Sydney FC caught red handed

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?

Ravens show Blacktown City the way

Blacktown City 1 Gladesville Ravens 7

The return of women’s football to Landen Stadium ahead of the 2024 NPL2 season gave the new-look Blacktown City Under 20s a chance to pit their wits against a young team from the division above. It was visitors Gladesville Ravens who mastered the bounce and gave the home team a lot to think about in terms of fitness, physicality and finishing, but as Tony Gustavsson is quick to point out, it’s not the result that counts on days like these. Pre-season is underway and football is back. Time to rejoice!

The completion of the previous game at 5pm gave both teams a rare opportunity to warm up on the playing surface ahead of this encounter, and by 6pm the players were lined up and ready to go on this sticky humid day in Lalor Park. Both teams were fielding a host of new signings, and this first run out for the season was designed to see where work needs to be done in pre-season to develop a winning formula.

City would need to deal with the burgeoning talent of Angie Le Roux on the Ravens’ right and she was straight into the action, flashing a cross across goal, where goalkeeper Chloe Somboli made a fantastic save to deflect the ball wide to prevent an early goal. The wind had whipped up in the home team’s favour, but this was going to provide little advantage. Midfield general Sienna Bell was leading the way with her energy, and the first chance for the home side came as Hayley Reynolds was played through by Aurelia Smith, but her shot was drilled into the side netting.

City battled well, and when defender Katherine Spooner-Smith was caught out by a spinning ball, Abby Duggan was there to clear up. Le Roux continued to be the danger, and she raced on to a ball over the top to win a corner, and a further cross caused mayhem in the City box but the home team survived. Ravens were almost architects of their own downfall soon after Niamh Nolan had hassled the Ravens’ defence into a rushed clearance, and Bell stole the ball on the right to feed Reynolds whose shot was blocked.

The opening goal was devastatingly simple – Angelina Zaiter slipped in Le Roux, who fizzed in a cross for the unmarked Monique Lekkas to thump home at the far post. City rallied, and had a series of corners, none of which made an impression, Duggan then siezed control and romped through the Ravens midfield but overran the ball before she could get the shot away. At the other end, Le Roux’s cross was parried well by Somboli and Maya Jones couldn’t find the finish.

Just after the half-hour, Ravens doubled their lead. A weak clearance from the City defence fell invitingly for the incoming Claudia Vincent, who smashed home a shot to give Somboli no chance. The game was going to the script, and City were picked apart again when Le Roux’s cross was cleared and Alexia Karas drilled in a low shot to make it three. The difference was the finishing.

Bell played in Emily Jackson, who was clean through, but the offside flag halted her in her tracks. Sam Cole spectacularly upended Le Roux to show her teammates the way, and the half ended with Bell pickpocketing her defender to advance on goal, but the shot was wide. City had created chances, Ravens had created more, but the conversion was much more clinical from the visitors and the half-time score was a fair reflection of the way the first half had unfolded.

Echoing Sven-Goran Eriksson’s tactic for England when losing to the Socceroos in 2003, a whole new team emerged for the second half as City looked to change the complexion of the game. Any impetus that was planned from that change was halted immediately as new Ravens signing Beatrice Power launched a stinging shot from distance that flew into the net past new goalkeeper Ash McIntyre. That was tough on City, who then had to weather a storm as the clouds converged on Landen Stadium. The bustling Billie Letsios then played in Ishbel Collins but the City defence scrambled well, and Collins had a great chance when played clean through but McIntyre saved well with her legs and the score remained at 4-0 for the Ravens.

City were being forced back continually, and Annabelle Gerard did well to concede a corner when surrounded by Ravens players, facing her goal with a bouncing ball. An hour had passed and City were yet to put any meaningful attacks together in the second half when disaster struck. A ball was smashed into the area and screams of handball resulted in the referee pointing immediately to the spot. VAR was not called upon. Up stepped Letsios to send McIntyre the wrong way for fifth Ravens goal.

City, to their credit, began to get some traction in the Ravens half, exciting wing play on both sides of the field giving the Ravens defence plenty to do. But they still had to contend with the Ravens attack and after surviving a glorious chance a moment earlier, their luck ran out. Letsios was given way too much room in the middle of the penalty area, her shot wasn’t as clean as she liked, but the ball bounced off the post as time stood still, and deflected off the leg of the unfortunate McIntyre and into the net for a freak sixth goal.

In adversity it is often the time when the true colours of a team come shining through, and City never gave up on their priniciples and formation. The moment the home fans had been waiting for lit up the stadium as the gloom descended and the thunder rumbled in the distance. Izzy Saunders received the ball on the left-hand side. She had it all to do, but set off on a powerful run that took her around her defender, and as the goalkeeper advanced, she dinked an exquisite ball over the outstretched hand and into the net, wheeling away in delight at what may have only been a consolation goal, but was a very tidy move and finish to lighten the mood.

Time was ticking away and the skies were looking ominous. There was time for one more Christmas cracker from Beatrice Power to thrill the crowd, her shot from distance finding the top corner to complete the scoring and blow the scoreline out to 7-1. With the rain starting to fall and the rumbles and flashes getting closer, the referee conferred with his assistant and decided that the final three minutes would be abandonned and the final whistle brought an absorbing pre-season encounter to a close.

What had Blacktown City learned from this pre-season encounter? The main takeaway will be the need for belief, with many players hustled off the ball by a faster, more direct and aggressive player; fitness will also be high on the agenda in the new year. On the flipside, the players looked like a team and tried to stick to a game plan even in the face of fierce pressure. The future is bright for both clubs, Blacktown City looking to make waves in League One, while the Ravens hoping to establish themselves as a force in the top flight of Women’s NPL football. Bring on the new season!

