Monday, March 06, 2006

Grand final analysis; Mariners made to lament many misses

Sydney FC 1 v Central Coast Mariners 0

The first signs were there by the 12th minute, started to filter into the players’ minds by the half hour mark, were no doubt reinforced at the break and sealed with half an hour to go.

Those signs being that this wasn’t to be the fairytale end for the Mariners, rather the finish that so many envisaged at the start of the season, that of the bling - Sydney FC - lifting the thing that mattered most, the A-League trophy.

In football, players and managers know that whenever you are dominating a game, you must capitalise.

So, on 30 minutes, when Mariners striker Stewart Petrie skied a great opportunity over Clint Bolton’s bar, his hands went to his head. Tom Pondeljak, who was nearby, shook his head, almost in resignation and realisation that yet another golden opportunity had been wasted and that it might come back to haunt them at the final whistle.

The fact is that the Mariners should have killed off the game by this stage. They had monstered the hosts all over the pitch, and all that was missing from the fairytale was the sting in the tail.

And they knew it.

Chance after chance had been squandered, Damien Brown having a goal-bound header blocked by Andrew Packer, the magnificent Andre Gumprecht blazing wide from the rebound, Petrie side-footing one wide and one over, Alex Wilkinson having a free header saved by Bolton.

The Mariners, targeting the right side of Sydney’s defence by thrusting Gumprecht, Dean Heffernan, Tom Pondeljak and Damien Brown in that direction at every opportunity, were running the show.

They were clearly working on the vulnerability of Mark Rudan and Packer not having played together too often. All that was missing was the killer blow.

Perhaps it was this day more than any other that they missed the clinical finishing of injured sharp shooter Nick Mrdja, or a player of the ability of Dwight Yorke, who demonstrated the value of a high quality marquee signing with an inspired captain’s knock in the second period, lifting his boys off the canvass and showing his opposition how ruthless you need to be.

Strangely, at the break, it would have been Lawrie McKinna who would have been the more worried of the two managers. His men had huffed and puffed, but hadn’t been able to blow the Sydney house down. In the back of his mind he would have known that Sydney would not play as badly in the second period, and that his men might pay for their wastefulness.

In the other room, Sydney manager Pierre Littbarski may have uttered some harsh words, but he and his men would have known that they’d been dealt a ‘get out of jail’ chance and that their period of control would eventually come. How they capitalised on this period would decide the fate of the premiership.

He’d sprung a surprise at the selection table, erring on the side of caution by including defensive minded Terry McFlynn at the expense of young attacking midfielder Ruben Zadkovich, and by halftime it had clearly not worked.

McFlynn came in to partner Matthew Bingley in the deep central midfield roles, and Sydney were back playing with the narrow midfield that had epitomised its post-Japan period.

Steve Corica appeared to be under instructions to tuck-in, meaning the only width on the left was to be provided by Alvin Ceccoli, but he had his hands full with Wayne O’Sullivan. On the other side, David Carney was struggling to keep up with the overlapping Dean Heffernan, meaning Sydney had no outlets left and right, thus they struggled to maintain any possession as Sasho Petrovski worked alone up front.

It seemed a formation built as much on containment, but Littbarski and his brains trust will know that luck played some part in surviving the Mariners onslaught.

However, his men did scramble well in defence. It was no surprise that his two central defenders Mark Rudan and Jacob Timpano were replaced late in the game, such was the working over they received in the first half.

Littbarski had to address a couple of key areas at the break, getting the ball wide and getting his main men, Yorke, Corica, Carney and Petrovski on the ball. So Corica went wider in the second half, freeing up space for Yorke, which he gratefully used, running a master clinic in toying with an opposition and bringing the likes of Carney and Corica into the game. Carney particularly was able to pin Heffernan back.

Up until then Yorke had looked weary, but also confused about the shape of his team, which was understandable given that he’d been away and hadn’t had much opportunity to work on the new formation.

The mesmerising run that lead to Corica’s winner was a brilliant piece of cunning, daring his markers Andrew Clark and Noel Spencer to dive in if they dared. It was as if he was saying “Dive in and I’ll skin you, creating a shot or winning a penalty, stay on your feet and I’ll shoot or lay it off”.

