Mariners’ mistakes save Sydney serious embarrassment

By Stephen Webb:

A-League Season 2013-14, Round 15
Allianz Stadium, Sydney
18 January, 2014, 7.45 pm

Sydney FC 0
defeated by
Central Coast Mariners FC 1 (Sterjovski 58’)

This week, after Perth Glory drew with ten-man Brisbane Roar, Perth coach Kenny Lowe said Roar were a super team with some super players and that, if he wasn’t screaming at his lads so much, he would have probably enjoyed watching the Brisbane team.

Imagine the exact opposite.

That’s what it’s like watching Sydney FC.

Watching Sydney FC makes you want to tear out your own liver and eat it. And that’s not a reflection on the food sold at Allianz Stadium. Though it could be.

If not for the ineptitude of Mariners’ strikers in front of goal Sydney could have lost this game by four or five. The goal that did make it onto the scoresheet was less deserved than several gimmes that Central Coast missed.

If Sydney had won this game they would briefly have been sitting fourth on the A-League ladder. As it is they are eighth, on equal points with Newcastle Jets in seventh. In reality those two teams deserve to be fighting it out for the wooden spoon. The two teams currently below them — Wellington Phoenix and Melbourne Heart — are playing better football.

A fellow in the men’s room before the game heard Mariners fans cheering for Wellington Phoenix, who had just thrashed Melbourne Victory. Why was Sydney FC so bad? he asked. Was it the fault of the players or the coach? If he’d asked me after the game I would have said they were all shite but at the time I was ambivalent: the coach can only work with what he’s got. (It turns out he was responsible for signing or re-signing most of the current crop.)

Frank Farina clearly isn’t good wielding a shovel.

Take a deep breath. Step back.

Before the game, Sydney supporters were loud in expressing their appreciation for the retiring Brett Emerton, who took a lap of the field with his family, exchanging thanks with the fans, after walking through a guard of honour provided by his Sydney FC teammates. Emmo, though he didn’t reproduce his best for Sydney, should be widely acclaimed as one of the brightest stars in the Australian sporting firmament.

Mariners sat back at first, four-four-two defending and four-two-four on the counter. Sydney had some early penetration, Alessandro Del Piero setting up Nick Carle for a shot into the side netting and Marc Warren winning a corner after a great ball from right to left by Pedj Bojic.

But it was only in the sixth minute that Corey Gameiro had to clear off the line when a Mariners corner was headed on target by Daniel McBreen. Gameiro probably knew little about it.

Sydney soon responded and, after a Sydney corner, Liam Reddy had to save under pressure from Ranko Despotovic.

Warren, though, was causing some consternation with his supposed defensive activities.

In the 11th minute Vedran Janjetovic needed to make a good save to deny Josh Rose, released down the left by Nick Fitzgerald. Mariners fans will think Rose should have done better.

Terry McFlynn was struggling to find the right people with his passes. Nikola Petkovic was doing better in that regard. But generally Sydney were finding it hard to keep possession. Silly mistakes. Unforced errors.

In the 14th minute Mile Sterjovski, pressured by a sliding Bojic, hit the side netting after some neat play by Fitzgerald getting into the left side of Sydney’s penalty area.

Storm Roux looked impressive on the ball. But a fan next to me said I must be wrong because Roux was a Kiwi.

Matt Simon was a bit late and brutal on Petkovic but only got a yellow card from referee Peter O’Leary. That was probably the beginning of the fans’ hate-hate relationship with the officials. It didn’t help that when Del Piero was fouled in the 25th minute there was no free kick awarded.

But the fans cheered up when a good Mariners attack ended with Simon missing a sitter.

Ali Abbas, always making an effort, was good robbing Roux and pushing the ball through for Del Piero. Matt Jurman was smart getting around Daniel McBreen.

Things looked even better for Sydney in the 30th minute when Despotovic broke through, rounded Reddy and scored. But he was just, just offside.

Sydney’s luck held at the other end, however. Janjetovic saved at the feet of Simon and Fitzgerald missed a fantastic opportunity when, from near half way, he responded very quickly to a through ball. Sydney fans couldn’t believe he was onside (and let the linesman know what they thought: “That’s the fourth time he’s got it wrong!” “Is it his first day at work?”) but it didn’t matter. With a clear run at goal Fitzgerald skied his shot.

When a notice came up on the screens saying, “Do not tolerate disturbing behaviour” and with a phone number to call, a Sydney supporter yelled, “Ring that number and complain about the linesman.”

Gameiro attempted a quick turn and lob over the top left corner of goal and Abbas missed a chance after Rose blocked a shot from Despotovic on the edge of the penalty area.

Sydney survived the first half and there might have been some hope that if that luck could continue perhaps the home team could jag a winner.

The signs weren’t encouraging when Del Piero lofted a free kick into the stratosphere and McFlynn missed a great chance to send Gameiro toward goal and instead looked for support behind him. “It’s like he was born backwards or something.”