Thanks for reading. This news feed has taken a new direction, and this game was the ideal transition from Gladesville Ravens to Blacktown City. Thanks to everyone at the Ravens over the years for contributing to and consuming the weekly wrap, and good luck for the 2024 season. We now turn our attention to Blacktown, and what will hopefully be a beautiful story during the next 10 months or so of NPL Under 20s football. Have a browse around this website to see what this is all about, and stay tuned for more. If you’re a camera whiz, share some photos and we’ll put them in each week – most games will be under lights, so conditions will be challenging!

Slender Sydney success in epic monsoon

Sydney FC 3 Perth Glory 2

The spirit of Kogarah returned to the Cove on Saturday as a low-key fixture with Perth Glory turned into one of the all-time classic footballing occasions at Allianz Stadium. On the back of a home Sydney derby defeat and an overall poor start to the season, expectations were low coming into this third game of the Ufuk Talay era, but what looked like a routine home victory at half time turned into a magical experience for every fan at the venue.

Running a little late, we set off from Meadowbank Station at 5.30pm, breezing into the Crown Hotel not long after 6.15pm for a couple of drinks to start the evening. Michelle had won a prize from the Cove’s season opening raffle and got her hands on the merch, a signed women’s jersey, so cool. Got to be in it to win it. The crowd had thinned out already, most fans heading to the stadium early. With our mate Billy in tow, we left in good time to walk the route of the usual march, across the bridge and up the steps to Allianz Stadium, after having a guess at how many balls were in the boot of the car.

A young goalkeeper was guarding the inflatable goal outside the gate, saving everything his peers could throw at him, and we entered our gate quickly, the crowd being much smaller than the last fixture here. The Cove was in place, the Paramount+ pundits had their desk in the corner, and the players were still warming up. Our section in Cove Heights was almost deserted, and our fears of a low crowd appared to be justified. Hopefully the action on the field would save the day.

Sydney got off to an horrific start. They were second best to the ball and Perth managed to hit the post with Rhyan Grant and Andrew Redmayne getting lucky. Former striker Luke Ivanovic showed exactly why Sydney FC offloaded him by screwing a shot past the post when he had a free shot on goal, and there were groans around the stadium as Perth continued to boss the opening stages, albeit with no reward. Sporting their new Harbour Splash third kit to boost sales before Christmas, the players were matched by their fans wearing the new Cove designs, “100% Sydney Shit” perhaps too confusing a motif for the less down-with-the-kids demographic in the crowd.

Shooting towards the huge empty bank of away fans, Sydney did manage to turn the game around completely after their treacherous opening, and took the lead when Joe Lolley’s attempted finish was saved, and the ball eventually fell back to the classy winger, who bent the ball around the keeper and into the top corner of the net for a glorious opening goal.

There had already been some action in the home end, some unsuspecting overseas casuals not adhering to the “Sing or Fuck Off” mantra of Bay 23 and being put in their place, the boys in blue intervening to prevent any nonsense, and the intensity of the Cove went up another notch. Now buoyant after seeing their team take the lead, the fans were again thrilled just before the break when Robert Mak picked up the ball outside the area and dribbled through a sea of players, somehow coming out with the ball, and his clever shimmy saw him make the space to shoot into the corner of Cameron Cook’s goal for 2-0. The half-time whistle brought a peculiarly undulating first half to a close and Sydney FC were for once in the driving seat at home.

The first sign of what was to come was the failure of the half-time heroes to appear – they were from our association this week, and we were looking forward to seeing some familiar shirts in action. However, it turned out that lightning was in the area and it was too dangerous to send the kids out. I walked around and said hello and thanks for coming to Big Red, Perth Glory’s legendary away fan, who was doing his best to give his team a presence tonight. Still no half time heroes, all the security and photographers had gone, and as I quickened the pace to make it back to my seat by the end of half time, the message came over the PA that the game had been delayed. Conditions were perfect for football right now, but lightning had been flashing in the sky behind the Western Stand and we would need to wait for a resumption.

So the Sydney FC fans did what they do best, and that was to entertain themselves. The TV crew raced out to bring in their desk and any equipment – there must have been a tip-off of some wild weather to come. When the rain came it was a monsoon. The promise that all seats were protected from the elements by the roof, a hollow promise that has been proven false many times already, was again underlined as the Cove copped a drenching and the fans on all other sides made for the cover of the concourse. Shirts off in the Cove, came the chant as the fans mocked the rainstorm conditions. Cove drummer and Cove capo swapped roles, a medley of songs over the PA was sung along to and the mood was definitely one of party and celebration. Plenty of time for more beers, some fans played keep-up in the concourse to while away the time, and the rumours swirled about how long the window would be to restart the game before evening noise curfews kicked in.

When the second half finally got underway, it was 10.30pm, a good two hours after the first half had ended. This was definitely the latest we’d seen Sydney FC play. We were suitably refreshed, the last of the food had been bought from the remaining outlets that were open, and the game restarted after a comical pitch inspection and a once-over with a roller to squeeze out the moisture in the penalty area. Sydney were all over their opponents, but half-time Glory sub Stefan Colakovski’s blushes were spared when he scuffed a shot wide of the open goal with Redders on the floor injured, World Cup referee Ali Faghani blowing for the foul. When Adam Taggart found himself in acres of space to slot home, all eyes were on the assistant referee, and the players expected an offside outcome from the VAR. Incredibly the goal stood and Sydney FC had put themselves right back into the contest, letting their fellow strugglers find a way back to within a goal of parity. Still not convinced that was onside.

The third Sydney goal, when it came, was a relief. Some enterprise out wide, a lovely ball from Fabio to sub Mitchell Glasson, and a scuffed shot that came off the last defender and wrong-footed Cook in goal, and the ball rolled home, Glasson giving it the full Josh Kennedy in front of the home fans before his delighted teammates caught up to join the celebration. Brilliant! Surely the game was sewn up, but of course not… moments later Oli Bozanic curled in a free-kick from out wide, the set-piece equivalent of an Olimpico, into the top corner of the goal to embarrass Redders, and the two-goal cushion was whipped away again.

