Safro's Sydney: A bleak view from the hill

I’ll start with the Jets.

Of the Newcastle team that took the field on Saturday night, only Adrian Madaschi and perhaps David Carney would make the current Sydney first XI – a team robbed of half a dozen players by injury and international duty.

A few of the Jets’ players who took the field at WIN Stadium in Wollongong would fail to make any other A-League squad.

They are not a good team.

The 0-0 draw, played out on a lovely summer’s evening by the sea in front of 11,000 travelling Sky Blue fans and a few hundred locals, needs to be evaluated in the context of our opponents’ glaring weaknesses and consequent position on the table.

And it doesn’t make for good reading. Frankly, drawing with the Jets is equivalent to a loss to any other A-League opponent.

Regardless of player unavailability, Sydney lined up with a strong XI.

Arnold’s decision to persist with two screeners in front of the back four made sense, leaving Milos Dimitrijevic free to create in the middle of the park and allowing wide players Alex Gersbach, Bernie Ibini and Alex Brosque the extra freedom to attack.

The tactics were sound. Get Dimitrijevic on the ball, bring Brosque inside to link with him and Marc Janko, and give Gersbach and Ibini license to really go for it out wide.

And in defence, Ibini to support Aaron Calver at rightback, Brosque to tuck in centrally and Rhyan Grant to help out young Gersbach at leftback.

Defensively, the tactics worked and for a second week in a row, the Sky Blues shut out the opposition. In the first half, the Jets barely had a sniff of goal and, after a lively 15 minute period for the visitors early in the second, it was all one way traffic for Sydney until the final whistle.

It should have been all over in the first half hour. Even the guy who won the halftime hat waving competition said we should have been up 5-0.

It is easy to blame the linesman for wrongly calling Janko offside for what should have been the goal of the year. Easy because it is true – his decision was abysmal and on face value, his incompetence cost us two points.

But it was Sydney’s own inability to finish good lead-up work that cost us victory in Wollongong. The players know it, the fans know it and the coach knows it. And it is up to Arnie to rectify it.

How did Sydney fail to win this one?

Simple.

Sydney butchered chance after chance with woeful crossing, suspect shooting and wayward heading. Or by simply taking the wrong option – players shooting when they should have crossed and passing when they should have taken the shot.

Football often punishes those who fail to take their chances. On this occasion it didn’t do so and the Sky Blues walk away with a point. But what a massive lost opportunity.

By halftime the crowd sensed that this wasn’t going to be their day and it took a piece of Jeronimo time wasting late on to bring the non-Covites back to life.

Newcastle played for a point and took every opportunity to slow things down, especially in the dying embers of the match, while the Sydney players, to their credit, kept trying to manufacture a goal until the final whistle – botching one promising move after another.

And it is that, not the linesman’s incompetence, that cost Sydney the match.

A few observations:

Bernie Ibini needs only to improve his finishing and, in tennis terms, his “shot selection”. He was arguably the best on the park and at times was completely unstoppable. He no longer complicates his game and now glides past players with ease.

Aaron Calver is ahead of Pedj Bojic as a defender  but the former Mariner is far better with the ball at his feet. With a toothless Jets to contend with and Calver making basic errors on the ball time and again, why didn’t Arnie bring on Bojic, at least in the last half hour?

Sydney’s dead ball delivery was diabolical. I would like to see Janko bend a few. Perhaps Nikola Petkovic needs to be relieved from free kick responsibility, for a while at least. And instead of overcomplicating free kick routines from out wide, surely just getting the ball into the box is the better option.

The players couldn’t wait to get back into the dressing rooms after the final whistle, neglecting to thank the fans on the sidelines. Some of us on the hill and in the main grandstand had stayed back to clap the players off as we do week in, week out. It was poor form and the fans expect better.

This is the only time it has happened this season. I am happy to give the boys the benefit of the doubt, but sideline fans must never be snubbed again.

Moving forward and it is believed that Sydney are about to sign defensive midfielder Mickael Tavares, a Senegalese international recommended by none other than Sydney’s former title-winning coach Viteslav Lavicka.

What does this mean?

First and foremost, it betrays Arnold’s lack of faith in Peter Triantis and Rhyan Grant as anything other than squad players. Tactically it suggests that Dimitrijevic and Terry Antonis will be given greater license to attack.

It is believed that Sydney are also in the market for a winger and an attacking midfielder. Given that Ibini’s form makes him a certain starter, Brosque, Janko and Shane Smeltz will be facing increased competition when the league resumes.

What Sydney need most, of course, is a centre back to dominate the middle, play out from the back and allow Seb Ryall to return to his best position on the right of the defence.

Rumours linking Luke DeVere with a return to the A-League may be on the money but the Brisbane boy may find Roar’s offer too tempting. Either way, Sydney needs a good central defender to partner Petkovic.

What happens in the next three weeks will determine the Sky Blue's season. Hopefully Arnie and his staff get it right.

The Asian Cup circus comes to town and while it may be the Socceroos’ best chance at silverware, many Sydney fans are just hoping that Antonis comes through it injury-free. Should he do so, the experience he gathers simply by training alongside Tim Cahill, Mark Bresciano and Mile Jedinak will be invaluable for the Sky Blues come February.

Antonis is better than that and, despite his tender years, is good enough to play valuable minutes at the tournament.

The Sky Blue fans will be behind the Sydney youngster and no doubt wish him and the Socceroos every success.