Clark gambled on the latter, but the best players always have another option, and in this case Yorke had the vision to tee-up an unmarked Corica, who shot splendidly across Danny Vukovic. Clinical.

It was the masters beating the apprentices and immediately you saw eight heads drop in the Mariners box. McKinna admitted afterwards that the goal deflated his men and he was right.

From that moment Sydney looked in total control, and while Pondeljak threatened to chip one over his old teammate Bolton, the Mariners looked like a team that had not only run out of ideas, but out of energy, understandable given how much they’d exerted in the opening exchanges.

Fit they may be, superhuman they aren’t.

So Sydney, as had been the case throughout the season, had looked shaky for large periods, but showed the character to hang in and the class to get the job done when it mattered most.

Clearly the bling has substance. When they decide to switch on, there are few that can live with them, particularly when Yorke had an opportunity to get his foot on the ball.

If this is to be the last we are see of him, as has been muted, we should feel blessed and not forget his classy contributions throughout the campaign, particularly on this wonderful occasion.


Anonymous JB said...

Tony, great wrap-up and analysis! How about that atmosphere, eh? We were in Bay 29 at the left-hand end of The Cove, with a great view over Yorke's right shoulder as he laid of the 'pretty pass'. What a treat.

Tue. Mar. 07, 03:22:00 pm AEDT  
Anonymous Pierre said...

Loved the game and everything about it. Can't wait till next season. My 1-0 prediction came up for the final. One thing that toubled me was the man of the match award, cant help but wonder it was awarded with a 'marketing' angle in mind.
Where to now Tony? Will you hibernate till June or can we expect more of the same?
Congrats on your column.
Interesting fact that I heard yesterday was that Sydney FC only had 2700 members/ticket holders...a number that should easily double after Sunday.

Tue. Mar. 07, 04:16:00 pm AEDT  
Blogger The Round Ball Analyst said...

JB and Pierre,

Thanks for your kind feedback and support....

It really was a wonderful ocassion on Sunday, just amazing to think how far the game has come in such a short space of time, with blanket media coverage, 99% of it positive, and people I never imagined had an interest in the game flocking to watch and discuss the local domestic comp.

We'd always known the Socceroos to be marketable, but it's unbelievebale to think you dont have to go looking for A-League content, it's in our faces.

I guess it vindicates the belief many had that the game needed to be run on proper business principles.

I thought we'd be hard pressed to top opening night at the prom, Sydney v Victory, but the atmosphere on Sunday was right up there with that, and in many cases better.

Hopefully the four/five months off won't affect this level of interest and membership numbers across all clubs benefit, along with sponsorship dollars.

As for the Joe Marston, Dwight had a shocking first half, but really turned it on for a 15 min period in the 2nd, which I guess won Syd the title. In that sense, he was the most influential player on the pitch cause he made it happen when it mattered most, but a couple of Mariners players will feel unlucky.

I thought Gumprecht was the stand-out in the first half, but died a bit in the 2nd (not surprising given how much turf he covered before the break), while Beauchamp was consistent throughout. Also thought Corica had an excellent second half, where he gave young Alex Wilkinson a torrid time.

Like you Pierre, I'm already hanging for 06/07. Stay tuned over the next few days and weeks as I'll wrap up the season and look forward to the next. There's plenty of European football to keep us busy and of course the build up to the Cup.

So do visit again....


Tue. Mar. 07, 05:54:00 pm AEDT  
Anonymous Andrew said...

My membership was well worth it this year! I saw the first game of the season, a regular season game vs the mariners (which was very entertaining), and the grand final (I had great tix in Bay 34).

Thanks again for the expert analysis. I think Yorke summed it up in his acceptance speech that Central Coast didn't deserve to lose, but Sydney took its chance when it had it.

This was the cherry on top of WC qualification.

Wed. Mar. 08, 01:03:00 pm AEDT  
Blogger The Round Ball Analyst said...

Thanks glad you enjoyed and you're right, this was definitely a great way to follow up on what happened in November.

Hopefully in 15 of 20 years time, history will remember these days fondly.

Mon. Mar. 13, 03:58:00 pm AEDT  

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