|SYDNEY FC v WELLINGTON PHOENIX
Sydney Football Stadium, Friday 7th November 2008.
|Article by Michael Shillito
Despite having the manpower to compete with the top sides in the A-League, Sydney
FC continue to struggle when faced with lesser opposition.
Last season when Newcastle won the competition, Sydney FC defeated them three
times. Last year’s runners-up Central Coast also tasted defeat at the hands of Sydney
twice. But losses both at home and away against bottom sides Wellington Phoenix and
Perth Glory effectively killed Sydney’s own title aspirations.
And this season already showed signs of following a similar pattern. Sydney have
recorded wins against Melbourne, Adelaide, Newcastle and Central Coast but had
already lost to Perth and to Wellington. The return game against the Phoenix at the
Sydney Football Stadium should have flashed warning bells against any possible
complacency, but again the warning was unheeded.
Wellington came with a point to prove, and Sydney were forced to absorb pressure
early on. But for the first half-hour of defensively-minded football neither side looked
likely to trouble the scorers.
On 33 minutes, the visitors took the lead after a cross found Leo Bertos unmarked
within scoring range; and a quality header gave Sydney keeper Ivan Nicevski no chance.
Sydney coach John Kosmina continued with his game plan, despite several players
being down on form as the minutes of the second half ticked by. On the hour Iain Fyfe
was introduced to the action, and his drive began to turn around. World Cup hero John
Aloisi was not introduced to the action until the 74th minute; giving him little time to
create any momentum or opportunities.
But Sydney gradually worked their way back into the contest, and a string of corners
forced Wellington keeper Mark Paston into action on several occasions. But finally the
resistance could hold out no longer on 77 minutes, when Stuart Musialik finally landed a
long-range strike from outside the area into the corner of the net; giving Paston no
chance and sending the crowd into raptures.
But it wasn’t Sydney’s night, and luck certainly wasn’t running Tony Popovic’s way. The
veteran Sydney defender found himself the villain of the piece after a diving save from
Nicevski ricocheted into Popovic’s hand. The referee had no hesitation in pointing to the
spot – it may have been technical and pedantic, and often referees choose to ignore it,
but the penalty was awarded. Shane Smeltz made no mistake for the Phoenix, and on
89 minutes the New Zealanders found themselves with the lead.
It was a bitter night for Sydney FC. Coming on the heels of failing to hold a 3-0 lead last week, with a rising injury toll
and with agents from new clubs Gold Coast and North Queensland circling, confidence and morale around the club
is falling rapidly. As the sign was held up that 2 minutes of time added on would be played, the modest crowd of
12,854 was already filing out of the stadium. Will they be back?