Sydney stay on course for record-breaking season

by Jeremy Ruane:
with the compliments of

Hyundai A-League – Season 12 – 2016/2017 – Round 19
7:50pm, Thursday 9 January, 2017 –  Sydney Football Stadium

Sydney FC 3 (Rhyan Grant 2′, Bobo Milos 22′, Milos Ninkovic 54′)
Wellington Phoenix FC 1 (Alex Rodriguez 32′)

Sydney FC maintained their unbeaten start to the Hyundai A-League season at Allianz Stadium on February 9, comfortably accounting for Wellington Phoenix 3-1 in front of 8,380 spectators on an awful pitch, the result of damage inflicted upon it by another code on the weekend.

For the first thirty minutes of this match, Sydney were peerless, and Wellington chasing shadows. In just the third minute, the home team opened the scoring in fine style, with Milos Ninkovic sending Alex Brosque down the left into the penalty area, from where he chipped a cross to the far post.

Arriving on cue to support the attack was fullback Rhyan Grant, whose downward header across the diving figure of Glen Moss was placed just beyond the reach of a goalkeeper making his 200th A-League appearance in this contest.

Wellington were reeling from this setback, and would have found themselves two goals down five minutes later had Brosque’s strike not been ruled out by the offside flag.

Unperturbed, Sydney pressed again in the fourteenth minute via Bobo’s angled ball in behind the defence, Brosque his target. Moss raced out to avert the danger, with those in black ahead of him finally roused into action as an attacking force four minutes later when Guilherme Finkler’s quick free-kick released Roy Krishna to the by-line, from where he picked out Thomas Doyle with a cross to the far post.

The fullback’s header flew over the bar, unlike Sydney’s next attack, a 22nd minute move which has to go down as one of the best team goals ever scored in A-League history.

Ninkovic was being pressed deep into his own half by the persistent Alex Rodriguez, but Sydney’s playmaker found an out ball, in the form of a cross-field pass to Jordy Buijs.

He surged forward before linking with Milos Dimitrijevic, who instantly began a one-touch passing move which carved Wellington to shreds. Brosque and Bobo were swiftly involved, the latter bringing overlapping fullback Grant into play before racing into the box in anticipation of a measured cross.

It duly arrived, a beautifully flighted first-time delivery which found Bobo rising between defenders to guide his header wide of Moss and put Sydney on easy street – 2-0 over opponents who simply hadn’t been at the races to this point.

Two minutes after that sublime goal, Grant squandered a great chance to make it three, lobbing his header into Moss’ hands after another exquisite pass from Ninkovic.

More Sydney pressure followed on the half-hour, with Dimitrijevic linking with Brosque, who worked a one-two with Bobo before bursting into the area and lashing a low drive across the diving figure of Moss and inches past his left-hand post.

From out of nowhere, Wellington hit back in the 31st minute, Michael McGlinchey’s cross to Krishna inviting a header which the hitherto uninvolved figure of Danny Vukovic saved superbly in reflex fashion, albeit at the expense of a corner.

Finkler’s delivery to the near post was flicked on by Rodriguez, and ricocheted into the net off Vukovic – just the ninth goal Sydney had conceded all season, with this their nineteenth match of a so far unbeaten campaign.

Bolstered by the goal, Wellington were suddenly a completely different animal, and should have equalised just two minutes later. A swift counter-attack sent Costa Barbarouses racing through the inside right channel, but after getting the better of Alex Wilkinson, the striker dragged his shot wide of Vukovic but past the far post.

A wicked bounce off an atrocious playing surface nearly caught out Moss in the 37th minute, with the ‘keeper forced to tip the ball over the bar. It was the double centurion who was to keep his team in it before the interval, however, producing two fine saves in the 42nd minute to restrict Sydney’s half-time advantage to just the one goal.

The first denial foiled another slick raid, with Dimitrijevic sparking it. A one-two between Ninkovic and Michael Zullo followed, before the playmaker’s slide-rule through ball invited Filip Holosko to turn the ball home.

Moss blocked his effort at close quarters, then turned a Joshua Brillante thunderbolt onto the post seconds later – a terrific full-length save – to ensure Wellington went into the second half with a fighter’s chance.

They began the half brightly, and kept Sydney honest throughout the spell, but never really gave Vukovic cause for concern after Barbarouses tested him with a curler five minutes into the half.

By which time the home team had already threatened to increase their lead. Doyle was caught in possession by Holosko, who instantly sent Brosque barrelling through the middle with Moss to beat.

That was until Andrew Durante appeared on the scene, hurtling out of left field to put the striker off just as he was shaping to slot home. How Wellington will miss their captain – and Finkler – in their next match, with both picking up their fifth booking of the season in this encounter, prompting an automatic stand-down.

Durante was put in an awkward position by Rodriguez’s hospital pass to him in the 54th minute, and the defender could only direct his hurried clearance straight to Brillante.

The midfielder lobbed the ball forward to Ninkovic on the edge of the penalty area, from where he picked out a beauty, placing his shot precisely between the diving figure of Moss and the inside of the far post to restore Sydney’s two-goal advantage – 3-1.

Six minutes later, they nearly bagged a fourth goal, with Buijs and Ninkovic combining to present Bobo with a volleyed chance, the striker having to stretch to get his shot in past the covering figure of Ryan Lowry.

Unfortunately for the striker, he couldn’t keep his effort below crossbar height. Mind, at least he was closer to the target than Wellington’s Hamish Watson seconds later, the substitute heading a well-flighted Doyle cross wide of the far post when he should have at least forced a save from Vukovic.

Fifteen minutes from time, Zullo launched a Sydney raid which released substitute Bernie Ibini-Isei in between defenders. Moss’ sprawling save thwarted the striker on this occasion, while in the dying seconds, Bobo headed a Buijs free-kick narrowly past the far post as Sydney looked to finish with a flourish.

A 3-1 win was their lot, however, one which extends their unbeaten start to the campaign to nineteen games and could, depending on other results in the round, see them confirm their place in the play-offs with a remarkable eight rounds remaining.

Match details

Crowd:  8,380

Sydney FC: Vukovic (gk); Grant, Wilkinson (booked, 77), Buijs (booked, 68), Zullo; Brillante, Ninkovic (Simon, 90), Dimitrijevic; Holosko (Ibini-Isei, 72), Bobo, Brosque (Carney, 86)

Wellington Phoenix FC:  Moss (gk); Tratt (Ridenton, 60 (booked, 76)), Durante (booked, 88), Lowry, Doyle; Lia, Finkler (booked, 72), Rodriguez (Bonevacia, 66); Barbarouses, Krishna (booked, 15), McGlinchey (Watson, 46)

Ratings and points

Referee:    Kurt Ams    5/10

Match  6/10
Pitch  2/10

Players points:
3.  Ninkovic (SFC)
2.  Grant (SFC)
1.  Moss (WP)