Melbourne revels in Sydney slump

Travel writer Bill Bryson got it right when describing Australia’s capital city.

“Canberra: Gateway to everywhere else!” chirps Bryson, summing up the indifference with which most Australians treat their seat of government.

Football Federation Australia certainly seem to regard Canberra as irrelevant – they recently denied a club from the capital entry into A-League, with an expansion licence instead handed to a second Sydney team.

Of course, Canberra wouldn’t exist were it not for the fact that Australia’s two largest cities just can’t seem to get along.

That an artificial capital was built at the midway point between Sydney and Melbourne speaks volumes for the animosity between the two cities.

So it should come as no great surprise that the rivalry between Sydney FC and Melbourne Victory is, to put it mildly, somewhat intense.

It all started on a windy Sunday night in Sydney back in August 2005, as the pair played out a pulsating 1-1 draw in front of what was then the largest-ever crowd for an Australian regular season fixture.

The rivalry has only grown since, but for now it’s Melbourne Victory looking down with sneering contempt at their hated rivals from the harbour city.

That’s because Ernie Merrick’s side have opened up a five-point gap at the top of the A-League, and they’ve done it playing some breathtaking football of late.

Melbourne’s 4-0 obliteration of Gold Coast United in Round 15 was a masterclass of attacking football, even if United fielded an understrength side due to injuries and suspensions.

On the same weekend Melbourne were putting Gold Coast to the sword, Sydney were slumping to their third straight defeat as they crashed 3-1 at home to the Newcastle Jets.

The loss was doubly frustrating for Vitezslav Lavicka’s side, as English import and former Sydney striker Michael Bridges scored twice – his reward being a new two-year contract offered by the Jets.

Sydney thumped Melbourne 3-0 when the pair met in their first meeting of the season, but there’s plenty of work for Lavicka to do ahead of the next instalment of one the A-League’s great rivalries on December 19.

The Sky Blues will hope to have bridged the gap on the current league leaders by then, not least because Central Coast Mariners and Gold Coast United are currently breathing down their neck.

In fact, so tight is the league table that bottom club Adelaide United are still only three points outside the top six.

Adelaide were recently beaten 2-1 away at North Queensland Fury, for whom Robbie Fowler scored his ninth goal of a profitable season so far.

The Liverpudlian is fast reeling in Gold Coast striker Shane Smeltz at the top of the goalscoring charts, with the marquee man’s signing proving a masterstroke both on and off the pitch.

He has recently been joined by another Englishman at the Townsville club, after North Queensland recruited journeyman midfielder Terry Cooke.

The 33-year-old most recently spent four years at MLS club Colorado Rapids, but Cooke will forever been known as “the former Manchester United man” – despite getting on the pitch just four times in five years when starting out his career at Old Trafford.

North Queensland may face an uphill battle to reach the end of season finals, but Melbourne and Sydney will be in the thick of it come February.

Whether they qualify as the top two remains to be seen, but there’s no doubt that a Grand Final between the two clubs would represent a marketing dream.

Such a showdown could even be staged at the 100,000-capacity Melbourne Cricket Ground, with the old adage that Melburnians would turn out for the opening of an envelope bearing more than a semblance of the truth.

Both clubs will be jostling for home ground advantage, but if the A-League wanted to defuse the situation they could always play it on neutral territory.

After all, there has to be some decent use for the city of Canberra...

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