Sydney slump in the Sunshine State

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Travelling to the Gold Coast by train is a bit like watching cricket. It’s slow, boring and slightly pointless.

I say this because I caught the train down from Brisbane to watch my former home-town team Sydney FC lose 2-1 to Gold Coast United in Round 5 action.

As an ex-Sydney FC season-ticket holder I sniffed an upset, but it never eventuated thanks to a calm and composed display from the A-League’s new glamour club.

“We simply didn’t get going very well,” claimed Sydney’s giant Swiss defender Stephan Keller on TV program The World Game the following day.

“And Gold Coast… some things they simply did better than us.”

A simple explanation, but it aptly summed up the difference between the two sides.  

The fact that Gold Coast could also call upon New Zealand international striker Shane Smeltz helped immensely.

He played because New Zealand’s scheduled friendly with Iraq was cancelled over security fears, and Smeltz made the most of his start – scoring twice – to make it eight league goals in just five games.

Gold Coast’s win was all the more impressive given that they were missing their other international star, Jason Culina, to national team duty.

While his club side were grinding out an impressive victory, Culina was chasing shadows in Seoul as Korea Republic thumped Australia 3-1 in a friendly.

Football Federation Australia are yet to accommodate international dates in the A-League fixture list – perhaps because the FFA originally thought A-League players would not be of the standard required to play international football.  

Whatever the reason, it makes a mockery of Gold Coast signing Culina as a ‘marquee player’ only for United fans to be denied the chance to see him play in their top-of-the-table clash with Sydney.

The counterpoint is that Gold Coast barely have any fans to begin with.

The official attendance was first posted as 6,800 fans inside the 27,000-capacity Skilled Park, before that figure was later revised down to 6,406.

But to the naked eye it looked like less than 3,000 souls had made it out to the state-of-the-art cow paddock, suggesting that Darlington fans would feel right at home in the A-League.

No fans, a dodgy pitch – but Gold Coast United can sure play football. And in enigmatic coach Miron Bleiberg, they’ve got a real eye for talent.

He snapped up Cairns-born journeyman Zenon Caravella from Dutch second tier club FC Omniworld at the start of the season, and that looks to be a shrewd piece of business indeed.

Caravella was all over the pitch against Sydney FC, jinking passed defenders, winning tackles in midfield and testing opposing goalkeeper Clint Bolton whenever the opportunity arose.

Smeltz may have been the two-goal hero, but Caravella was at the heart of everything for the Gold Coast.

For Sydney FC, there was none of the long-ball football on display that at one time had certain sections of the Australian football media frothing at the mouth.

When Czech coach Vitezslav Lavicka jetted in to the harbour city side, he was supposed to encourage the kind of continental-style passing game that would make the Sky Blues the envy of the league.

Instead Sydney FC resorted to a long-ball-a-thon in a scoreless away draw at provincial hackers Central Coast Mariners in Round 3, forcing certain scribes to reassess some hackneyed national stereotypes.

A couple of thumped clearances aside, there was no such long-ball stuff on offer at Skilled Park, and the performance earned the thumbs-up from The Sydney Morning Herald’s chief analyst Mike Cockerill.

“Sydney FC’s worst result of the season came from their best performance,” wrote Cockerill, who described the display as a victory for attacking football.

Pleasing on the eye it may have been, but it was a disappointing result nonetheless for Czech coach Lavicka.

Meanwhile Gold Coast bounced back from their recent 1-0 defeat away at Newcastle Jets in the best possible fashion.

They’re not everyone’s cup of tea, but there’s plenty to suggest that Miron Bleiberg’s side have what it takes to win the A-League in what is their foundation season.

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