Thankfully, that was it. There was a bit of injury time, nothing too stressful, but the final whistle was greeted with excitement and relief. The horribly awkward post-match scenes from the derby last week had been averted, and the players hastily gathered to celebrate with the fans, conscious of the late hour and the desire to wrap up this epic occasion.

Michelle had a chat with new CEO Mark Aubrey, the players were very open to photos and signatures, but with the clock well after 11pm, it was time to head off home, and we did so with a spring in our step.

There were plenty of Light Rail trams to take us back to Central, the nearby Good Things festival in Centennial Park having been shut down early, and from there we got lucky with the changeover and were home some time after midnight, passing the Night buses to remind us just how late it was.

This had been a fabulous evening’s entertainment. A seemingly routine victory in front of a meagre crowd had turned into one big party, shirts off and dancing in the rain, and this one will be remembered for a long time to come by everyone in attendance at Allianz Stadium tonight. Forza Sydney FC!

Sydney done by half-time

An incredible game on Sunday at an unusual venue saw Sydney FC swept aside in a disastrous first half before the game turned either side of a half-hour lightning pause and Melbourne City almost coughed up an unlikely point. The fervour in the stadium as the final 15 minutes unfolded continued past the final whistle, and the feel-good factor of the FIFA Women’s World Cup was plain to see, young girls and boys desperate to meet and greet their heroes.

Indiana Dos Santos in warm-up

A sticky, beaming sunshine greeted the players while the fans sheltered from the heat and the sun in the one and only stand at the Sydney Olympic Athletics Centre. This was a first time at this venue, with the usual Kogarah and Leichhardt options out of action, but everyone in attendance would be pleasantly surprised by the facilities and the atmosphere as the main stand filled up with eager fans. The Cove were in attendance as always, MMTV the capo to lead away the chants, and everything seemed as it should.

The warm-up looked a little laboured from both sides, the sapping conditions not conducive to hard sprints and lengthy warm-ups. The Sydney players happily smashed in shots against Jada Whyman and Tahlia Franco before it was time to go down the tunnel, the fans giving them generous applause as they left the field. They reappeared with their counterparts to cheers, as they went about their awkward high-five routine, mini-mascots being ushered into place. The huddle didn’t seem convincing, and there was an unsure air about the team, especially when they were turned around to shoot against the wind.

Shea Connors somehow comes away with the ball in a sea of legs

The Sky Blues though looked in control early on, and they were getting a lot of joy down the right, Tori Tumeth and Shea Connors given acres of space to run at their defenders, but the chance wouldn’t come. Corners were swung in aimlessly, the imposing Taylor Otto winning everything in the air, but it was still a shock when Melbourne City fashioned their first real chance and Julia Grosso spun onto Rhianna Pollicina’s through ball to fire past Whyman for 1-0.

Taylor Otto gets help from Naomi Chinnama to clear the danger

Whyman must have got a slight touch to a Pollicina shot to concede a corner soon after, and the corner was swept in from the right by Emina Ekic. There were echoes of Kyra Cooney-Cross as every player was wrong-footed by the swirling wind, and by the time Whyman reacted, the ball had sailed in at the far post for the most unlikely Olimpico. There was disbelief around the stadium, and the City players took an eternity to return to the field, almost forgetting where they were as they took on drinks and coaching advice on the sideline. The referee was quick to summon them back.

Jess Seaman goes close with a volley from a corner

Sydney FC continued to probe, but there was little to cheer. Ibini fired in a shot that was deflected wide; she had the beating of her marker on more than one occasion, but the delivery was without reward. Jess Seaman connected on the volley to send one just wide and Fiona Worts opted to shoot first time, but the awkward bouncing ball was sent way over.

Quite obvious where the shot put takes place at the athletics stadium – all holes well filled in though

The playing surface was pristine, apart from a series of pock marks next to the shot-putt circle, the main use of this venue clear from the large gap between main stand and field of play that contained the running track and the long jump pit. City were commanding their area, despite allowing Sydney to build up well down both flanks, Lysianne Proulx was dominant and they looked in no danger whatsoever.

More decisive defending from Melbourne City

Right on half time, City struck again, and it was made by the excellent Kaitlyn Torpey, turning past Abbey Lemon to feed Grosso who slipped in Pollicina. Her deft finish was somehow kept off the line by Tumeth but fell for Daniela Galic, and the Sydney-born midfielder smashed the ball into the top right-hand corner of the net for 3-0, and the half-time whistle blew. What a whirlwind, and for all their possession, Sydney FC had crumbled.

Sydney FC under siege again at the start of the second half

The second half was only a few moments old and Sydney went close; Shea Connors stung the palms of Proulx. In truth though, City could and should have gone further ahead and it was only some scrambling in the heart of the defence and the width of the crossbar that kept the score down as Torpey threatened to run riot again.

The sight of Hannah Wilkinson coming on was enough to strike fear into the Sydney fans and players that this could get even worse, but to their credit, Sydney kept pushing and finally got their reward when Taylor Ray smashed in a low shot from a cleared free-kick and half-time substitute Jordan Thompson somehow managed to dink the ball over Proulx and into the corner of the net. The crowd was awake again. A glimmer of hope.

Where you go we always follow you. The Cove in full voice.

There was confusion moments later as the game was halted, the players making their way off the field, the rumbles of thunder turning into rain, and some of the more casual fans may have thought the game was over. A 15-minute delay was announced, while the TV broadcast said 30 minutes, and all players and staff made their way to the sanctuary under cover.

The game restarted over 30 minutes later, after an extended warm-up as the sun re-emerged to cast long shadows over the field. Could Sydney snatch an unlikely point from this game? There were still 10 minutes remaining when Charlotte Mclean connected with a clearance from a corner. Her low shot seemed to be going into the sea of legs, but a touch from Aideen Keane sent the ball spinning into the corner of the goal with Proulx unimpressed at her ill-fortune for a second time. The crowd was at fever pitch, and the last 10 minutes was teed up for drama, the fans and the players sensing the change in complexion in a game that had been out of reach at half-time.

