Safro's Sydney: Top two beckons

Strikers rake in the big money the world over. Always have, always will.

What makes the A-League unique is that the salary cap and presence of marquee forwards accentuates the uneven distribution of talent between front and back.

Which is great for the fans seeking goalmouth action and this, the final Sydney Derby of the season, more than delivered on that score.

But it was hardly one for the purists.

Graham Arnold and Tony Popovic pride themselves for building teams on defensive solidity and neither would have been thrilled with the defending on show at Pirtek Stadium on Saturday night.

Mark Janko was allowed to run riot early on and the big man forced Wanderers goalkeeper Ante Covic into a comical own goal, before following up with a brace that spoke as much about his attacking form as about the home side’s defensive inadequacies.

Up 0-3, Sydney’s own defending became sluggish and by halftime the home side had worked itself back into the contest.

Kerem Bulut’s second of the night was quality and, for the third week in succession, the Sky Blues were under threat with half an hour to play. It took the surprisingly benched Terry Antonis to step up when it counted, profiting from yet another piece of calamitous defending to finish with class, sending Sydney fans into delirium and driving a dagger into red and black hearts.

They say success and failure are habit-forming.

For a third week running the Sky Blues have found themselves either trailing or heading for a draw and have managed to punch their way out of the corner when almost on the canvas. And with Antonis and Shane Smeltz on the pitch for the final 20 minutes, Sydney fans just knew there was another goal left in the Sky Blues.

The contrast with the Red and Black could not have been greater.

About 19,000 fans were stunned at the 0-3 score line, obtained through a combination of poor defending and excellent tactics. With the hosts accustomed to soaking up pressure, Arnie set out his stall 20 metres deeper than usual, inviting the Wanderers on and outfoxing Popovic in the first half hour of play.

Having created extra space between Covic and the WSW backline, and with Bernie Ibini and Chris Naumoff stretching the defence out wide, Janko and Alex Brosque had a field day against Nikolai Topor-Stanley and the hapless Brendan Hamill.

The home side wilted.

By the half hour mark, it should have been 5-0 as Mickael Tavares and Brosque spurned chances to put the game to bed.

The Wanderers’ comeback will be seen as either a stirring revival or poor Sydney concentration at the back, depending on who is telling the story.

Seb Ryall and Matt Jurman could have defended the set piece a whole lot better while Bulut would not have scored his first goal for his new club had the visiting backline not fallen asleep at the wheel once again.

The hosts’ third was class and, in truth, there aren’t many Australian forwards capable of striking a ball as sweetly from the edge of the box. Badge kissing or not, Bulut has a long way to go to revive his career but has made a good start. When not divided along club lines, all Australian football fans want to see our strikers do well – a position in which we lack depth. 

It will be interesting to see if the FFA follows through on its warning to dock WSW points for lighting flares while Sydney may also lodge a complaint about Vedran Janjetovic having to brave bottles hurled at him from behind his goal once again.

Post-match, things degenerated further as Aaron Calver was approached and slapped in the face by a disgruntled Wanderers fan. The “fan” was apprehended and will, no doubt, receive a long ban but this pales into insignificance with media and online reports of up to thirty men in red and black wearing WSW insignia who ambushed three Sydney fans in Sky Blue colours on their way home from the game, leaving them hospitalised with broken limbs.

Hopefully the assailants will be identified and prosecuted but the real solution is to take the Sydney Derby away from the small stadium in Parramatta and play it at ANZ where police can provide total security in the Olympic Park precinct.  

Football in this country has often been unfairly maligned, with passionate support deliberately misrepresented as “soccer violence” by anti-football scribes pushing their own agenda. This is different and there is no excusing or explaining away these violent acts.

Back to the football and Brosque may have butchered his first half chance but the skipper, while not at his best in front of goal right now, is otherwise in excellent form. The former Socceroo moved past opponents with ease, gliding across the pitch and setting up chances for his teammates.

Milos Dimitrijevic maintained his high standards, Tavares was back to his best despite giving away two yellows and Chris Naumoff was dangerous, though needs greater physical strength, while Bernie Ibini ran hot and cold but covered every blade of grass in a herculean display.

So a win that is great for the soul though not for the heart and, but for Nick Ansell’s bizarre piece of non-defending for Victory on Sunday afternoon, Sydney would have burst into the top four by the end of the round. Instead we trail Wellington Phoenix by one point but are only four away from the top of the table.

Newcastle Jets have done it tough but having finally moved on the trouble makers, Phil Stubbins has turned his team around. The new Jets have looked hungry and committed, staging a mini-revival since their rock-bottom 0-7 loss to Adelaide United.

Which means that the complacency on display against the Mariners a fortnight ago must not be allowed to rear its ugly head again in what is, on paper, a winnable encounter but only if the Sky Blues approach the match with the seriousness it deserves.

Sydney have much to play for. In a fascinating Round 20, first place plays second and third faces fourth so should the Sky Blues do the business on Friday night, a return to the top four, and perhaps even the top two, beckons.

It’s in Sydney’s hands.