Sydney: weakened, careless, beaten

By Stephen Webb

Hyundai A-League 2014-15
Round 9
Allianz Stadium, Sydney
December 4, 2014, 7.30 pm

Sydney FC 1 (Smeltz pen 55’)
defeated by
Perth Glory FC 2 (Griffiths 83’, Keogh pen 86’)

After holding off Perth in the first half, going ahead thanks to a dubious penalty decision, and then dominating for much of the second half, Sydney should have secured all three points and been top of the table, at least for 24 hours.

But they relaxed or tired — whatever, Sydney were sloppy when they needed to stay focused and Perth punished them.

Perth looked strong on paper, the injured Youssouf Hersi being the most significant omission. Sydney on the other hand, having already lost Cory Gameiro and Ali Abbas for the season, were also missing Sasa Ognenovski and Marc Janko and looked decidedly thin.

Shane Smeltz started but was a shadow of his previous start at Allianz. Milos Dimitrijevic was back from suspension but also subdued. Rhyan Grant made a reasonable fist of it in midfield. Alex Gersbach was busy on the left but Abbas was missed. That left the ever-wasteful Bernie Ibini as the most effective attacking outlet, especially in the second half.

The first half belonged to Perth Glory.

In the seventh minute Rostyn Griffiths had a free header on a corner from the right, but put it to the left of goal.

Mitch Nichols ran free into the top right corner of the Sydney penalty area and Vedran Janjetovic had to make a save. Perth crossed again from the right and Janjetovic collected with an unmarked opponent waiting in front of goal.

In the 11th minute Ibini and Janjetovic exchanged passes at the top of the Glory box as the crowd called for a shot. Eventually Ibini complied with a fair effort that was little trouble for Danny Vukovic.

Sydney combined well up the right until an Ibini touch let them down.

Another Perth cross from the right was too long for Daniel De Silva, who nevertheless got his foot to the ball.

Grant, too slow to release, was robbed in the middle of the park and Perth built an attack until finally Scott Jamieson shot from the edge of the area.

The crowd around me complained that Sydney were too slow moving the ball.

The match was pretty even but Sydney were sitting back and finding it hard to play out of defence.

In the 22nd minute a neat ball came through for Andrew Keogh, who was called offside. It was close.

That was the visitors’ main tactic: get the ball to Keogh any way you can — crosses, long balls, short passes through the lines.

A bit of magic from Dimitrijevic almost sent Sydney on their way to goal but a through pass clipped a Perth heel.

Jamieson was good holding off Terry Antonis, looking dangerous down the right.

Sydney finally had some time in the Perth half, patiently building an attack, until Dino Djulbic cleared with a diving header.

Alex Brosque got into the left side of the Perth box but the ball he was chasing was just too long for him.

A Perth corner was cleared to Josh Risdon, who hit a low shot across goal and beyond the left post.

Dimitrijevic hit a lovely, lofted pass down the left for Gersbach and in the 32nd minute … “Look, Smeltz touched the ball!”

A high cross from the left found Ibini in front of goal. Ibini leaped above Jamieson and missed wide to the right.

Janjetovic caught the ball under pressure from Nichols and Keogh and in the 36th minute Matthew Jurman made a very fine comeback tackle to deny Keogh, who looked certain to score.

Grant and Ibini again worked together on the right side of the Perth penalty area until Ibini’s shot was stopped by a great reflex save from Vukovic.

Referee Alan Miliner, already conspicuous for making some odd decisions, drew sarcastic jeers from the crowd when he let a nasty foul on Antonis go and a minute later penalised Perth for some slight contact on the Sydney midfielder. Nikola Petkovic wasted the free kick.

As the first half came to a close Sydney seemed to be gaining the upper hand … until Richard Garcia fired over goal from a good position in the right of the Sydney penalty area.

Brosque sent Ibini away down the right. The return pass was rubbish but Sydney won a corner.

Antonis hit a good switch to Ibini but again the cross was poor.

As the whistle blew, fans around me were saying it was a below par game. Sydney and Perth were too cautious for there to be any real excitement. Perth had been more effective in the attacking third and squandered some chances. Sydney might have done better with the chances they had.

No killer blow

Perth started the second half winning a corner that Janjetovic punched away for another corner, which Ibini cleared.

Brosque and Antonis combined to get Brosque into the Perth box only for Risdon to ruin the fun.

In the 50th minute Ibini blasted high from the right of goal after a quick Sydney attack from left to right through Brosque.

Nichols put a good ball through for De Silva, cut out by Jurman.

