Safro's Sydney: From bingo to bungee jumping
Sydney’s champion sides ground their opponents into the dirt while in recent seasons, the Sky Blues fought a war of attrition under Lavicka, Crook and Farina.
Sure there were glimpses of the beautiful game but these were mainly despite rather than as a result of the style of football on display.
The rot that was allowed to set in from the moment Byun Sung-hwan hit that winning penalty at Etihad in 2010 is a topic for another day but there is no doubt that the Sydney fans have hardly been entertained by their team’s football down the years.
Stodgy tactics, slow wingers and long balls punctuated by big name signings – Sydney were hardly easy on the eye, even in seasons of relative success.
Wind forward to 2015 and things could not be more different.
The fans have gone from bingo to bungee jumping in the blink of an eye and an upheaval of this kind does nothing for blood pressure.
The Sky Blues travelled to Newcastle in search of three points and records will show that their aim was duly achieved, the visitors holding on to second spot on the table with a round left to play.
But that is only part of the story.
The rest is far more entertaining, or worrying, depending on one’s viewpoint.
From a Sydney perspective, the highlight of the first half was the wonderful form of new signing Andrew Hoole, who ran rings around his opposition. Unfortunately, this is not the 2015/16 season just yet so it was Sydney FC to whom the Jets #11 gave a mountain of problems.
There is a new feeling in the Newcastle camp and the sight of Nathan Tinkler mixing it with the fans shows that perhaps the young mining tycoon is ready to lead a resurgent team to a brighter future. He is certainly talking the talk and it is also worth noting that, of the players shown the door by Phil Stubbins, only Kew Jaliens is getting regular game time, so perhaps the sackings were justifiable for reasons other than discipline alone.
Cometh the hour, cometh the man and Alex Brosque has really stood up to be counted at the business end of the season. The Sky Blues got back into the game off the back of a wonderful brace by the skipper and club legend, scored either side of Bernie Ibini’s goal that came as a result of the former Mariner’s great persistence and athleticism.
As on so many occasions this season, Sydney dropped their bundle and allowed the score to even at three apiece, bringing the number of goals that Alex Gersbach has cost his side to three on the night alone. Sydney fans will hope that the youngster’s performance does not go on to shatter his confidence while no doubt fervently praying for Nikola Petkovic’s speedy recovery.
Despite the setback, there was a sense that Sydney would conjure up a late winner and Robert Stambolziev’s goal was no less than the January signing deserved after his herculean efforts off the bench in recent weeks.
So a 3-4 away win it ended, with neither set of players walking off the field looking overly pleased with themselves.
Gersbach and goalkeeper Vedran Janjetovic may have had better games for the club but the rest of the backline functioned well. The midfield was well led by Milos Dimitrijevic but missed the graft and distribution of Mickael Tavares.
Further forward and Chris Naumoff continued to show improvement while Ibini and Brosque were Sydney’s best on the night and at times almost unplayable.
The sight of Marc Janko waving a lazy foot at a cross instead of committing to a diving header at Ben Kennedy’s goal demonstrated that this is clearly a striker no longer in form. A month ago Janko would have hit a hat-trick in a game such as this but the big Austrian put in a big physical effort nonetheless and will no doubt return to form soon.
A win at Westpac Stadium in Wellington on Sunday afternoon will see the Sky Blues end the season in second place behind Melbourne Victory and Sydney only has itself to blame for failing to accumulate enough points to win the title.
They can think back to games they dominated but went on to lose – at home to Perth, Adelaide, Wellington and Melbourne City, as well as that 0-0 draw down in Wollongong where Janko’s goal may have been wrongly disallowed but the Sky Blues should have been up 5-0 at halftime, had they finished off their chances.
These negatives aside, it has been a momentous season for Sydney FC – the best in recent years. The team has a played positive, attacking and entertaining brand of football, returning belief into the hearts of the club’s long-suffering supporters.
Tavares will make his return from injury across the Tasman while the Sydney medical staff may opt to wrap Petkovic in cotton wool, with the playoffs in mind.
Meanwhile, there is no certainty that Terry Antonis will even be fit enough to contest the finals series, but every Sydney fan will be hoping for good news about the talented young player they have taken to heart.
Depending on the result in Wellington, the Sky Blues will play one or two semi-finals at Allianz Stadium and may even host the Grand Final on May 17. There is no doubt that having come this far, Graham Arnold will not be changing the team’s playing method so the “crash or crash through” style will continue until the Sky Blues have kicked their final ball of the season, whenever that may be.
And Sydney fans will just have to deal with the heart palpitations.