Last gasp derby win for Sydney

By Corinthian (Paul Green):
A-League – Season 11 – 2015/2016 – Round 3

7:40pm, Saturday 24th October 2015  – Sydney Football Stadium

Sydney FC 1 (Milos Ninkovic 88′)
Western Sydney Wanderers FC 0


The match that had all of Sydney’s attention last week produced yet another last-gasp win for Sydney FC, whose victory owed as much to their defensive discipline as to their attacking flair.

The 88th minute winner was a piece of individual brilliance, allied to an inch-perfect pass, with the scorer, the mercurial newcomer, Milos Ninkovic, showing his class and spoiling the Wanderers’ fans’ hopes of stealing away with at least a point.

Fittingly the goal came in front of the Cove, who’d sung heartily throughout the match in a completely filled Sydney Football Stadium.

Some fans were seen making their way to the exits before the 90 minutes were up, more concerned about getting out of the car park, than seeing the game to its conclusion, but the vast majority, having lasted that long and having seen very few moments of magic, were sensible enough to know that every football match lasts as long as it lasts, especially this early in the season, and in a derby game for good measure, so they patiently waited for the match to reach a satisfactory conclusion; which it did for at least for one set of supporters.

It was clear that with such high stakes risk-taking would be kept to a minimum and to that end both defences distinguished themselves, not making for much of a spectacle for the paying supporters, admittedly, but ensuring that neither coach could be faulted for any lack of tactical preparation.

The Wanderers began the brighter of the two teams, with the brilliant Romeo Castelen looking dangerous from the opening whistle.

Unfortunately for his team, the clever winger had to withdraw from the action after only eight minutes and walked sadly to the dressing rooms, to be hastily substituted by another experienced player, Dario Vidosic, who was soon into the action.

Castelen appeared a sorry figure as he languished in the dressing room, alone, unable to get treatment immediately for the hamstring injury that saw him leave the field so early.

While the injury might have been enough to see him leave the scene, it did not look serious enough to keep him out for long, once the medical teams work their magic. It looked more of a precautionary measure, based on the player’s known injury history, were coach Tony Popovic to disclose any intelligence on the matter, post-match. He kept quiet about it, however, pleading no information available yet and preferring to wait for word later from his team of medics.

Popovic did, however, agree that the early loss of Castelen broke some of the early momentum, as Vidosic needed time to adjust to the pattern of the game.

Overall there was little between the two sides, at least in terms of possession, but the forward thrust of the Wanderers team did look far more purposeful.

It was a midfield battle for the most part, with The Wanderers’ Spaniard, Andreu, on top of most things that came his way, while Sydney FC’s off-season recruit, 21 year old prospect Brandon O’Neill, did his best to match him.

The game was one of minimal risk-taking, with the Wanderers going the closest to scoring; once when the ball came back off the crossbar, from a volley right in front by Dimas Delgado, with an assistant’s flag already raised and the other, in first-half stoppage-time, when the ball was headed into the net neatly by Jaushua Sotirio, from a precision pass from the left by Mitch Nichols, but again the assistant noticed that the scorer was in front of the second-last defender, by enough to swear by and raised his flag once more.

While Graham Arnold, post-match, dismissed the claims for a goal being unfairly denied, “yeah, that one? It was offside”, Wanderers’ coach, Popovic, was just as certain that it was an incorrect decision.

It was close, but the replay clearly showed the assistant to be spot on and he’d certainly be pleased to know that, once the game was over!

And so, with the game in the balance, defenders having been outstanding and the mid-fielders more or less nullifying one another, it was to the bench that both coaches turned.

Popovic brought on Brendan Hamill for Scott Neville, who was on a yellow card and skating on thin ice, early in the second half and later gave Mark Bridge his first exposure of the new season, with Nichols being withdrawn.

Bridge had only just regained match fitness, but was soon in the action, playing quite centrally and exchanging some useful passes as he looked to get on the end of fast moves at close quarters.

