The difference between second match and first could not have been greater.
We were simply not at the races in the first half, kicking the ball away and allowing the home side to dictate the game.
And for the first time this season, they did, passing the ball well and pinning the Sky Blues deep in our half.
It speaks volumes for Sydney’s mental toughness that despite the Wanderers’ clear domination of the first 45 minutes, the scores were still at level pegging.
The second half was a much more even affair and Sydney FC, now treating possession with greater respect, gave themselves a decent chance at all three points. Which was not to be and a draw isn’t a bad result in the scheme of things.
It could have been so different.
Ali Abbas has been one of Sydney’s best players the last twelve months and was set to resume hostilities with the home side and its supporters. What he did not count on, and perhaps should have, was Iacopo La Rocca who was involved in a previous incident with Terry Antonis.
His first foul on Abbas left the Iraqi sprawled on the turf and two minutes later La Rocca charged at him. Abbas went down screaming and clutching at his knee.
He has now a double knee ligament tear and is out for at least the rest of the season.
Out of our run for the title.
Out of the Asian Cup.
This act must not escape scrutiny.
With not even a yellow card given, Sydney will surely have avenue to appeal. La Rocca needs to serve a suspension and I hope the Match Review Panel view the incident as a professional foul, committed twice in less than three minutes by the same offender upon the same, targeted player.
So now we have two players out with long term knee injuries and surely Graham Arnold will dip into the market come January, if not sooner.
Seeing Bernie Ibini equalise against the run of play was so rewarding. They threw all they could at us and still could not prevail, Ibini’s thunderbolt a dagger through Wanderer hearts as they were just beginning to entertain the thought of finally defeating Sydney FC.
That we played one of our worst halves of football and still went into the sheds all square is testament to Sydney’s resolve. Let’s face it, the Wanderers had played their best 45 minutes of the season and we had played one of our worst.
And yet it was 1-1.
Every Sydney player stood up to be counted.
From defence to attack, the Sky Blues threw themselves into every challenge and were never once outmuscled by a home team known for their love of intimidation. We may have been completely outplayed in the first half but we were never once outfought.
And when called upon, Vedran Janjetovic was superb, his save late in the first half off Mark Bridge world class.
Two players came away from Parramatta with reputation enhanced. Pedj Bojic and Bernie Ibini showed that they were back to their Mariner-best form and while the wonder strike of one brought scores level, the goal line clearance by the other kept us in the game. Both were superb and fought for the cause from beginning to end.
Marc Janko is another who is now settled in and is a real leader by example. Many of us didn’t see what the fuss was all about in the earlier rounds. We certainly do now.
So the draw keeps us in fourth spot and the Wanderers propping up the table. Two months in, I’ll take that.
A massive test comes on Thursday night as the table topping Perth Glory come to town. They haven’t yet played the top four sides so no one is certain if they are the real deal, but they are definitely a million miles from the underachievers of seasons past. They play the best of British, hitting strikers’ feet early and supporting quickly. Like us, they seem to find ways to score and Dino Djulbic’s thunderbolt at Suncorp rivals Ibini’s for the goal of the round.
Milos Dimitrijevic and Sash Ognenovski make their returns and, back on home turf, we are good enough to take the game to the visitors. Our inability to put together two good halves of football in recent weeks is worrying but if we rectify that we should have enough quality to outplay Glory and take all three points at Allianz Stadium.