What a match. A superb late equaliser by Shane Smeltz – a header Tim Cahill would have been proud of – two coaches adamant their team deserved all three points, and a home crowd that left emotionally spent after 95 absorbing minutes.
But let’s deal with the controversy first.
The benefit of watching the game live at Allianz and then on Foxtel replay, followed by dozens of rewinds, replays and freeze frames – a luxury the referee obviously does not have – leads to the following conclusions:
Mark Milligan’s elbow to the back of Marc Janko’s head in the 10th minute, ignored by referee Strebre Delovski.
For reasons best known to themselves, Foxtel chose not to discuss or replay the incident as Marc Janko hit the ground clutching the back of his head, but here is what happened…
Mark Milligan mistakenly passes the ball to a Sydney player. The ball is then played to Janko who lays it off to Bernie Ibini.
Milligan runs in behind the Sydney striker and his left elbow appears to make contact with the back of Janko’s head.
Some players react badly to giving the ball away and Terry Antonis’ noggin can vouch for the firmness of Milligan’s elbow. So why the cone of silence?
The big one. Wrong penalty call for Gui Finkler’s foul on Seb Ryall?
Many home fans left Allianz on Saturday night convinced that Sydney were lucky to have been awarded its second penalty of the night. And every Fox commentator condemned Delovski’s decision.
Again, with the benefit of dozens of replays and freeze-frames, here’s what transpired…
As Ibini plays the through ball for Ryall, both Finkler and the Sydney #2 have eyes only for the ball. Ryall runs in from somewhat wider and as Finkler turns and chases, the back of his left heel possibly clips Ryall who is sprinting in to overtake him.
Delovski, meanwhile, is situated directly between the two players about six metres away so his line of vision is perfect. If there was contact, he would have seen it.
Could there have been no contact at all and Ryall dived or simply tripped over his own feet?
Yes. But while there isn’t a single video angle that shows either contact or daylight between the two players, Delovski had a clear view of the incident.
This is nowhere near as clear cut as Fox have made it out to be. Only one person in the stadium had the perfect view. Perhaps Delovski was right after all.
Ryall’s clip around Finkler’s head following the penalty.
This is straightforward - Ryall had no business indulging in this kind of unsportsmanlike behaviour.
Yes, Sydney fans love “Seba the Victory slayer,” but this does him no credit. Hopefully a chat with coach Graham Arnold will set him straight. He is much too good a footballer and doesn’t need to do this.
But Mark Bosnich, wonderful pundit that he is, needs to be careful in his self-righteous condemnation. The Aston Villa legend himself spent a number of EPL seasons in a glasshouse and ought to know better.
Penalty for a foul on Antonis?
Football analysts agreed that Adrian Leijer had brought the silky-skilled midfielder down in the box. But replay shows that as the defender comes across to make the tackle, Antonis cuts inside sharply to evade him. And as he does, he slips and is already on his way down as Leijer makes contact.
No penalty – correct call by Delovski.
Besart Berisha is in strife again, making obscene gestures at the Sydney fans after the match.
It’s déjà vu all over again. Berisha may be a good striker but is a loose cannon who could face suspension from the FFA. We await with interest.
To sum up the controversies, it is bad enough that most post-match commentary centred on Melbourne’s perceived injustices at the hands of Delovski. But it is at least understandable.
What is galling is that Bosnich’s post-match rant intimated that Victory’s supposed loss of points on three occasions this season is somehow unique to the southern club.
Sydney FC lost two points as a result of Alan Milliner wrongly disallowing Nikola Petkovic’s goal against Adelaide United at Cooper’s Stadium in November.
The Sky Blues were denied a further two points by a linesman’s incorrect offside call on Marc Janko against the Jets in Wollongong.
And Victory may well have scored none of their three goals on Saturday night had referee Kris Griffiths-Jones not rather bizarrely sent off Jacques Faty (and Dino Djulbic) for a minor altercation in Perth last week.
All A-League teams have suffered from controversial refereeing decisions this season, not the least Sydney FC. Singling out Victory was wrong and potentially opens a massive can of worms.
Instead, how about praising the players for a fantastic night of football?
And what a night it was. The crowd was on the edge of its seat for 95 pulsating minutes.
There is no arguing Delovski’s first penalty decision and Janko sent Nathan Coe the wrong way. Great start for the Sky Blues, whose lead was richly deserved after outplaying Victory in the opening twenty minutes.
The last twenty five minutes of the first half belonged to the visitors whose two goals were trademark – picking Sydney off on the halfway line and countering with skill and breathtaking speed.
Antonis, replacing Naumoff after the break, looked a touch off the pace but worked his way into the game. The Sydney midfield was now back to its technical best, the passing was once again crisp and the home side returned to attack mode.
Ugly scenes followed Delovski’s second penalty call of the night but the visitors recovered their composure and Nick Ansell’s bullet header in the 78th minute had them believing that all three points were theirs.
But this Sydney FC side is made of stern stuff and the home fans, now minus fingernails, always felt that the Sky Blues had another goal in them.
Aaron Calver’s cross was well directed but Smeltz still had much to do. The striker twisted his body and craned his neck, rising high above Adrian Leijer and Jason Geria to loop a pinpoint cushioned equalising header past a stranded Coe.
Allianz Stadium was now rocking, the Sky Blues had smelt blood and the visitors had to withstand a Sydney grandstand finish but held out for a share of the spoils.
Melbourne Victory are an excellent football side and may end up winning the premiership. But their complaints will receive little sympathy from other A-League clubs who have been equally or more hard done by throughout the season.
Sydney, meanwhile, will take much from this performance. Despite conceding three goals and without its starting centre backs, the baby-faced backline of Calver, Ryall, Matthew Jurman and Alex Gersbach did a fine job against the best attack in the league.
Mickael Tavares was superb at the back of midfield and launched countless attacks from deep without neglecting his defensive duties while Milos Dimitrijevic ran the show with aplomb and was again the best midfielder on the park.
Janko was not as dominant as in recent weeks, due in no small part to a number of early fouls by the visitors, but the Austrian’s replacement was all class. Smeltz must not be allowed to leave for Malaysia or anywhere else, at least until the end of the season. He is a vital squad member and has once again made a strong case for a starting spot.
Another home game coming up on Saturday night at Allianz, this one against the utterly beatable Mariners. But the coasties thrive on being underestimated so the Sky Blues must guard against complacency.
Sydney’s backline will be at full strength as Faty and Nikola Petkovic make their returns from suspension. Ryall should move back to his favourite right back spot. Or does Arnie keep faith with the fast improving Calver?
Will Antonis force his way back in or does Kiki keep his spot?
Has Smeltz done enough to displace Janko?
And will new signing Robert Stambolziev, who showed some lovely touches in his cameo against the Victory, get another opportunity off the bench?
Full points are there for the taking on Saturday night. Complete focus on the job at hand will ensure Sydney take all three.