Safro's Sydney: Second-half blues

Elation gave way to frustration at the halfway mark. Taking a 1-0 lead into the break, it should have been 4-0 and game over.

Most exasperating, and Ned Zelic sounding like a six year old on a sugar high didn’t help.

Sydney had every right to feel confident going into the match despite our less than impressive away record to Melbourne City/Heart. The home side has shown nothing so far to indicate that they will be title contenders at season end, so three points were there for the taking.

The lead up to the game proved a mixed blessing. Terry Antonis was back after his FFA-imposed international suspension. On top of which, the super talent has penned another two year deal with the club.

Somehow I don’t believe he’ll see out the contract so the club stands to pocket a handy transfer fee should a European club come in for gifted playmaker.

And in further good news, marquee Marc Janko decided to cut his international week short and immerse himself in preparation for the away fixture at AAMI Park. After Shane Smeltz’s performance the weekend before he may have felt the need to put his best foot forward.

This joy, however, very quickly turned to despair upon hearing of the plight of young Sky Blue starlet Corey Gameiro. The in-form striker tore his anterior cruciate ligament (ACL), an injury that takes up to a year to fully overcome. That it happened in a meaningless Olyroo friendly makes little difference – he could have done his ACL in the next club game or training session.

Speedy recovery to Gameiro and I can’t wait to see him back in Sky Blue banging the goals in once again.

And in a bizarre twist of fate, it was wonderful to see Rhyan Grant back out on the pitch after his own ACL nightmare, doubtless to great cheers in his home town of Canowindra. We have a talented player back in the squad – it feels like a new signing - and his presence has improved our depth. No doubt the competitive utility will be aiming to play every week.

Back to AAMI Park and while it wasn’t entirely one way traffic, Sydney had the majority of the first half, creating a number of chances but converting just one and letting the home side off the hook.

Frustration.

It was a classic “game of two halves” as City almost completely dominated after the break. Suddenly we could no longer string passes together and Melbourne had us sitting deeper and deeper. The Sydney midfield, so effective in the first half, was barely sighted in the second, reduced to doing little more than donkey work as it kept turning over possession to the home side.

That said, City played little more than glorified “piggy in the middle” and for all their possession – 62%! - their end product was negligible. While their attack lacked cutting edge and the touch of class that David Villa briefly provided, it also demonstrates Sydney’s defensive solidity across the park and our new-found ability to make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear.

Coincidentally, not twelve hours later Manchester United would defeat a rampant Arsenal away from home despite an almost identical 61% percent possession deficit.

The moral of the story?

It isn’t the size of the possession stat that matters. It’s what you do with it.

Controversy 1 - Penalty or no penalty?

Kris Griffiths-Jones could have called it either way. Vedran Janjetovic did not deliberately get up to impede Damien Duff but did end up bringing him down in the box. It could neither have been called a certain, stonewall penalty nor can the most one-eyed of us proclaim that it was never a penalty.

This one went our way. Plenty haven’t.

Controversy 2 – Second yellow for time wasting

There was no certainty that Milos Dimitrijevic was going to be the one taking the corner, which means that Griffiths-Jones should not have penalised the Serb for time wasting. The midfielder’s job was to receive the ball and hold it up near the flag. Simply adding on an extra thirty seconds or so would have solved the problem.  

That said, while I believe the ref got this one wrong, I like Griffiths-Jones’ manner on the field and the way he communicates with players. He appears calm and in control of his emotions and I remain impressed. He is certainly one of the better ones.

Goalkeeper Vedran Janjetovic was once again superb while the backline worked well as a unit. The midfield was a different story – dominant in the first half but mostly taking the wrong option in the second.

The sub-plot was Antonis and Aaron Mooy fighting it out for the night’s “best long passer” award. Mooy impressed, but some of Antonis’ long balls with his left foot, often curled to Bernie Ibini out on the right, were simply a delight.

As for Ibini and the Westfield Sports High graduate finally showed what he can offer. His decision making was superb and he took the right option far more often than not. Ibini’s passing and movement was sharp and incisive and he used his pace to good effect.

His cross for Marc Janko’s opener was Beckam-esque. It really was that good.

Well done Bernie, more of the same please.

Alex Brosque was quiet on the ball once again but Janko had an incredible match. His work rate belied his large frame and the Sydney #21 covered every blade of grass throughout the contest. Add his goal line clearance to his two well taken goals and that’s a hat-trick in my book.

A gap is beginning to open up between the top four and the rest of the A-League ladder. There is no reason why Sydney FC should not be challenging for the top two come the business end of the season.

We are nowhere near the finished article and I suspect that, like Manchester United under Sir Alex Ferguson, the Sky Blues will really start hitting their straps after Christmas.

With Melbourne Victory facing Adelaide United on Friday night, the Sydney Derby gives us the chance to leapfrog at least one of them, while best case scenario will see us jump into first spot on the ladder by the end of round eight.

But the table will matter not a jot when we take on the hapless Wanderers at Pirtek Stadium. Cross town rivalry is bigger than that.

The hosts have been struggling while Sydney will be without the massively influential Dimitrijevic. Will Nicky Carle, not even on the bench in Melbourne, gain a reprieve? Arnie could do a whole lot worse.

I suspect Abbas will continue in midfield in front of young Alex Gersbach and together with Sash Ognenovski resume his battle with eleven Wanderers and the RBB. It should be fun to watch.

The 13 point gap between local rivals would be cutting deep and the Wanderers will be desperate as pressure mounts, but so will Sydney, never this season found wanting in hunger and bloody minded determination.

I suspect it will be ugly more than it will be pretty but we should have the weapons to pile some more misery on the home side. And if we do, should Poppa start looking over his shoulder?