Mariners fail to capitalise as Sydney defence wobbles

By Stephen Webb:

Hyundai A-League Season 2014-15
Round 18
Allianz Stadium, Sydney
21 February, 2015, 5 pm

Sydney FC 4 (Janko 13’, 92’, Grant 67’, Smeltz 81’)
Central Coast Mariners FC 2 (Ferreira 45’+1’, 58’)


Former Central Coast coach Lawrie McKinna said on social media he thought Mariners were unlucky tonight, that the scoreline was not a true reflection of the game and that it was the visitors’ best performance of the season.

Mariners’ current coach Phil Moss and even Sydney’s Graham Arnold agreed that Central Coast were hard done by.

In fact Mariners, who have become the easy-beats of the competition, should have taken better advantage of Sydney’s disorganised defending and were fortunate that Sydney didn’t take them seriously until Sydney were down 1-2.

Sydney started as though they and not the Mariners were playing their third game in a week. A couple of players seemed to have their minds far afield.

Mariners’ two goals came from clever play by Fabio Ferreira and Isaka Cernak. But they also were due to Sydney ball-watching and not covering properly when their fullbacks advanced.

Most mentionable of Sydney’s goals were Rhyan Grant’s equaliser — a screamer from outside the penalty area — and some individual striking brilliance from Shane Smeltz, who left four defenders red-faced, watching from the ground as he put Sydney in the lead.

Until the sixth minute, when Mariners won a corner, Sydney had most of the possession — and in their opponents’ half. Josh Rose did well to head away before the ball fell to Bernie Ibini waiting at the far post on a cross from Alex Gersbach on the left.

It was apparent early that Mariners’ main threat was Ferreira, running down the right and giving Gersbach something to think about. But the first real chance came to Cernak, who defied offside appeals, came in from the left and was only stopped by Vedran Janjetovic coming from his line and diving at Cernak’s feet.

A long switch for Sydney got Gersbach into the left corner, opening space for Milos Dimitrijevic in Mariners’ penalty area. Sydney won a corner. Dimitrijevic’s ball into the box provided a textbook header chance, easily taken by Marc Janko.

Mariners weren’t cowed and soon produced another scare for Sydney. Tidy play between Ferreira and Storm Roux in the right of Sydney’s penalty area ended with a pass across for Cernak, who again was denied by marvellous work from Janjetovic. Jacques Faty and Nikola Petkovic stood statuesque as yellow shirts darted around them.

After that fright Sydney regained some control, varying attacks between long balls and passages of short passing.

Gersbach had been getting in some useful crosses from the left but wasted one after a sweet sequence from Aaron Calver on the right, to Ibini, Terry Antonis and Dimitrijevic.

In the 20th minute Janko had another chance, getting into the left of the box and shooting under pressure from Jacob Poscoliero. The shot was too soft to trouble Liam Reddy.

Then Anthony Caceres got Ferreira into the right of the Sydney penalty area and the home side looked shaky again. Antonis seemed sleepy and Petkovic needed to switch on.

Janko had a soft header on target following a cross from Calver. Dimitrijevic had a quiet word with Calver, who had concluded a long period of Sydney possession with a cross so wayward it was barely recognisable as a cross.

In the 28th minute Ferreira again was played in behind Sydney’s defence. He crossed to Nick Fitzgerald who, despite pressure from Calver, probably should have scored, sliding in on goal.

A Josh Rose cross from the goal line was blocked but the resulting corner caused more problems for scrambling Sydney.

Sydney’s next good chance came from a Dimitrijevic free kick 25 metres from goal. The ball was heading for the top left corner but Reddy leaped and got two hands to it.

Janjetovic also had to leave the ground to pull in a cross that Ferreira had directed toward Fitzgerald.

Zach Anderson earned his yellow for pulling down Alex Brosque. Sydney had some good possession around the Mariners box but Dimitrijevic, Antonis and Ibini were hesitant to shoot.

In the 40th minute referee Matthew Conger, getting in the way, broke up a Sydney move for the third time. Nick Montgomery also got his yellow for a foul on Brosque.

High pressure from Sydney won them a corner, an Antonis shot was deflected over goal and Sydney had another corner.

With the whistle for half time impending, Mariners broke through the middle. Gersbach, caught upfield, pointed to Ferreira, who Mickael Tavares and Petkovic had allowed to drift behind them. Too late. Caceres’s pass bisected the Sydney players, ball watching in no-man’s land, and Ferreira was away. Faty rushed across to cut him off before the penalty area but Ferreira nutmegged him and proceeded to goal, Petkovic arriving too late to prevent the shot.