In the 54th minute Antonis snapped a shot across goal from the right. Vukovic was beaten but the ball continued wide of the left post.

Ibini crossed too close to Vukovic with Antonis arriving at the right post.

Then Smeltz, after working with Gersbach on the left, received the ball from Ibini and won a penalty, shooting from the top of the box into the upper arm of Djulbic. Smeltz converted, lifting the ball high into the middle of goal as Vukovic dived. The penalty decision was questioned (fiercely contested) but Sydney would think their persistent attack deserved a goal.

They needed another.

Perth briefly picked up the tempo and Risdon won a corner off Gersbach, but soon Sydney again looked more dangerous with the ball.

In the 59th minute Vukovic pulled off a fabulous save with his left hand to deny Antonis sliding in on a cross from Ibini.

Sydney came again, with Ibini crossing from the right and Brosque, stretching to meet the ball with his head, putting it wide.

Brosque had been working hard and was beginning to look the worse for wear.

But the whole Perth team seemed shell shocked.

Brosque was strong keeping the ball from Garcia in the left of the Perth box. He pulled the ball back for Grant. The crowd yelled, “Shoot!” And then muttered, “Next time we should specify, ‘Shoot on target!’”

Perth had a well-taken free kick from the right that found the head of Griffiths. Janjetovic was tested. A lesson should have been learned.

The 74th minute substitution of Ruben Zadkovich for Garcia was perhaps the turning point for Glory. Zadkovich brought some dynamism, if not direction, back into their game and he disrupted some of Sydney’s momentum (and blocked a shot that Ibini actually managed to keep down).

Ibini won a corner after some sweet play by Smeltz on the opposite flank. That went straight to Vukovic. Smeltz won another corner off Djulbic.

Every Perth instinct, including that of Vukovic, was to belt the ball to Keogh.

It almost paid off when Nichols found Keogh on the right and was centimetres away from burying the return from close range.

Sydney had to hold on for only seven minutes to maintain their unbeaten run. But the wheels fell off. A casual foul on the right gifted Perth a free kick that Nebojsa Marinkovic struck perfectly. Janjetovic seriously erred in not challenging for the ball, leaving Griffiths with a free header to score. And if Griffiths had missed it he had Chris Harold and Keogh waiting behind him, also unmarked.

Sydney sparked up and Ibini cut in from the right and again shot high, inciting an angry response from a fan next to me, recalling Ibini’s wonder strike in the previous round: “It was a fluke, wasn’t it!”

Then Janjetovic had to save a Nichols shot from the top right corner of the box.

And then Perth were awarded a penalty when Jamieson was caught by Chris Naumoff as he entered the Sydney box.

And Sydney, frustrated, angry, had too little time to take the game back.

Ibini, with a free shot from the right of the Perth penalty area … well, you could predict where the ball went and “target” wouldn’t be in your calculations.

After that debacle, the highlight of the game? Former Leeds United star Jacob Burns smiling at me when I caught his eye.

Match stats

Crowd: 11,280

Sydney FC:
20. Vedran Janjetovic, 4. Pedj Bojic, 5. Matt Jurman (19. Nick Carle 8’), 6. Nikola Petkovic, 8. Milos Dimitrijevic, 9.Shane Smeltz, 11. Bernie Ibini, 14. Alex Brosque, 16. Alex Gersbach, 17. Terry Antonis, 23. Rhyan Grant (13. Christopher Naumoff 73’).
Subs Not Used: 30. Anthony Bouzanis, 18. Peter Triantis, 25. Aaron Calver.
Yellow Cards: None.
Red Cards: None.

Perth Glory:
1. Danny Vukovic, 5. Rostyn Griffiths, 6. Dino Djulbic, 9. Andrew Keogh (15. Jamie MacLaren 92’), 10. Nebojsa Marinkovic, 11. Richard Garcia (8. Ruben Zadkovich 73’), 17. Mitch Nichols, 19. Josh Risdon, 20. Daniel De Silva (14. Chris Harold 67’), 21. Scott Jamieson, 23. Michael Thwaite.
Subs Not Used: 18. Jack Duncan, 13. Diogo Ferreira.
Yellow cards: Djulbic 56’, Nichols 66’
Red cards: None

Referee: Alan Miliner (the less said the better)
Assistants: Allyson Flynn and Owen Goldrick
Fourth Official: Matthew Cropper

Best players:
3. Rostyn Griffiths (Perth Glory)
2. Daniel Vukovic (Perth Glory)
1. Joshua Risdon (Perth Glory)

Report and photographs by Stephen Webb