Lysianne Proulx can’t believe she’s been beaten

Despite a spirited effort, Sydney FC couldn’t find that moment of magic. Worts just missed a glorious cross from the right by Sienna Saveska, Ibini played some puzzling through balls and refused to take on her player, finally earning a yellow card for her frustration. Thompson beat her player to lift in a cross as time ran out and Proulx was out smartly to smother, dropping to her knees in true game management style. The final whistle brought the valiant comeback effort to an end, the players weren’t sure what to do and remained in the technical areas until the fans started to urge them across.

Er, I’m still here… Abbey Lemon can’t compete with Cortnee Vine’s star power.

The players of both teams interacted beautifully and extensively with the young fans, injured pair Nat Tobin and Cortnee Vine being given a lot of love by the Sydney faithful, and this extended afternoon finally came to an end when the last of the players had gone down the tunnel, mums and dads looking at their watches in despair on this school night as Sunday night plans just got trickier.

This was a wonderful occasion. The venue choice had been criticised in the lead-up but proved to be ideal, despite the action being far away. The facilities, the ease of entry, the abundance of parking and the lovely playing surface made for a successful afternoon, and the fans were all in good spirits despite the lengthy delay while the storm passed through and despite the defeat for the home team. Ante Juric will have a lot to dissect from this performance; on another day, with some more belief in the last third, they could have been in front in the first half, but defensively they were carved apart too often.

A week off now to watch the Matildas in action, before a trip to Newcastle in two weeks as Sydney go in search of a kick-start to their stuttering start to the 2023/24 A-League season.

Thanks for reading. If you would like to use any of the photos, or would like to see more, let me know. I’ve got heaps! If you like what you read, give me a shout on socials, and we’ll see you back here soon for more!

Sydney derby blues

Sydney FC 0 Western Sydney Wanderers 1

What shaped up to be a fantastic night of football ended in bitter disappointment for a bumper A-League crowd at Allianz Stadium on Saturday. A solitary goal was enough to send the three points along Victoria Road and signalled a false dawn of the new era at our majestic home under Ufuk Talay. But it wasn’t all doom and gloom. How good was the tifo?

An afternoon in Five Dock drinking fresh brews from the barrels at Joel’s 40th birthday meant we were going to be arriving with a less than fresh mind, and as it turned out we were dropped at the Crown Hotel a few minutes after the rest of the Cove fans had headed off to the meeting point for the march to the stadium. This was our first game of the season following the jollies to watch the national teams, and the march had a new starting point, on the stadium side of the bridge. The Cove were in good form, there was a decent turnout and the mood suggested a quiet air of confidence for a very tricky fixture against our fiercest rivals.

Getting to the stadium early, as the march tends to, allowed a quick look around the stadium to see what’s changed – the store was doing a roaring trade, there were a good number of fans filtering in, although the away end looked quite sparse as the Wanderers players went through their warm-ups. Of course that would all change as kick-off approached and the away end filled out – there was even an edge of the eastern side taken up by Wanderers fans too, so we were definitely in for a good atmosphere.

Finding our seats, there were Cove members up in Cove Heights in front of the big screen, holding a tifo, getting ready to pass it down the front – surely it wouldn’t be that big to cover the top and bottom sections of the home end. On cue, albeit slightly out of synch, the tifo was passed down. We had no idea what it was, it looked a bit like an aboriginal artwork with earthy colours surrounding some sky blue, and it remained in place for ages as we held and pushed the material with our outstretched hands. The players had come out, We Are Sydney was in full roar, and we had no idea what was going on over the top of the tifo – kinda magical really, like being in a tent in a storm. Eventually, against expectations of it being passed all the way down, the tifo was collected upwards, and didn’t quite manage to make it all the way up, the weight and volume of the record-breaking artwork truly a logistical challenge. Social media showed us what we had been holding, and it was incredible. The A-League had stepped it up a notch, and Sydney FC had set the standard. West west and alone.

The smoke was by now billowing through the air, the We Are Sydney chant continued unabated, and the action was underway on the field. The Wanderers fans were bouncing, and they looked to have taken the lead early on when a long ball was taken quickly from a free-kick, nodded across goal and headed home. Happily, VAR was on hand to spoil the party in the visitors’ enclosure, and the proverbial bee’s dick of a VAR decision had gone our way to enhance the Sydney consipracy theories. It certainly didn’t look offside on the replay.

The action was frenetic at times, but it did still have the smell of a Steve Corica set up. The only difference was the odd long ball onto the head of Fabio up front, who managed to win a few, but frustratingly there was no plan for the flick-on and the Wanderers swept up easily. Sydney were shooting towards the Cove, a sure-fire sign that West Sydney had won the toss, and we got a sighter from Jaiden Kucharski as he fired in a shot that whistled past the post. Joe Lolley looked as composed as ever, honestly the way he takes a high ball out of the air is effortless, although he was less clinical than we would like. The stadium was bouncing at both ends, this was what we’d been craving from the A-League. The Wanderers had the best chances, the Sydney defence deciding to afford Marcelo the freedom of the penalty area from set-pieces, Redders somehow saving at the far end after the ball had struck the bar. Goalless at half-time was just about right, but had made a mockery of my 5-0 prediction.

Half-time wasn’t the usual circling of the stadium – it was way too busy – but the crowds for the toilets and food were concentrated at the ends, while those at the sides of the stadium were just right. We were back in our seats way before the teams appeared for the second half and we anxiously awaited the action.