All level at half time.

Arnold may have had some words of advice for his boys but they still weren’t clicking when the second half began. Passes were going to no-one or were too heavy or players reacted too slowly. None of that works out well when you are attempting to play intricate passing football. There was no enthusiasm. Sydney were plodding.

Janjetovic had to come to the edge of his area to block Ferreira (his defenders still didn’t seem interested in doing anything about him).

Yet Sydney had a chance in the 50th minute, again through Janko, who headed high after the ball popped up in Mariners’ penalty area.

Central Coast were playing better football. Ferreira again streaked toward goal and Janjetovic again produced a great block.

Another small chance came for Janko in the 55th minute, when a lofted cross from Gersbach fell to his feet. His snap shot went straight to Reddy.

Mariners made better of their next opportunity. Grant, having replaced Calver on Sydney’s right, allowed Cernak space down the line behind him. Grant missed his sliding attempt to cut out the pass to Cernak, who was then free to turn to goal. Cernak came in across the top of the box, running through Faty, Tavares and Petkovic. Gersbach was drawn central, away from Ferreira, leaving him open for Cernak’s pass. With a free shot, Ferreira had Mariners’ second goal.

Finally Sydney were spurred into action. At first it was clumsy, conceding some free kicks, but their energy found focus and their fitness advantage became evident. Another sub, Chris Naumoff, had a shot deflected for a corner and Grant seemed to be called offside on a free kick when he had ten or 15 metres grace.

Poscoliero, who had been sufficiently pacey to restrict Ibini, was awarded a yellow card for tripping Ibini after being nutmegged.

In the 66th minute Ibini hit a quick cross from the right, very nearly finding Janko.

Then Janko received a wonderful ball into the box. His first touch left the ball behind him but he recovered to lay back for Brosque who did the same for Grant. Grant’s strike inside the right post was one for the highlights reel. If Sydney needed further inspiration or motivation that was it.

Smeltz, on for Brosque, soon found himself in the action, with Antonis, who was having a better second half, coming strongly through the middle and finding Ibini, who whipped in a cross that glanced off Smeltz’s head.

Another Naumoff shot was stopped by Reddy, giving a corner to Sydney.

Sydney took the lead after another cross from Ibini. The ball was chested down by Janko for Smeltz who sharply cut twice, first beating two players, then another, then evading John Hutchinson diving in, leaving all four on the ground before scoring inside the left post. What a pro!

Sydney were then happy to play keep the ball … until Grant gave it away and Janko had to track deep to regain possession.

In the 90th minute an Antonis tackle saved his defence serious embarrassment. Sydney quickly countered through Gersbach down the left. Gersbach battled his way into the Mariners penalty area before pulling back for Janko, who had a simple tap in to secure Sydney’s victory.

There were good signs for Central Coast: Caceres, Cernak and Ferreira can combine dangerously.

There were some important lessons for Sydney.

Match Stats

Crowd: 14,239

Sydney FC:
20. Vedran Janjetovic, 6. Nikola Petkovic, 8. Milos Dimitrijevic, 11. Bernie Ibini, 14. Alex Brosque (9. Shane Smeltz 70’), 16. Alex Gersbach, 17. Terry Antonis, 21. Marc Janko, 25. Aaron Calver (23. Rhyan Grant 54’), 26. Jacques Faty, 27. Mickael Tavares (13. Christopher Naumoff 58’).
Subs not used: 1. Ivan Necevski, 5. Matt Jurman.

Yellow cards: Janko 62’
Red cards: None.

Central Coast Mariners FC:
12. Liam Reddy, 2. Storm Roux, 3. Josh Rose, 4. Jacob Poscoliero, 5. Zac Anderson, 8. Nick Montgomery (20. Anthony Kalik 83’), 10. Anthony Caceres, 11. Nick Fitzgerald, 16. Liam Rose (7. John Hutchinson 66’), 23. Isaac Cernak, 26. Fabio Ferreira (14. Travis Major 76’)
Subs not used: 1. Matthew Nash, 18. Glen Trifiro

Yellow cards: Anderson 35’, Montgomery 39’, Liam Rose 63’, Poscoliero 64’, Hutchinson 85’.
Red cards: None.

Referee: Matthew Conger
Assistants: Ryan Gallagher and Lance Greenshields
Fourth official: Adam Gehrig

Best players:
3. Fabio Ferreira (Central Coast Mariners)
2. Vedran Janjetovic (Sydney FC)
1. Marc Janko (Sydney FC)

Report and photographs by Stephen Webb