The former Sydney FC player  only had a limited amount of game time in which to make an impact, but he did look a threat, though time ran out for him to show a great deal on this occasion.

Of the attacking players, Wanderers’ number 9, the Italian, Federico Piovaccari, who seemed to spend as much time engaging in banter with referee, Ben Williams, as anything else, did show good strength on the ball and almost forged an opening right near the end, but once again stout Sky Blues’ defence kept him at bay.

The Sydney FC striker expected to score regularly this season and in the news for his clash with the Newcastle keeper the previous weekend, Shane Smeltz, was blotted out by the Wanderers’ backline, so it was no surprise to see Graham Arnold respond by replacing the Kiwi with former Central Coast Mariners’ target man, Matt Simon for the last 20 minutes.

The tall striker got in amongst the Wanderers’ defenders, causing nuisance value, but he too, like Bridge, was not on long enough to do any damage. He won a couple of aerial duels and put in one cross that might have led to something, but the cross that did the damage was from O’Neill who found Ninkovic in some space on the right.

It looked difficult, especially from that tight angle, but the experienced Serbian somehow squeezed his shot beyond Vedran Janjetovic and in at the far-post.

It was the winner and the scorer celebrated with the Cove in fine style, the shirt inevitably coming off, with referee Ben Williams just as inevitably issuing the yellow card.

Sydney FC made off with the points, but in many ways the honours went to the visitors, who are slowly getting things sorted out as they begin to blend as a unit.

The Wanderers will get the chance to prove their worth next Sunday when Perth Glory come to Parramatta Stadium, while Sydney FC now sit atop the A League ladder, with seven points from a possible nine, albeit with only two goals to their name, both scored in the dying minutes of their last two matches.

They’ll look to continue that run on Saturday evening at Central Coast Stadium against the Mariners, who’ve won once at home and will be looking to bounce back. Matt Simon will be keen to get involved in that one.

He might even start at the expense of the disappointing Smeltz.

Match details
Crowd:  40,539

Sydney FC:  1. Vedran JANJETOVIC (gk), 2. Seb RYALL, 5. Matt JURMAN, 8. Milos DIMITRIJEVIC (27. Mickael TAVARES 60’), 9. Shane SMELTZ (18. Matt SIMON 73’), 10. Milos NINKOVIC , 13. Brandon O’NEILL, 14. Alex BROSQUE, 19. Jacques FATY, 21. Filip HOLOSKO (7. Andrew HOOLE 60), 23. Rhyan GRANT
Subs not used: 20. Ivan NECEVSKI (rgk), 3. Alex GERSBACH.

Yellow cards: Milos Dimitrijevic 38’, Jacques Faty 64’, Milos Ninkovic 88’, Sebastian Ryall 92’.
Red cards: Nil

Coach: Graham Arnold

Western Sydney Wanderers FC:  20. Andrew REDMAYNE (gk), 3.Scott JAMIESON, 4.Nikolai TOPOR-STANLEY (c), 6.Mitch NICHOLS (19. Mark BRIDGE 82’), 7.Romeo CASTELEN (10.Dario VIDOSIC 12’), 8.DIMAS, 9.Federico PIOVACCARI, 12.Scott NEVILLE (5.Brendan HAMILL 53’), 16.Jaushua SOTIRIO, 17.ALBERTO, 18.ANDREU.
Subs not used: 1.Dean BOUZANIS (rgk), Jacob PEPPER

Yellow cards: Scott Neville 38’, Alberto Aguilar 75’, Nikolai Topor-Stanley 85’
Red cards: Nil

Coach:  Tony Popovic

Referee  Ben Williams 7/10
Assistants: Ashley Beecham and Owen Goldrick; Fourth Official: Luke Withell

Ratings and points

Match 6/10
Pitch 9/10

Player points:
3. Andreu (WSW)
2. Matt Jurman (SFC)
1. Dario Vidosic  (WSW)

Photo: For BOTN by Stephen Webb