Graham Arnold has overcome his former club at the first try with a sublime Terry Antonis strike leading Sydney FC to a 2-0 win over Central Coast Mariners at Allianz Stadium on Sunday.
First-half goals to Antonis and Sasa Ognenovski proved the difference as the Sky Blues stayed in a share of the competition lead and equalled their best start to a season since 2009-10, when they won the championship.
It was an unhappy day for the Mariners, with Mitchell Duke's missed penalty a minute from the end summing up their woes.
1-0 Antonis (21') – Milos Dimitrijevic 's corner picked out Antonis about 25 yards out from goal. The midfielder took one touch to control before blasting a powerful volley through a slew of players into the bottom corner of the net.
2-0 Ognenovski (26') – From a free-kick on the right-hand side, Sydney defender Nikola Petkovic played a square ball to Dimitrijevic. The Serbian midfielder fired a low shot at goal, the ball hitting the legs of Ognenovski and wrong-footing Mariners goalkeeper Matthew Nash to roll in at the near post.
The Sky Blues survived a scare not long after taking the lead during a frantic scramble inside their six-yard box. Mariners duo Eddy Bosnar and John Hutchinson both had headers cleared off the goal line by Sydney's Sebastian Ryall in a brilliant piece of awareness and defending. Soon after the Sky Blues went up the other end and doubled their lead and the points were as good as secured.
OPTA DATA KEY STATS
Sydney FC snapped a three-game losing streak against the Mariners with this victory and in turn made it eight games unbeaten on their home patch at Allianz Stadium.
No wonder Antonis is being talked about as a bolter for the Socceroos squad for January's Asian Cup. The young midfielder's goal not only sent to Sky Blues on their way to victory but was as good a strike as you will see. The clever training ground routine saw Antonis – who was failed to be picked up by the Mariners defence – receive the ball from a corner on the far side of the field. In the blink of an eye he took one touch to control and went whack, the ball flying like a tracer bullet into the bottom corner to notch up the A-League’s 3000th goal since the start of the competition almost 10 years ago.
Outplayed for the first 38 minutes and needing a spark to get into the contest, Mariners striker Duke was presented with a gilt-edged chance not long before the break with his side trailing 2-0. Storm Roux's cross from the right found an unmarked Duke just eight yards from goal but he diverted his header straight at Sydney keeper Vedran Janjetovic when it seemed easier to score.
A superb display by the home side was soured in the dying minutes by what appeared to be an ankle injury to skipper Alex Brosque, who had to be carried from the field by Sydney FC medical staff.
BACK TO THE DRAWING BOARD
Normally so resolute at the back, the Mariners will be kicking themselves for allowing Sydney to score the opening two goals from set pieces. It was a simple case of switching off at the wrong time and they were duly punished. The visitors also started with a very narrow midfield which allowed the Sky Blues plenty of space to exploit down the flanks and also meant striker Malick Mane was isolated in attack.
THE FINAL WORD
It was another clinical performance from the Sky Blues, who appear to be getting stronger by the week to rightly sit alongside Melbourne Victory and Adelaide United as the early title contenders. They will head to Adelaide on Friday night for a top-of-the-table clash full of confidence and with all their big guns fit and firing.
A fortnight's break didn’t seem to do the Mariners any favours and they were made to pay for their sluggish start. There were only a few fleeting moments of encouragement for coach Phil Moss, which must be a concern even so early in the season and with the visit of an in-form Perth Glory next weekend.
Sydney FC: Janjetovic, Ryall, Ognenovski, Petkovic, Abbas, Antonis, Dimitrejevic, Ibini (Naumoff 70’), Brosque (Gersbach 87’), Gameiro, Janko (Carle 81’)
Central Coast Mariners: Nash, Roux, Poscoliero, Bosnar, Rose, Hutchinson, Sim (Montgomery (81’), Caceres, Trifiro (Kim 74’), Mane (Fitzgerald 60’), Duke
Scorers: Antonis (21’), Ognenovski (26’)
Red cards: N/A
Yellow cards: Abbas (5’), Bosnar (25’), Ryall (56’)
Conditions: 20C, Dry