Sky Blues see off Reds challenge

By Paul Green

Hyundai A-League 2018/19 Season – Round 13
6:00pm Sunday 13 January, 2019 – Kogarah Jubilee Stadium

Sydney FC 2 (Siem de Jong 13’, Jacob Tratt 48’)
Adelaide United FC 1 (Craig Goodwin 49’ pen)


The crowd at Jubilee Oval was treated to another winning performance by Sydney FC on Sunday evening when top-six contenders Adelaide United provided the strong opposition.

Having won their other games at their temporary Kogarah venue so far this season, the Sky Blues were determined to bounce back after suffering an uncharacteristic 3-1 defeat in midweek in the West against table-toppers Perth Glory.

Coach Steve Corica, mindful of the heavy holiday-season schedule, was keen to rest some players and chose this game to give former Youth League star defender Jacob Tratt his first start and provide recent recruit, Danny De Silva, with an opportunity in midfield.

Also worth bearing in mind, although he played out all but the last ten minutes or so, was the lack of sleep endured by playmaker Milos Ninkovic, who had become a father for the third time towards the end of the previous week.

Ninkovic was seen toiling away at the other end of the field, in mostly mopping-up operations and remained in that role until the rested Paul Retre made a belated appearance off the bench to protect what by that stage was a 2-1 lead.

Also left to cool his heels on the bench was Alex Brosque, who had scored his first A-League hat-trick in the team’s previous home game against Central Coast Mariners.

Brosque, who had been expected to fulfil a role as mostly a bench-player before the season began, only to become an almost indispensable member of the attack, came on for Da Silva just after the hour mark and livened things up considerably.

Sydney FC secured the vital three points they needed in order to stay in touch with the main group chasing form-side Glory, but this was no walk in the park and neither was it as tough a game to win as it might have been, as Adelaide also failed to bring their best game with them to Sydney, possibly equally drained by the excessive number of minutes played and taking into account travel fatigue, something the Sky Blues showed signs of as well.

The game was no classic, but it had its moments of excitement.

All three of the goals came via set-pieces, a fourth created by Sydney FC, when already 2-1 up, chalked off for offside, following a belated call from the VAR, after on-field match officials had missed the infringement in a lead-up to the 63rd minute strike.

Sydney began the better of the two teams, although the visitors did manage to force a couple of early corner-kicks, which were both played short and proved unproductive.

After what appeared to be a clear foul on the right hand edge of the penalty area had been waved away by referee Adam Kersey, Sydney FC worked their way along the fringes of the area, towards the centre and it was there that the match official decided a foul had been committed, when Ninkovic came down under a robust challenge from Nikola Mileusnic, 20 yards out.

This presented the Sydney team with a far better chance of breaking the deadlock than they might have gained, had the earlier foul been penalised.

As Michael Zullo and Siem de Jong stood over the ball, there was a likelihood that the left-footed Zullo would have a crack, as the pair faced a very long wall of defenders in attempting to breach Paul Izzo’s goal.

But, instead, it was marquee man, de Jong, who used his right foot to lift the ball over the wall and into the top left corner of the net, a superb strike worthy of a man who has done it all before so many times in the Netherlands.

That goal stunned Adelaide who had looked well-organised enough in defence to provide a nice platform to deploy their usual counter-attacking game.

It was not to be, as replacement striker, Ken Ilso Larsen, sparingly deployed since signing at the start of the season, was withdrawn at half-time, after going very close with one worthy attempt in the 23rd, his low shot from 15 yards skimming past the left-hand upright.

His coach, Marco Kurz, explained later that Ilso had been feeling unwell before the game, hence his interval replacement by former Sky Blues youngster George Blackwood, one of Graham Arnold’s boys who once looked set for a big future at the club, but is now playing his second season with the Reds.

Adelaide lost little by the half-time change, as it was Blackwood who was able to earn them a penalty-kick early in the second-half.

By that stage, however, Sydney FC had already forged to a deserved 2-0 lead, with raw defender, Jacob Tratt, coming up for a corner in the 48th and powering home a header off a smart flag-kick whipped over by the ever-reliable Brandon O’Neill.