In the 57th minute Gameiro missed a very good opportunity on a through ball. “Comedy, comedy, comedy.”

Two minutes later Sydney’s luck totally ran out. McFlynn gave the ball away and Sterjovski shot from outside the box, the ball deflected to the left of the diving Janjetovic and into Sydney’s goal. After all the easy chances missed, the “deserved” goal came from a deflection.

The crowd called for Farina to do something to deal with the negativity on the pitch. Farina obliged with a double substitution: Marc Warren was taken off for Joel Chianese and Nick Carle made way for new Serbian signing Milos Dimitrijevic.

The next excitement was for Mariners fans, however. Janjetovic had to make a good save to deny Daniel McBreen and in the 72nd minute Mariners sub Bernie Ibini hit the right side netting after a well-worked build up from the back.

McFlynn delivered a very decent ball for Bojic but Bojic’s cross was poor. Another McBreen shot won a corner and a rare Petkovic stuff up gifted Mitchell Duke an opportunity to waste.

Dimitrijevic lobbed a ball over for Chianese but the linesman again wasn’t happy and the fans again weren’t happy with the linesman. “You should get a job with the council with that flag!”

Bojic blocked Duke and Janjetovic again stopped McBreen. I stopped taking notes. You could feel the despair in the stands. Everything seemed against Sydney FC, from the officials to the players — it was hard to tell after the game whom the booing was for.

McFlynn gets several negative mentions above but he was by no means the worst culprit. Lethargy, passes astray, lack of ideas … what do these guys do at training? Del Piero made multiple turnovers as usual but without his saving grace freak goal. Bojic made a couple of saving tackles but he missed many others and could hardly get a pass right. On the other side of the pitch Warren was woeful. Chianese didn’t seem to want to run. Carle was … where was Carle? Gameiro’s timing … where was Gameiro’s timing? Abbas ran and leapt high as usual but to what end? In the first half Del Piero turned his back on the ball and raised his hand in exasperation, looking toward Farina, after at another example of Sydney stupidity — a gesture he could have seen frequently repeated by 16,000 fans around the stadium.

What’s the future for Sydney?

Seb Hassett, in the Sydney Morning Herald, had it pretty right, saying Sydney were continuing “a seemingly irreversible downward curve”.

His analysis:

The season so far: Take away the four-game winning streak and they would be two points above winless Melbourne Heart. That burst of form has kept them in the hunt but they have been mired in mediocrity, save for the occasional flush of brilliance from Alessandro Del Piero.

Where they must improve: The game plan seems easily broken down. Players seem confused about basic tactical concepts: when to press, staying compact, overlapping, defensive cover, tempo management, counter-attacking and ball retention. Nikola Petkovic has been a revelation at the back but the defence is porous.

Key man: Nicky Carle must find traction in the second half of the season. He can change matches but the holding midfield experiment is exploiting a fraction of his talent.

On the outer: Terry McFlynn made just his second start of the season in the derby, bringing a much needed dose of organisation. The ex-captain should not be ignored — and if Frank Farina wants to release Carle forward, McFlynn could protect the space.

Seb could have added that Dimitrijevic showed signs that he will add something positive to the midfield, perhaps working with a more-advanced Carle or (grimace) Garcia. And Despotovic works hard and might just need a bit more support before he adds to his tally.

Match stats:

Crowd: 16,006

Central Coast Mariners FC:
12. Liam Reddy (gk), 2. Daniel McBreen, 3. Joshua Rose, 5. Zachary Anderson, 8. Nick Montgomery (C), 11. Nick Fitzgerald (9. Mitchell Duke 74’), 15. Storm Roux, 16. Trent Sainsbury, 17. Anthony Caceres, 19. Matt Simon, 21. Mile Sterjovski (20. Bernie Ibini 69’)
Subs not used: 1. Justin Pasfield (gk), 4. Marcel Seip, 6. Brent Griffiths
Yellow Cards: Simon

Sydney FC:
20. Vedran Janjetovic (gk), 3. Marc Warren (16. Joel Chianese 65’), 4. Ranko Despotovic, 5. Matthew Jurman, 6. Nikola Petkovic, 8. Pedj Bojic, 9. Corey Gameiro, 10. Alessandro Del Piero (C), 15. Terry McFlynn, 19. Nick Carle (21. Milos Dimitrijevic 66’), 22. Ali Abbas
Subs not used: 1. Ivan Necevski, 2. Sebastian Ryall, 28. Matthew Thompson
Yellow cards: Petkovic, McFlynn, Despotovic

Referee: Peter O’Leary (replaced at half time by Stephen Lucas) 6/10
Assistants: Scott Edeling, Lance Greenshields

Pitch: 7/10

Game: 6/10

Player points
3. Nick Montgomery (Central Coast Mariners FC)
2. Trent Sainsbury (Central Coast Mariners FC)
1. Vedran Janjetovic (Sydney FC)

By Stephen Webb

Photo gallery