Wanderers given an absolute pasting by in-form Sydney FC

by Paul Green

Hyundai A-League – Season 13 – 2017/2018 – Round 10
7:50pm, Saturday 9 December, 2017 – Sydney Olympic Stadium, Homebush Bay

Western Sydney Wanderers FC 0
lost to
Sydney FC 5 (Adrian Mierzejewski 14, 45, Alex Brosque 41, Lachlan Scott o.g. 53, Brandon O’Neill 76)

The Sydney derby always attracts a monster crowd and while the 36,000 or so who made their way to Sydney’s Olympic Stadium on Saturday night was not of the same proportions as many previous encounters, it was still an attendance that was bigger than the combined average attendances of both metropolitan clubs, so was far from disappointing.

What was disappointing, everyone to a man or woman would surely agree, was the lack of derby tension in a game that fizzled out almost as soon as it began, with the home team Western Sydney Wanderers’ troubles already well-documented and optimism among home supporters somewhat limited.

Sydney FC, by contrast, have been carrying all before them this season, one notable loss to Central Coast Mariners away from home the exception, as Graham Arnold’s side aims to go for back-to-back Premierships and no doubt eyeing the remaining domestic prizes as well.

They have the Asian Champions League to look forward to as well, but meantime their focus is on the A. League programme and that focus remained high all season as we reached the start of the second set-of-nine.

The Wanderers had lost the previous week to Brisbane Roar in what could only be described as an uninspiring performance.

It had also invited speculation surrounding the early withdrawal of two of the team’s better strikers in mysterious circumstances, one walking off with a reported hamstring strain and the other a calf injury.

Neither was included in this match against the Sky Blues, with doubts of their fitness hanging over the Wanderers’ camp’s head and coach Josep Gombau had some big decisions to make before his team faced the might of their juggeraut-like city neighbours.

Playing out of the stadium in Homebush Bay for the majority of the season after alternative ‘home ground’, the adjacent Spotless Stadium, was declared unfit for A.League football until February, the Wanderers gave up any thoughts of creating a fortress, however temporary, settling for the cavernous Olympic arena as their base for the mad-cap RBB supporters’ group and other stalwart fans to offer a sought-after hostile welcome for visiting sides.

There was none of that, even if the RBB group stamped their feet, sang lustily and showed commendable forbearance as the fearsome Sydney FC went about destroying their adored Wanderers in a very one-sided game indeed, far removed from derbies of the past where blood boiled over and Wanderers’ players gave their everything to reward their fans.

Here what they gave was an even more insipid performance than they’d provided against Brisbane before losing 2-1. This time there was no running away from the inevitable inquests after a savage 5-0 drubbing by their long-time adversaries.

Gombau could be facing issues we are not privy to, but he came to the club late, inheriting a group of players put together by former coach Tony Popovic who left the club just days before the team’s opening match.

Hayden Foxe had the caretaker job initially and posted some good results until Gombau was appointed and given time to put his own stamp on the team. Time that the fans may not be patient enough to give him.

Ringing the changes from the team that lost to Brisbane, leaving out the unavailable Oriol Riera and Jaushua Sotirio and leaving Raul Llorente on the bench, Gombau also surprised by including youngster Lachlan Scott alongside Alvaro Cejudo and pushing Josh Risdon up from defence to join the pair.

He also had two senior players, Brendon Santalab and Jumpei Kusukami on the bench, after both had featured against Brisbane Roar, Santalab taking over from Riera after only 19 minutes in that match.

Robert Cornthwaite returned to defence but there was no spot for the captain Michael Thwaite, who remained on the bench throughout the Sydney FC game alongside Llorente.

Youngster Keanu Baccus also started in a position in front of the back four.

Whatever was in Gombau’s mind his players didn’t seem to interpret with much understanding as the blend of old and mostly-new faces found it difficult to find any rhythm or coordination.

Against a side as well-drilled as Sydney FC this proved far too much to overcome.

The goals came in a steady stream as not one Sydney FC player had a poor game, which ran counter to the experience of the home team’s competitors.

Organisation was poor and the team suffered what can only be termed a humiliating defeat.

Take nothing away from Sydney FC who scored five and could easily have had at least three or four more, so dominant were they in every area.

