Safro's Sydney: Three points a stinker

Rodney Dangerfield once commented that he went to the fights and a hockey game broke out.

And a pre-war boxing writer, forced to cover a particular non-event of a contest, wrote the next morning that “hostilities became so fierce, the pair nearly came to blows”.

But perhaps the most apt quote for the stinker at nib Stadium in Perth on Saturday comes from Ernest Hemingway: “I’ve tried to reduce profanity but I reduced so much profanity that I’m afraid not much could come out.”

Yep, that will do just fine. The lack of profanity in this article has shortened it significantly.

What an atrocious game.

Players slip-sliding all over the pitch. Poor football due to high possession turnover. Refereeing that defied belief. And a lack of creativity from both sides.

Sydney will take the win and search for positives. The Sky Blues may have been largely awful but fought tooth and nail for 94 minutes.

 At times there was some decent combination play up front. And when under the pump in the final 20 minutes, Sydney’s remaining eight outfield players stayed tight and organised, determined to come away with nothing less than three points.

The first half wasn’t pretty, arguably both sides’ worst of the season. The visitors spent the first half hour turning over possession with frustrating regularity and Perth, as obliging hosts, handed it straight back. And so it went.

The malaise was broken by Sydney’s first meaningful attack which resulted in a penalty - Alex Brosque clearly tripped and pulled down in the box. Marc Janko fired in a bullet and somehow Sydney were a goal to the good.

Bad refereeing seems to follow Sydney FC. Or is the A-League refereeing standard bad all round?

Kris Griffiths-Jones saw something the rest of us didn’t in what was slightly more than a push-and-shove by two committed players barely deserving a yellow each and a stern talking to.

Instead, Sydney’s Jacques Faty and Perth’s Dino Djulbic both copped an early shower in one of the most ludicrous refereeing decisions of the season.

 At least it was even as both sides lost a centreback and were forced into a reshuffle, but the send-off left everyone scratching their heads.

Sydney improved after the break and with space opening up, Bernie Ibini and Brosque took advantage.

In a classy move, Brosque put over a lovely cross for Janko, who used all his guile to chest the ball across his marker, Denis Kramar, and onto his trusty left boot.

With Janko about to burst the net for the second time, Kramar pulled him down and Milos Dimitrijevic did the rest from the spot.

Up 0-2 away from home – but surely the Perth defender had denied Janko a clear, goal scoring opportunity. Should he not have seen red?

Instead, red followed for another centreback.

A serious, intense man, Nikola Petkovic will not look back on this match with a great deal of self-satisfaction. No doubt he apologised to his teammates the moment the Sky Blues walked into the away sheds after the game. The big defender will be hurting from this. As he should be.

His first offence was daft – it’s a waste of a good yellow card to kick a striker in the opposition half, notwithstanding the largely anonymous Andy Keogh’s histrionics.

But having lost his defensive partner to a straight red and with a Melbourne Victory game in the back of everyone’s mind, it was incumbent on Petkovic to remain on the park. Instead what followed was a brain explosion as the defender stuck his hand out to prevent a Perth attack.

Everyone is allowed a moment of madness. We’ve all been there. But should Sydney lose to Victory on Saturday night as a result of a defensive error, memory of this incident will no doubt resurface in the washup.

Alex Gersbach lost his man on the back post and Perth scrambled in a goal. The kid had an otherwise excellent game and must be allowed to make errors if he is to grow into a Socceroo leftback under Arnie’s tutelage. But these are exactly the kind of concentration lapses that he needs to eliminate to take his game to the next level.

The final 20 saw a solid defensive wall from the undermanned Sky Blues. And with time running out for Glory, Ibini went on a pressure-relieving run, taking Michael Thwaite to the cleaners and sealing the win.

Ibini frustrates and excites in equal measure but came up trumps when it counted. He looks ungainly but at his best is almost unplayable, especially in open space.

Meanwhile, Melbourne Victory dominated an ordinary City at AAMI Park, easily breaking up their rivals’ attacks and countering with breathtaking speed and clinical precision.

They will be licking their lips at the prospect of facing a Sydney backline that will probably read Grant-Calver-Jurman-Gersbach.

Mickael Tavares still appears less than 100% fit but now looms large in offering protection to the fragile Sydney backline while Terry Antonis, excellent off the bench in Perth, will surely make his return to the starting lineup.

Sydney’s best chance of a win will come via its midfield and attack against a visiting side which, too, is more gifted up front than at the back. If the Sky Blues keep the ball and the Janko-Brosque-Ibini trio put away the chances that will no doubt present themselves, Sydney can take all three points. If not, and Sydney keep on turning over possession as they did at NIB Stadium, things could get ugly for the inexperienced Sky Blues backline.

A stinker in the west, three points in the bag and a dangerous Valentine’s Day home game looming against what is, on form, the best team in the competition.

Sydney approach it with some unease.