Safro's Sydney: Second best Reds win by hook and 'crook'

That’s football.

The beauty and the frustration of it.

It is the game’s ultimate truism that dominating the game means nothing unless you score.

Credit to Adelaide United’s one-man team and undoubted Player of the Match, goalkeeper Eugene Galekovic – the game was mostly one-way-traffic and United, who ended the game on seven yellow cards and were never really at the races, would have lost the match if not for the former Socceroo custodian.

Destroyed out wide and through the middle, Adelaide held out as best they could, by hook or by crook. And there was “by crook” aplenty from the visitors, who were lucky to finish the game with 11 men after a mixture of professional fouls, late tackles and time wasting tactics – a form of disciplined cynicism unseen at Allianz since Shanghai Shenhua came to town in 2010.

It is easy to underestimate the self-control and restraint of the Sky Blue players on the night. Many others may not have had the strength of character in the face of the visitors’ spoiling and delaying tactics but to their credit, not one Sydney player responded to the provocation. Perhaps, had Shane Smeltz exercised the same level of self-control last weekend, the result may have been different.

And the All White’s petulance in Wellington may have cost Sydney dearly. What are the chances that a fresh and rested All White would have started in place of the jaded Marc Janko who had flown over 35,000km in under two weeks? 

Back to Galekovic and this was his finest hour. Sixteen Sky Blue shots to Adelaide’s four and a 9:2 shots-on-target ratio clearly point to where superiority lay.

There is no doubt that the home side’s attacking players could have taken a few better options on occasion but, given that Sydney’s domination was so complete and the home side created so many clear goal scoring opportunities, even the most bitterly disappointed Sydney fan – and there were plenty at the wet and windy Allianz Stadium – needs to take a deep breath, shrug and congratulate Sydney FC on a wonderful performance, the loss of a most vital three points notwithstanding.

On the subject of which, it is a pity that the Sydney fans filed out so quickly after the full time whistle. Their players gave their all and deserved a show of support. It is easy to stay behind and applaud the players when they win. But sometimes, clapping off the players in a loss means so much more.

Those who did stay behind got an extended audience with Milos Dimitrijevic, far longer than usual for the quietly spoken ball player. The midfielder signed autographs and chatted with fans long after his teammates had departed the pitch, leading one to wonder if this was the Serbian import’s farewell in Sky Blue colours. He remains unsigned for next season and with his club reportedly hovering over Victory’s Fahid Ben Khalfallah, could this be Dimitrijevic’s final season in the Harbour City?

Most Sydney fans will hope not.

Alex Brosque, Bernie Ibini and Mickael Tavares were Sydney’s best on the night while Janko, despite his hard work, looked a touch off the pace and will now be wrapped in cotton wool for the Friday night Top Four showdown with the embattled Perth Glory.

Sydney’s defence remained solid and there is every chance that this backline will stay together not only the remainder of this season but the next as well. One may have thought that Alex Gersbach may have replaced Nikola Petkovic in the last half hour of play, given the Sydney youngster’s superior attacking talents, but perhaps the need to bring Rhyan Grant on for the injured Tavares put paid to Arnie’s plans.

The absence of Terry Antonis remained keenly felt and it is a worrying sign that the midfield wiz is still unable to return to fitness. Now that the premiership chase is all but over, Sydney fans will hope that he recovers in time to contribute to his club’s tilt at the finals series.

Another tyro, 17-year-old striker George Blackwood, replaced Janko in the 77th minute and showed great improvement on his last A-League outing six months ago, displaying some nice touches and almost scoring a goal. Time will tell if he is the special talent that he is touted to be but clearly he is one worth persisting with.

With three regular season games left to play, all away from home, the club will shift its mindset to consolidating a spot in the Top Four and the chance of a home semi-final.

Although, with Allianz Stadium turning into something of an Achilles Heel for the Sky Blues this season, would this really be a positive?

The bitterly disappointed Sydney players will need to refocus for the flight across the Nullarbor. In the absence of the suspended Smeltz and the injured Tavares and Antonis, Graham Arnold will juggle his side as best he can. Grant will most likely take Tavares’s defensive midfield spot - in a game of ironies it was Glory lynchpin Rostyn Griffiths whose absence was exploited by the visiting Sky Blues for a 1-3 away win back in February.

Despite the absentees, the Sky Blues will fancy their chances at nib Stadium, especially with Glory’s short turnaround from its Newcastle game on Easter Monday afternoon.

One side will attempt to put behind its most disappointing loss of the season.

The other will be trying hard to ignore the gathering clouds of its salary cap breaching fiasco that, depending on FFA findings, may put an end to any kind of aspirations it may have had this season.

The mentally strongest team will win this match.

Which will it be?