Only keeper Vedran Janjetovic and perhaps Alvaro Cejudo made effective contributions, the goalkeeper making several important saves while the midfielder pushed forward, Cejudo, probed repeatedly without any real appreciation of his efforts from those he was trying to work with.

By the time Santalab and Kusukami emerged from the bench a half-time 3-0 lead by Sydney FC had become 4-0 and ignominiously that fourth goal had come from Wanderers’ striker Lachlan Scott’s header past his own keeper.

The architect of the Sydney FC win Adrian Mierzejewski, a Polish midfielder who is growing in stature every week and has filled in admirably during the injury-enforced absence of Milos Ninkovic.

His dead-ball skills were again in evidence here as he curled a beautiful free-kick around the wall and in for his second goal on the stroke of half-time having earlier given his side the 14th minute lead when finishing off a nice passing move from the left with a crisp finish.

It must have been agony for the Wanderers’ die-hard fans, especially with their side to all appearances offering minimal resistance. The players will certainly have reflected on their lack of cohesion or application in key moments of the game, when assessing the damage done following on from this game.

Although it was only 1-0 until Alex Brosque finished another move off nicely in the 41st minute the Wanderers were at no stage in contention in this match, looking like fish out of water for much of the time.

A decisive strike from workhorse Brandon O’Neill in the 76th minute came not long after a screamer from winger Michael Zullo had appeared to already make it 5-0 until the intervention of the Video Assistant Referee who had spotted a handball during the lead-up by Mierzejewski that many felt was too early in the build-up to the goal to matter much.

Sydney FC will never have an easier derby win against their former foes, now relatively toothless. The Wanderers can only get better. They have to.

Gombau and his senior players will need to find a quick fix and a winning mentality as well as a winning formula ahead of the next series of matches beginning at Central Coast Stadium on Saturday night.

While the Spanish coach who enjoyed much success at Adelaide United a couple of seasons ago has been reportedly backed by his club’s officials to implement his own style and given time to get things working, the fans may be less patient as the players, some of whom are long-time A.League identities, could find it difficult to adapt to ‘the process’ as Gombau likes to call it, which differs markedly from that adopted by the man-manager’s predecessor, Popovic.

There’s going to be a good deal of man-management activity going on in the coming weeks and Wanderers’ fans will be looking for leadership from both within the playing squad and the management as difficult time loom for all concerned.

The Mariners will be hoping that those efforts do not bear immediate fruit on Saturday night.

Match details

Crowd: 36,433

Western Sydney Wanderers FC: 20 Vedran Janjetovic (gk); 5 Brendan Hamill (14 Jumpei Kusukami 57), 18 Robert Cornthwaite (c), 22 Jonathan Aspropotamitis, 3 Jack Clisby; 42 Keanu Baccus; 15 Kearyn Baccus, 8 Roly Bonevacia; 4 Josh Risdon, 10 Alvaro Cejudo; 23 Lachlan Scott (11 Brendon Santalab 58)
Subs not used: John Hall (rgk), 33 Michael Thwaite, 24 Raul Llorente

Yellow cards: Jack Clisby 44, Alvaro Cejudo 62, Josh Risdon 79, Robert Cornthwaite 84
Coach: Josep Gombau

Sydney FC: 1 Andrew REDMAYNE (gk); 26 Luke WILKSHIRE, 5 Jordy BUIJIS, 4 Alex WILKINSON, 7 Michael ZULLO; 13 Brandon O’NEILL, 6 Joshua BRILLIANTE; 11 Adrian MIERZEJEWSKI, 17 David CARNEY; 14 Alex BROSQUE; 9 Bobo
Subs not used: 20 Aleksander CISAK (rgk), 22 Sebastian RYALL

Yellow cards: Nil
Coach: Graham Arnold

Points and ratings

Referee: Jonathan Barreiro 8/10
Assistants: Ashley Beecham and Scott Edeling; Fourth Official: Kris Griffiths-Jones

Match: 7/10
Pitch 9/10
Weather: warm and dry

Player points
3. Adrian Mierzejewski (SFC)
2. Brandon O’Neill (SFC)
1. Luke Wilkshire (SFC)