Tratt rose highest and was not picked up, as he got everything behind the ball among a throng of defenders, perhaps expecting the danger to come from more established players.

Tratt has scored goals before during his days with Sutherland Sharks and the Sydney FC Youth team, so this was no surprise to those familiar with his attributes at both ends of the field.

Having previously captained the Sydney FC Youth team and bring well known to coach Steve Corica, he’d played a season at Wellington Phoenix, before an NPL1 season at Sutherland again kept him under notice. Now back at Sydney FC perhaps this appearance may be the first of many for the 24 year-old.

The Dubbo-born player must now be considered another dark horse to fight for a spot at the heart of a defence, well-marshalled as always by Alex Wilkinson, but with young local players featuring regularly and acquitting themselves admirably.

With the two-goal cushion Sydney FC clearly switched off, however, as Adelaide broke quickly less than a minute later and punished the home side’s apparent complacency, the South Australian side often seen at their best when attacking on the counter.

This time it was a fast break by Blackwood down the left which came to an unceremonious finish, as the young substitute came down as he attempted to go past Aaron Calver.

He’d barely burst into the penalty-area when he fell heavily and referee Kersey seemed in no doubt about the infringement, although post-match Sydney FC coach Corica seemed less than impressed with the call by the official, even if his side was still able to hold a slender lead.

A goal which resulted from an alarming mix-up in the Adelaide defence in the 63rd minute and saw the ball lashed home from close range by de Jong was reviewed using the VAR and ruled out for offside, with the big screen at the stadium proclaiming ‘Mistaken identity’ though it’s unclear whether that was an official declaration, or a message for the crowd decided upon by the operator of the screen itself.

In any event the third goal did not stand and Sydney had to fight on to preserve their narrow 2-1 lead.

They looked under some pressure at times, but the introduction of Retre and hard work by the entire defence seemed to have been enough to repel the late surge by the visiting Reds.

Right at the end, though, there was some consternation in the goalmouth and keeper Andrew Redmayne had to come to his side’s rescue, as a loose ball bobbled around to the right of his goal area.

In diving on the ball after substitute Ryan Kitto had fired in a shot that the keeper blocked brilliantly at point-blank range and then ensuring that there was no fatal follow-up by clutching the ball to his chest, Redmayne saved the day for his side, as Adelaide players looked all set to steal a late point.

Match details:

Official Attendance: 11,560

Sydney FC: 1 Andrew Redmayne (GK), 18 Jacob Tratt, 2 Aaron Calver, 4 Alex Wilkinson (c), 7 Michael Zullo; 6 Josh Brilliante, 13 Brandon O’Neill; 11 Daniel De Silva (14 Alex Brosque 64’), 10 Milos Ninkovic (8 Paul Retre 82’); 22 Siem de Jong, 9 Adam Le Fondre

Subs not used: 20 Alexander Cisak (RGK), 17 Anthony Caceres, 31 Luke Ivanovic

Yellow Cards: Josh Brilliante 36’, Jacob Tratt 82’

Adelaide United: 20 Paul Izzo (GK), 4 Ryan Strain (2 Michael Marrone 76’), 23 Jordan Elsey, 22 Michael Jakobsen, 3 Scott Galloway; 6 Vince Lia (7 Ryan Kitto 76’), 8 Isaias (c); 17 Nikola Mileusnic, 10 Ken Ilso (14 George Blackwood 46’), 11 Craig Goodwin; 26 Ben O’Halloran

Subs not used: 1 Daniel Margush (RGK), 16 Nathan Konstandopoulos

Yellow Cards: Jordan Elsey 80’

Referee: Adam Kersey 6/10
Assistants: Ashley Beecham and Kearney Robinson; Fourth Official: Ben Abraham

Ratings and points

Weather: Mild and breezy

Pitch: 9/10
Game: 6/10

Player points:
3 Siem de Jong (SFC)
2 Isaias (AU)
1 Joshua Brilliante (SFC)