 Girls Youth League Division One season. See you there!

Note : Thanks to Tahlia’s dad Steve for the additional photos today.