Safro's Sydney: A moral victory and an unconvincing win

Despite the wailing and gnashing of teeth, 10 minutes was all it took an independent Disciplinary Committee to throw Seb Ryall’s diving citation out on its ear.  Which of course was a no-brainer, as pointed out in last week’s column.

Ryall’s name has been dragged through the mud and some will no doubt stick. One wonders if Mark Bosnich and Andy Harper will be leading the public apology charge as quickly as they led the charge to publicly humiliate the Sydney defender.

Meanwhile, prior to a verdict being handed down, Melbourne’s Kosta Barbarouses fired a cheap shot through the media, claiming loss of respect for Ryall due to his alleged dive, and sniping at Sydney FC’s club culture. 

Kosta, here’s a thought - how about undertaking the following Google search: 'Matty Holmes and Kevin Muscat', 'Adrian Zahra and Kevin Muscat', 'Christophe Dugarry and Kevin Muscat', 'Craig Bellamy and Kevin Muscat' – yep, these four will do just fine.

Also Google 'voted dirtiest footballer' while you’re at it and see which former player’s name comes up first. And then come back and lecture us on club culture.

Incident hopefully closed.

Moral victory won but all the hoo-hah had the potential to distract the Sky Blues from the job at hand.

Sydney went into the home game against the Central Coast Mariners as raging favourites. The visitors have had an awful season and were coming off a midweek AFC Champions League qualifying defeat. And, up in Gosford just three weeks ago (who schedules these things?), the Sky Blues meted out a heavy 5-1 defeat.

So complacency was well and truly on the cards for Sydney. And so it transpired.

Despite good Sydney possession stats in the first 45 minutes, the Mariners created by far the better chances and had it not been for the heroics of goalkeeper Vedran Janjetovic, the score could have been a whole lot worse than 1-1 at halftime. Fabio Ferreira’s injury time equaliser was no more than the visitors deserved against a lethargic home side.

Early in the second half the picture was no rosier as Central Coast absorbed 15 minutes of ineffective Sydney pressure and took the lead through Ferreira once again.

Frustration in the stands grew as worried Sydney fans began contemplating the improbable.

The last half hour proved a combination of superior fitness, good Arnie coaching, timely substitutions and Mariner fatigue.

But the Sky Blue fighting spirit deserves praise as Sydney turned the rot around, mounting meaningful attacks and pinning the visitors deep inside their own half. The passes were now finding their man as Sydney went about dismantling the opposition.

Only the most one-eyed Sydney fan would argue that Rhyan Grant is back to his pre-injury form and the affable utility admitted as much after the game. The boy from Canowindra has scored a few A-League goals in his time, but a strike from thirty yards out?

Chances are that he’ll never hit a sweeter one again. He’ll be buzzing for days and hopefully this spurs him back to career-best form.

Having pilfered an equaliser from the unlikeliest of sources, Arnie sent on a genuine heavy hitter in Shane Smeltz. The Kiwi international, like John Aloisi in Sydney’s winning 2009/10 season, has struggled for game time but, much like the Socceroo legend five years ago, has scored vital goals.

If the striker’s header against the Victory was a thing of beauty, his goal that gave Sydney the lead was sublime. Bernie Ibini’s vision to pick out Marc Janko at the back stick was excellent and the big Austrian, in turn, had the presence of mind to chest it into the path of Smeltz.

An exhibition followed as the Kiwi dummied left and right to clear an opening for a shot, leaving three Mariner defenders sprawled in his wake and putting Sydney in the lead. It was, dare one say it, Del Piero-esque.

An injury time sealer by Janko, finishing off an Alex Gersbach cut back after the youngster had powered past some tired Mariner legs, and the points were sewn up.

What to make of this game?

The win was unconvincing despite the impressive scoreline. In the first half Sydney’s attack was disjointed but, worse yet, the visitors exposed a soft underbelly in the Sky Blues defence and back of midfield.

Clever Mariner tactics had Nikola Petkovic committed centrally and with Gersbach pulled wide to mark Storm Roux, Mickael Tavares struggled to plug the gap – a gap that Ferreira exploited with glee time and again. It was Tavares who ambled instead of tracking the Portuguese winger late in the first half, allowing the new Mariner to equalise.

Arnold withdrew Tavares for Chris Naumoff with half an hour to play and the youngster attacked from the off, gliding past his man and creating overload opportunities for the Sky Blues. Meanwhile up front, Ibini and Brosque were quiet and it was no surprise to see the Sydney skipper replaced by Smeltz in the final 20 minutes as Sydney chased all three points.

Janko was superb, not only bagging a brace but integral in hold up play. The big man was involved in Grant’s goal, chasing down a ball and turning his man before laying off to Brosque who found Grant squaring up for a shot from distance. He also had the presence of mind to chest the ball down to Smeltz for the Kiwi’s terrific finish.

The Austrian had been unfairly maligned in some quarters as a one dimensional goal poacher who does little to contribute in build-up play. Hopefully this display puts paid to that nonsense.

The man is a goal scorer and creator, he fights for his team and leads from the front. After two lean seasons in Turkey, it took the striker time to find his form but we now see what the fuss is about.

Sign him up for next season, Sydney FC, sign him now.

So it’s on to Pirtek Stadium and hard times have hit the Western Sydney club. Where in the past Wanderers players would play above themselves to grind out victories, the current outfit appears jaded as rumours swirl of player fatigue and discontent.

But if something can bring them out of their slump, it is the upcoming Sydney Derby. It will be the first time the sides have met since Ali Abbas’ brutal injury and this may give the game even more spice (or spite) than usual. There is no love lost between both sets of players – and fans – but let us hope it isn’t overly toxic on this occasion.

The Sydney midfield will need to roll up its sleeves and counter the Wanderers’ physical aggression. The home side will miss suspended Socceroo Matthew Spiranovic while Sydney should be back to full strength, Arnie’s substitution of Aaron Calver a pointer to Seb Ryall’s return to the first XI this weekend.

Some work to do on the training paddock but at their best the Sky Blues should have too much fire power for its crosstown rivals. A win can propel Sydney back into the top four and put the final nail in the coffin of the Wanderers’ season.

Should be another cracker of a game.