The second 45 minutes will be remembered for two things. Firstly Laurence Thomas slipped as he kicked out from the back, the ball landing at Kucharski’s feet with an open goal in front of him. For some reason he took it first time, screwing the ball back towards Thomas who was scrambling back across goal, and the ball was deflected away. All it needed was a moment of control and a side-foot into the empty net. What a chance, and it looked even worse on the replay. As frustration grew, and Marcelo continued to rise unchallenged in the box, albeit to no avail, the substitutions started. We’d already seen Rhyan Grant appear at half time, and the much-maligned Jordan Courtney-Perkins came on to replace Joel King, who had been in the wars.

Cue the goal, and it was a combination of patient passing and dreadful defending. The Wanderers drew Sydney FC out and an unexpected flick-on caught two defenders way too high, Wanderers had two-on-one, and Zac Sapsford stepped inside to slam the ball home in front of the Cove, giving Andrew Redmayne no chance.

The remainder of the game was stop-start. Luke Bratten was putting his body on the line, an impromptu drinks break allowing both teams a moment to breathe. Western Sydney Wanderers called upon Game Management 1.01 as the clock ticked down and there was nothing Sydney FC could do about it. Even when Paddy Wood nipped in to steal the ball from Thomas’ grasp, the ball wouldn’t sit for him and the resulting shot from Brattan ended up in the Wanderers fans, much to their delight.

The final whistle brought delirium at the far end and the players quite rightly milked it with their jubilant fans, but the scene in front of Bay 23 was anything but joyful. The players came across, even hurdling the advertising hoardings to be with the fans. But being on the wrong end of a derby defeat, it wasn’t clear what they were meant to do. Hardly the right time to join hands and cheer with the supporters. The Cove just weren’t having it. It was an awkward stand-off, the players not knowing what to do, apart from a couple who had split off from the group and were signing autographs. A good number of fans let the players know what they thought; it was like the naughty boys had been called up on stage at assembly and were being made to listen red-faced to a rap sheet of their misdemeanours.

Meanwhile the party continued at the other end. The Cove emptied, and there was very little cheer, just a stone-cold acceptance that the good times definitely had not returned and that the Talay magic might take some time to take effect.

Enduring a light rail ride with bouncing Wanderers fans was not high on our list – luckily Renee had parked in Sydney Boys’ high school car park and we made a speedy exit without having to face the gloating red and black fans on the way out west from Central.

What a night. What a day in fact; scenes just like the Big Blue opening fixture last year when all the hype and optimism went to shit in our own back yard. We’re yet to experience Allianz as a fortress, and it is certainly going to be tough to entice some of those casual fans back for next Saturday against Perth Glory. For those Sydney fans who were there tonight though, despite the result, this was certainly an A-League spectacle, and the entertainment was first class. See you all next Saturday when we start to put things right.

Australia Disunited

For those with keen hearing, it might have been picked up on the TV coverage, but for those who were there at AAMI Park for the FIFA World Cup 2026 qualifier between Australia and Bangladesh, it was quite obvious. Anti-Sydney FC chants. And not just one or two fans. What on earth was the context for this club rivalry to be brought to the national stage?

Socceroos active fans loving life at the World Cup

Following the ridiculing of the visitors’ national anthem and a lack of respect for the Welcome to Country, this was another embarrassing moment for the real football fans from a city that has been crying out for more major football events. It is universally accepted that club rivalries are set aside and Australia unites as one when the national teams play, and aside from the odd chant that is deemed too close to a club song and is quickly drowned out, there has never been any animosity between fans anywhere else in the country. After all, we are one and free. So why did some elements of the Melbourne crowd feel it necessary to berate their long-term rivals instead of join with their fellow Aussies to help cheer on their team to a marvellous high-scoring victory on a night of celebration? There were plenty of other things to sing about – it was the anniversary, to the day, of John Aloisi’s penalty in 2005, it was the week when the heroes of 1973 were honoured and it was Graham Arnold’s record-breaking game in charge.

Is the rivalry between Melbourne Victory and Sydney FC so strong that it can’t be supressed for the Green and Gold? Those Sydney FC fans who travelled as Socceroos fans on Thursday may well have been singing the alternative words to We Are Australian under their breath, but to be barracked at a national team game by your own supporters, wearing the same shirts and following the same team, is difficult to comprehend. One of Australian football’s staunchest fans, who was there to help set up the Active area before the game on Thursday, laying out flags and tying up banners for fellow fans to enjoy, even had the ignominy of listening to chants against his club side. Over the megaphone he had brought to the game. Even to the most ardent of fans of club football, that is not cool, and the megaphone was quickly ‘disappeared’ to avert any further damaging nonsense.

Australia fans uniting to be the 12th man

Is it any wonder that Socceroos Active support often struggles to get it right when elements of the crowd are intent on driving a wedge between the participants? There is a fine line between friendly banter and inappropriate heckling, and some of those so-called fans at the Melbourne Rectangular Stadium definitely crossed that invisible line. Not cheering for Jamie Maclaren because he’s a City player? Come on… Just imagine how good the atmosphere would be if that misguided passion was directed instead towards the action on the field?

When Mum and Dad See Me Kick

The number of books I consume during a year is alarmingly low, but there are some books that definitely leave you wanting more. This one from celebrated sports writer Stuart Thomas was one of them, and it left me wondering whether there could or should be another set of stories to follow this one up. The author is a former English teacher, so you’re in for grammatically pristine text, well-formed sentences and paragraphs, delightful prose that skips off the page, but more than that, he is a football fanatic and it shows.

This is a collection of short stories, ten of them, and they begin with the very short story of Tilly, age 6, who is just beginning her footballing journey. It is a fantastic introduction to what this book is all about – a beautiful melange of stories from across the spectrum of everyday footballers young and old – and, whilst I was kind of expecting that story to be written as a 6-year-old (it wasn’t quite), it set the scene for the remaining nine stories. It’s where most of us started, so was a logical beginning.

The common denominator of the ten stories is that the subject has become part of the worlds biggest community, some more easily than others. There are tales of immigrants, stories of the difficulties of fitting in, anecdotes of key moments that moulded amateur football careers, injuries and some sensitive themes that keep the reader completely engaged.

