Friday April 10 was a momentous day in Australian football as four stories kept football fans on the edge of their seats, with one story overshadowing the rest.
To kick things off, Adelaide United, purveyors of last week’s anti-football, were fined $1,000 and issued a “please explain” for their cynical conduct at Allianz Stadium.
Then the big one – Perth Glory’s salary cap rorts resulted in FFA coming down hard on the West Australians, fining the club and banning it from contesting the finals series this season – a decision which, bizarrely, evoked an outpouring of sympathy for the Glory players from the Foxtel commentariat.
Would these be the same players who financially benefited from a systematic bending of the rules, some for up to three years?
The sympathy is misplaced.
Plenty of compassion, however, does go out the way of Perth’s long-suffering supporters. Forced to endure mediocrity for seasons on end, The Shed finally had a decent side to call its own and the Perth faithful are rightly gutted by the developments.
Their calls for the heads of Chairman Tony Sage and CEO Jason Brewer are justified and only coach Kenny Lowe, who has displayed great dignity and resolve in these most trying of circumstances, comes out of this with any sort of credit.
A few hours later, FFA’s announcement of the season was followed by the upset of the season - rank outsiders Newcastle Jets defeating Victory at AAMI Stadium 0-1 and doing the Sky Blues one massive favour.
So with all that and more on the minds of the Sydney players, pressure was on them to capitalise on the opportunity, though it was Glory who had, understandably, hogged the pre-match headlines.
Would the home side capitulate in the wake of the salary cap decision? Would they play above themselves to prove a point? Or would the Perth players, given their fragile mental state, see the red mist and attempt to kick the visitors off the park?
Thankfully, there was no cynical football at nib Stadium but Glory did come out fired up and won the first 15 minutes. Unfortunately for the home side, that was as good as it got and the rest of the match belonged to the Sky Blues.
Contrast Perth with the Jets, the supposedly demoralised outfit with “nothing to play for” who were expected to turn up to Melbourne, roll over and have their tummies tickled by Muscat’s players!
Perhaps coach Phil Stubbins is onto something after all. But more on that later.
Vedran Janjetovic had a quiet evening as his back four were excellent, with Nikola Petkovic once again outstanding at leftback. Never beaten in defence, he still looks uncertain at the edge of the opposition box but his attacking forays out wide were second to none and it was his first half cross that led to Alex Brosque’s tap-in for Sydney’s opener.
The Sky Blues made plenty of second half chances and, unlike last week, pressed home their advantage. Bernie Ibini’s left-footed wonder strike left viewers stunned while the winger’s cutback for Brosque demonstrated great vision, not to mention the skipper’s ability to out-wrestle Rostyn Griffiths and then arrive late in the box to get on the end of Ibini’s cross.
It could have been worse for Glory had the excellent Milos Dimitrijevic not hit the underside of the crossbar in the first half while Marc Janko was too cute with Stambolziev’s cross in the second, attempting a cheeky flick instead of blasting home from two metres out. Brosque and Ibini were superb but Janko still looks a touch off his best since returning from international football.
Meanwhile, Rhyan Grant, deputising for the injured Mickael Tavares in defensive midfield, was expected to play second fiddle to Glory’s powerful Rostyn Griffiths but more than held his own and was the base from which Sydney launched a number of attacks.
Worryingly, Petkovic hobbled off with a groin muscle strain late in the game. It is hoped that the vice-captain, recently resurgent at leftback, isn’t out long but the sight of him holding his groin as he walked off the field after fulltime certainly indicates that he will not be risked on Friday night against the Jets, with Alex Gersbach to come in for the former Serbia U21 international.
The game may also come too soon for Tavares but on the plus side, Shane Smeltz has served his suspension and returns to the squad.
In a good round for Sydney’s premiership chances, Adelaide United lost at home to Brisbane Roar while Wellington Phoenix dropped points away to Melbourne City.
This leaves the Sky Blues in second spot on the ladder, equal on points with leaders Melbourne Victory.
Vagaries of the draw require Victory to play Roar at Suncorp twice in three days and anything less than six points for the Melbourne club will put their premiership chances in jeopardy. Victory are still the premiership favourites, given their game in hand, so this mini-series will decide the title.
Those expecting a Sydney walkover in Newcastle are way off the mark – the Jets have lately made a turnaround and will be looking to continue a revival in front of their home fans, some of whom have not really understood the early stages of a rebuilding process that has taken place before their eyes.
And Sydney have not had it easy against their Northern NSW opponents this season, having to settle for a pre-Asian Cup 0-0 draw in Wollongong and scraping a 0-1 win at Hunter Stadium, Janko’s somewhat fortunate goal the difference between the sides.
The Top Four is wide open once again and the premiership race will go down to the wire.
To win the league, the Sky Blues will need to claim all six points from their last two games of the season and leave the rest in the lap of the gods.
Maybe this could be Sydney’s season after all.