Monday, February 05, 2007

A-League Semi Finals, second leg round-up

Minor semi, Newcastle Jets 2 v Sydney FC 0 (NJ win 3-2 on aggregate)

UP until now, whenever they have needed a result, Sydney FC have invariably produced it. Cast your mind back to some crunch games in the lead up to last season's finals (like Adelaide at home in round 21) and the finals that followed and Sydney turned up the intensity when the pressure was on. Even this season they have produced enough when it has mattered most, like when Terry Butcher was facing the chop ahead of the round 10 home clash with Perth (1-1 draw), and again when they ventured north in round 21 knowing they needed a draw to win a finals spot (1-1 was enough).

This time a draw would also have done the trick and you sensed the big game experience of the likes of Corica, Rudan, Talay and Bolton would be enough to get them through. But this time they didn't do enough, self-destructing under the pressure (both physical and footballing) applied by the Jets.

The home side, keen not to make the same mistake of last week by giving Sydney a head-start, set the tempo early, a couple of crunching tackles indicating they weren't about to let Sydney dominate the physical stakes. Competing at every pass, the likes of Thompson and Okon set the scene with a couple of early rattlers on Carney and Brosque.

While there had been little surprise in the starting line-ups (Durante and Rodriguez had been tipped in the press to come in for Eagleton and Coveny, while Talay, returning from suspension, was the obvious replacement for McFlynn), there was an early surprise in the way the Jets shaped up. Realising that Carle had been bottled up in the middle of late, Gary van Egmond started him on the left, with Bridge and Rodriguez playing through the middle. It was more clever work from the Newcastle manager, taking some early pressure off Carle. It also allowed the Jets to break quickly through the middle, Rodriquez, Bridge and Griffiths taking advantage of a Sydney back four that was often caught high up the pitch.

Sydney have looked best in defence whenever Milligan has been patrolling things at the back. Here, with him in midfield, Sydney's back four almost looked as slow and square as it had been earlier in the season, and Talay was often found sprinting back to help out. Musalik in control in the midfield, Okon stepping in to lend a hand and the front four looking lively, Sydney were hanging on. Spurred on by a bumper and boisterous Newcastle crowd, incensed by a couple of penalty decisions that were waved away by Matthew Breeze, Newcastle kept it tight and physical.

With Corica squeezed wide and Carney and Middleby well looked after by Thompson and Durante, Brosque was isolated and became frustrated. He snapped. What followed was suitably described by van Egmond as 'handbags at 10 yards', but on the evidence of replays it is was not surprising to see North called up by FFA. There may have been little contact and Fyfe admittedly made a meal of whatever contact there was, but a gesture is a gesture and, on the precedents we've seen from the FFA disciplinary committee, North will be very lucky if he gets a trip to Adelaide this week. Petrovski's involvement as the players departed did neither him nor his club any favours, merely heightening the focus on Butcher and his players.

Still 0-0 and despite the numerical disadvantage, Sydney, you sensed, were very much in it. Surely this latest dose of adversity would only steel them further? Could the Jets handle the expectation in the second half? The words of van Egmond at the break, so measured and insightful, offered hope. Move the ball quickly, don't dwell on it at the back and stretch Sydney, that was the plan. It sounded simple, but how often have we seen teams fail to take advantage of a numerical superiority?

But Newcastle followed the plan perfectly, Okon bringing the ball forward, Musalik, Carle, Bridge and Griffiths stroking it around quickly, one and two touch football. Sydney, with no recognised striker on the pitch and unable to build anything out of the back, were forever on the back foot, stretched from right to left. Little wonder gaps opened up in the middle.

When the ball was on the Newcastle right, Zadkovich looked lost, unsure whether to hang out on the right or drift into the central space. Soon he was caught in no-mans land, Bridge taking advantage and finding Griffiths unmarked in Zadkovich's space. Measured, composed and confident, he shaped it into the top corner. Madness around Energy Australia.

The Jets were ahead on away goals but they weren't content to defend it. Again they attacked and should have had a penalty when Fyfe clattered Carle from behind. But they kept coming. When a cross from the right appeared to be over-hit, there was Thompson, pressing forward, keeping it alive. Zadkovich, over-reading the situation again, showed him the line, Thompson took him on and substitute Coveny pounced. The place went off and the Jets it seemed were off to the prelim.

But a Sydney goal would have taken it to extra time. Not surprisingly their best hope looked to be at the set piece, but Covic, again reserving his best work for home, was in confident catching mood, racing off his line to relieve pressure.

Further signs of discord when Butcher replaced his captain, Rudan wishing to march straight to the shower. Sydney had started the two-legs well, but, over-run by a united force, could no longer bottle it in. Newcastle had proved in 30 minutes in Sydney and for 90 minutes here they have the charcter and belief to go with the technical and tactical smarts. Sydney, hitherto such a major psychological barrier, had been crossed.

Much as they'd been on the receiving end of a similarly wonderful night on the Central Coast at this stage last season, now it was Newcastle's turn to celebrate, both on and off the field. And now, just like their southern neighbours last season, they will go to Adelaide with the belief they can at least get to the big one.

Do visit again for a comprehensive review of yesterday's gripping major semi final second leg at the Dome.


Anonymous ole ole said...

Great game. NJ thoroughly deserved to go through not only for their performance during that game but for the whole season. (most of it).

Goes to show that good football gets results.

Tue. Feb. 06, 09:27:00 am AEDT  
Anonymous colin said...

Bit surprised you didnt mention the poor refereeing standard that has blighted our game for the last two seasons.
If matthew breeze is considered to be one of our 'best', then the game can only be brought into more disrepute. The tackle by fyfe on carle was the most blatant penalty i've seen and the 'headbutt' by north on fyfe goes unpunished? one of them deserved a card, either for 'simulating' or for 'assault'.

Tue. Feb. 06, 09:51:00 am AEDT  
Anonymous Colo Trifti said...

The more I see and hear of Sydney FC the more it reminds me of Sydney City in the old NSL!

Tue. Feb. 06, 12:03:00 pm AEDT  
Anonymous GEORGE said...

I do think that Breeze ruined the game by sending off Brosque, when he let go other challenges without a caution. ie. North obstructing Brosque when he was away on goal.
I agree with Colin about the refs, but not as strongly as he does.

Tue. Feb. 06, 12:22:00 pm AEDT  
Anonymous frank f said...

Its good to see Newcastle advance in the finals. Their brand of entertaining football is so much better than dour Sydney. Its better for the good of the game.
Go Jets.

Tue. Feb. 06, 05:33:00 pm AEDT  

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