Being a collection short stories, you can put the book down and resume later. That’s what I did. There was no pressure to remember the storyline, as the chapters only had football as the common theme. But once I’d picked it up a third or fourth time, there was no stopping until the end, and I found myself reading into the early hours. The final chapter is introspective by the author, revealing even – if you hadn’t taken notice, you may not have noticed that the chapter shares the same name as the author – and demonstrates someone who became part of the football community via a very different route.

There’s a lot to love about this book. Whilst it could be fiction, I’m certain that it is not. In fact I know of one of the subjects, and that chapter is completely factual. It’s not afraid to cover themes that could make the reader uncomfortable, and does so with care and thought.

Well done Stuart on some fine work. I’m so glad to have read your first book, and I am absolutely certain that there will be many more to come. And I never knew you ran a kindergarten… oh wait, not that kind of nursery.

Harsh lessons for NPL girls

Even before the final whistle sounded on the final day of the 2023 Football NSW Girls Youth League Under 16 season, all the girls could think about was 2024. Moving into the most important years of schooling, skipping an age group to Under 18s, or in the case of Division 2, straight to Under 20s, this was a tense period of uncertainty cast upon a large proportion of players. Clubs had already made their minds up about player retentions, most clubs had even earmarked a number of players to join their squads for next year, scouted from the huge pool of eager talent at youth level. The fervour of the Matildas’ incredible run in their home World Cup had reignited passion for the beautiful game across the state, and the interest to play was at an all-time high.

With no Under 17s at club or NPL level, the number of openings available to the girls was instantly slashed. Clubs from around Sydney conducted trainings sessions, inviting players of interest to join. These were not trials – the official trial period in NPL youth football tends to be a strict timeline that forces trial dates to clash all over the state – and sometimes they were simply training sessions to assess one or two potential new recruits and to confirm that players were or were not wanted. For those players in Division 1, a full squad of up to 18 players from the Under 16s would join together with the remaining 17-year-olds, and any potential star recruits, to make a pool of upwards of 35 players hoping to fit into a 2024 under 18s squad of 18. That’s half of the current players instantly frozen out.

And a number of those players were never going to make it. In the meantime, to the unsuspecting parents, who had not had their girls trial for a number of years and had happily parted with handsome fees every year for the privilege of playing at the top level, this was a sudden shock to the system. Some wily parents got in quick and accepted that there was a reason their daughter was not going to be retained, and took offers from elsewhere ahead of the trial period. When the trial period opened, others pinned their hopes on trials at their own club, or at other clubs, where the same groups of players would be seen going from trial to trial, club to club, some even attending three trial sessions with different clubs on the one Super Sunday in early October. There was also a group of players who simply decided to call time or press pause on their football careers, and the quality of some of the players who fell into that category was simply unforgiveable. The natural attrition at this age group, due to the upcoming school commitments of HSC, the decision to concentrate on other conflicting pursuits and the physical demands on changing bodies is perhaps a factor as to why the Under 17 age group does not exist, or even why Division 2 jumps from Under 16s straight into Under 20s football. But in 2023, of all years, the abrupt curtailment of a fledgling career is hard to understand.

Trials would often be oversubscribed, lengthy, and unproductive. By the third trial session at a club, had there been not even a glance in a player’s direction by the coaching staff, it was time to move on. By the end of the trial period, there was either a panic to find a spot anywhere, or an acceptance that natural selection had just taken place. The Facebook group, a real meal of a name in Trial Information for Football NSW Boys & Girls Youth League, AYL & (G)SAP, but a fantastic resource for finding remaining trials and squads requiring players, became the go-to page on social media for anxious parents and their daughters. The rumour-mill was in overdrive too, tales of players accepting positions, but then deciding to move on when something better came up. Were Sutherland Shire FA in or out for 2024? Had Blacktown Spartans recruited a number of Bankstown players? Why were the Hills United trials on so late? How would the Central Coast Mariners recruits manage playing in Sydney? Why did Inter Lions and UNSW have their trials on the same night? Did clubs regret offering so many positions to 2023 players before the trials, given the enormous interest?

Hopefully everyone has now settled on a direction that continues their involvement in football at an appropriate level. Club football will be booming in 2024 with an influx of skilful players with National Premier League experience, and also on the back of the most incredible year for female football in this country. Whatever happens, the class of 2023 for Under 16s has just negotiated the choppiest of waters, and must be congratulated for their resilience, patience and persistence. Pre-season training is underway, and we will see the first pre-season hit-outs before Christmas that set the scene for the coming year.

For the Under 16s class of 2024, take heed.

Matildas finally find the key

Australia 3 Chinese Taipei 0

An attacking starting line-up boasting a wealth of experience signalled the intent of the Matildas coach Tony Gustavsson in what most observers expected to be a formality against Chinese Taipei. With Cortnee Vine dispatched back to Sydney with a hamstring injury and Emily Van Egmond and Ellie Carpenter given early leave to rejoin their respective clubs, the substitutes bench had a threadbare look, yet frustratingly there was still no starting berth for fan favourites Charli Grant and Alex Chidiac. A hot day in Perth gave way to a beautiful spring evening, the Philippines and Iran having done battle in the hottest part of the day in the early kick-off of the double-header. The crowd slowly filled the green seats of HBF Park, the safe standing of the Shed at the Northern End of this compact stadium the first area to get vocal. The dropping of the sun immediately gave this a big-game feel and there was a sense of anticipation as the camera scanned the young crowd for signs. The announcement of the players drew a huge roar for Mackenzie Arnold and Sam Kerr, and the ferver continued through the substitutes and even on to the coach.

Chines Taipei changed the teams around, Australia shooting towards the Shed in the first half, Arnold receiving a raucous welcome at the Southern End ahead of kick off. The opening moments allowed the crowd to marvel at the attacking formation, Sam Kerr almost twisting her way through in the first minute. The passing, in truth, was a little sloppy, memories of the precision play that carved the Philippines apart on Sunday fading fast. Having said that, it was clear who the favourites tonight. Clare Wheeler had the game by the scruff of the neck, and Caitlin Foord stung the palms of the Chinese Taipei goalkeeper Cheng Ssu-Yu. A sliced clearance of Andrew Redmayne proportions then presented Steph Catley with a corner and Alanna Kennedy’s free header should have been on target. Mary Fowler caught a clearance on the half volley that struck the inside of the post to raise the tempo, and it was all Australia. Hayley Raso scuffed a shot when well-placed, surely it was a matter of time.

The frustrated figure of Tony Gustavsson spun in dismay as his team almost ran out of ideas, and when Mary Fowler blazed over from a clever corner routine he would have been exasperated. Kerr chose to pass when she turned smartly on the edge of the area, and Kyra Cooney-Cross smashed another shot way over the bar. Boos rang out as the referee refused to award another corner, but the way Chinese Taipei were playing out from the back, a goal kick was almost as fruitful. Foord brought a good save from Ssu-Yu. Katrina Gorry maybe should have done better, miskicking a shot into the goalkeeper’s grateful arms, and it was clear that the ball into feet for the strikers to lay off would be the key to unlocking the stubborn defence of the visitors.

Kerr had a clear penalty shout when she was unceremoniously pushed off the ball from another Cooney-Cross corner from the left, but the referee was on the spot and unmoved. Another shot from Fowler brought screams for a handball but it was from point-blank range and off the body. Gustavsson looked on hopefully. Australia couldn’t get through the wall of white shirts, the classic ploy of holding firm and sending only one player out to challenge for the ball was working. Kerr headed over when Raso finally beat her player down the right, and all Chinese Taipei could do was hack the ball away into touch, with little attacking intent of their own. Half time was greeted with generous applause. Australia had been dominant, but the scores remained somehow locked at 0-0.

The smiling face of Charli Grant was introduced as the second half got underway, Lydia Williams replacing the under-employed Mackenzie Arnold, and the Matildas appeared to slim down their defence to two as they went for the jugular. Kerr mis-controlled at the wrong time when played clean through, Fowler teased her way down the left but looked non-plussed with the lack of movement in the box and her cross was hopeful rather than purposeful. Foord teased in a cross from the right that Kerr headed wide. This was agony for the watching fans as the home team stroked the ball around looking for the way through. Gorry fizzed in a shot, but by now the Matildas were looking for the high-percentage ball and reluctant to swing the ball in without a clear target.

Raso’s attempted volley just before the hour mark typified the Matildas’ luck, but they almost found the way through when Foord danced through to fire straight at Ssu-Yu. Chinese Taipei shuffled the pack but maintained the tight midfield block. Just as Amy Sayer was about to take the field, Fowler cut in from the left and unleashed an unstoppable shot from the edge of the area to give the Matildas the breakthrough they craved. It was as good if not better than Wheeler’s strike on the weekend, and as Chinese Taipei tried to respond, they were caught out in midfield and Australia should have added a second, the offside flag stopping Fowler in her tracks as she raced on to Raso’s ball. That was Raso’s final contribution as Sayer appeared, Gustavsson determined to be proven right about her talent and potential.

It was 2-0 soon after. Foord teased her defender to the by-line and drilled in a cross. The ball hit a defender at pace and looked straightforward for the goalkeeper to gather, but the ball bounced kindly for Kerr, who ghosted in like the world-class striker she is to poke home from a yard out. That was her final moment as Tameka Yallop replaced her. Steph Catley smashed in a shot that was deflected wide, Foord again cut inside and was unfortunate to see her shot pushed wide. Gorry and Yallop stole the ball in midfield, the pint-sized Gorry sizing up the shot that was brilliantly tipped over. The broad shoulders of Cooney-Cross took control in midfield, the mood had changed completely, the goals were flowing. When Foord did everything in her power to bundle the ball in from the left, the ball fell for Sayer on the right, but the angle was too acute and she fed Yallop who made no mistake to add the third. HBF Park was rocking.

Steph Catley’s day was done and she was replaced by Courtney Nevin for a 15-minute cameo and Australia continued to search for goals to wrap up this ultimately successful Olympic qualifying second round campaign. The crowd of 19,084 started to thin out as families left, secure in the knowledge that their beloved Matildas had teed up an enormous must-win two-legged tie against one of the powerhouses of Asian women’s football. Sayer raced on to Kennedy’s long ball to tease in a cross that Yallop did well to challenge for with the goalkeeper, play paused while Ssu-Yu was scraped off the floor. You know when you’ve been in a challenge with Tameka Yallop.

Grant fired one in from distance, Foord continued to trick her way down the right, but there was no end result. The players seemed to be trying to tee up a goal for Amy Sayer, but it was Foord who looked the most likely, cutting inside once more to fire in a rocket that Ssu-Yu saved. Sayer almost got her chance when Gorry missed a header but she couldn’t react, Fowler smashed in a shot that went just wide, and the five minutes of added time were all played in the Chinese Taipei half. The final whistle saw players and fans punch the air, Men at Work blasted through the PA system, and Mary Fowler was announced as the player of the match.

The result was exactly what was required, the magnitude perhaps underwhelming, and all credit must go to the visiting Chinese Taipei team who battled well and soaked up the applause from their fans in the Southern corner of the stadium. A strange scene unfolded as the players would normally celebrate with their families, police present to supervise as the players got into their customary huddle. Tony Gustavsson was clearly happy with the outcome, and the players set off on their lap of the stadium, crossing over awkwardly with the Chinese Taipei team at halfway. This was a beautiful scenario, all fans happy, all players satisfied with the outcome and a huge roar enveloped the stadium as the young fans urged the players to approach the stands. Beatle-mania all over again. The Matildas had won the hearts of Perth and were leaving as even bigger heroes. The Chinese Taipei team passed the Shed to a chant of Taiwan, Taiwan.

We now await the configuration of the mysterious third round of Olympic qualifying. We know it will be home and away against a very difficult opponent, but we don’t know who, the AFC making up the rules as they go. A big thank you Western Australia for putting on a great show over the last week; this place is football crazy.

Foord in control over Bolden

Philippines 0 Australia 8

Swathes of empty seats at kick off at Optus Stadium were testament to the conflicting reports of a maximum attendance in the key Olympic qualifying clash between the Matildas and the Philippines on Sunday, or more likely were down to the Australian sporting public’s insistence on arriving to major events bang on kick off. An absolutely picture-perfect afternoon, black clouds looming but bright sunshine, had this monolithic stadium sparkling, and the Matildas started the game in offensive mode, Mary Fowler getting in on the left to flick in a near post cross and Sarina Bolden fortunate that VAR was not in operation when the ball skimmed her arm from a searching cross.

The wasteful crossing from the Matildas suggested that running at the defence might be more fruitful and Caitlin Foord was more than happy to oblige, but the Philippines reminded the big crowd that it would not be all Australia when Bolden almost got her foot to a curling cross. The Matildas did take the lead on the quarter-hour, and it was a beautiful move, Ellie Carpenter pulling the ball back for Sam Kerr who either got lucky or showed incredibly intuition to flick the ball for Fowler to drill an unconventional shot in via the far post. The scoring continued four minutes later when Foord danced past her marker on the left and headed for the box, squaring the ball for Kerr to fire low past Olivia McDaniel.

The stadium by now was almost full, only seats reserved for fans for the second game in the double-header still empty, while the Matildas Active fans, who had relocated further back to get a better view, were a sea of green and gold, the drum running throughout the first half to accompany the flowing rhythm of the football.

The crowd was again on its feet ten minutes later to salute another brilliant goal – Mary Fowler teased on the edge of the area on the left, her cross picked out Sam Kerr, whose level of relaxation was such that she opted to lay the ball in to Foord, who had stayed onside, and Foord easily beat McDaniel to take the score to 3-0. The crowd had only just abated from that stunning goal, when Hayley Raso ran through the centre of the Philippines defence to feed Foord. She still had work to do, but muscled her way through to fire past McDaniel for her second goal and Australia’s fourth.

Moments later it could have been a hat-trick for Foord as she was played in by Fowler. She managed to get around the goalkeeper, who had closed the space well, but the audacious chip went past the far post with no one there to tap it in. The approach to half-time was a display of attacking football from the Matildas, this was no procession, and the only surprise was that the score remained 4-0 until the final attack before the break, Kerr racing clear onto an exquisite ball from Foord to smash the ball home emphatically. She turned to punch the air in front of her home crowd as everyone held year breath for an offside flag, but there was no chance that the play was coming back to be checked. The half-time whistle was met with a huge roar, Australia having put any worries to bed in an incredible first half – this full-strength Matildas team had played like the superstars they undoubtedly are.

An incredible start to the second half saw Fowler dash down the left to cut inside and deliver the perfect cross for the incoming Kerr to smash a header into the net to make it 6-0. There was no respite for the team in blue, who had made a double change at the break, and aside for some wayward passing as the Matildas tried to work out a way past the defensive block, this was one-way traffic. Clare Hunt met a cross to head just over and perhaps should have scored. Ten minutes without a goal seemed like an eternity as the Matildas continued to press for more goals, and when Foord found herself in the area in possession as a mesmerising Fowler attack seemed to break down, she simply outstripped her defender with a swift turn and smashed the ball in from an acute angle to take the scoreline to 7-0. Three goals for Sam Kerr, three goals for Caitlin Foord, this was a dream performance of attacking power from this exciting Australia team.

Bolden almost picked Hunt’s pocket, her chip from distance finding Mackenzie Arnold’s gloves instead of the back of the net. Further substitutions for the Philippines failed to stem the tide, and Gustavsson went to his bench when a lull in proceedings saw the Matildas lose concentration. A quadruple substitution saw four heavyweights replaced by four more, Cortnee Vine so close to connecting at the far post with her first touch. The verve and intent was back for the home team, and with Clare Wheeler now pulling the strings and Amy Sayer offering something different up front, the domination would continue, albeit without the same ruthless precision. When Carpenter raced down the right but opted to cut back, the opportunity looked to be gone, but Foord tucked the ball into Wheeler’s path and she made space to smash a long-range screamer past McDaniel for 8-0. What a way to score your first goal for the national team.

There were still 15 minutes remaining and Vine had already departed with an injury, crowd favourite Alex Chidiac coming on to add her fighting spirit to what could have been a procession towards the final whistle. The intensity was waning though as Chidiac was upended in the box, and the referee saved the Philippines when Amy Sayer was adjudged to have bundled into goalkeeper McDaniel. Hunt again headed over from a corner when perhaps she could have scored, and Sayer should have done better from Catley’s cross from the left as we approached added time. Emily Van Egmond passed up a chance to fire in a shot from a great position in front, trying to set up Sayer instead, and a continuous string of attacks was curtailed by the Indian referee’s final whistle.

This had been a thoroughly entertaining contest, Australia flexing their muscles and putting the Philippines to the sword. Their passage to the final round of Olympic Games qualifying for Paris 2024 had been all but assured, and they showed a cutting edge that we have rarely seen. Twelve shots on target to eight goals is an incredible conversion rate, and the crowd of 59,155 left with a spring in their step having seen two hat-tricks and a very clinical Matildas strike-force. The home players walked around the stadium to take in the adulation of the bumper crowd, while the Philippines players lined up in front of their fans to thank them for their unwavering support. Everything is good in women’s football in Australia right now, time to complete the job on Wednesday night against Chinese Taipei. See you there!