Saturday, August 25, 2007

Heavyweights knock-off the lightweights

Round 1 match analysis, Sydney FC 0 v Central Coast Mariners 1

HOW Sydney FC could have done with a Sasho Petrovski or Nik Mrdja in last night’s season opener against the Mariners as the SFS. That was the major difference between the teams, the quality up front.

The Mariners had two of Aussie football’s best strikers going around, Sydney had nothing.

Mark Rudan spoke during the week about the riches at Lawrie McKinna’s disposal in the front third, and here was the evidence. Every time Mrdja and Petrovski had the ball at their feet they looked a threat, likely to carve out a chance.

Big but mobile, they were heavyweights in every sense. With almost his first touch, Petrovski profited from a casual piece of work from Clint Bolton and Steve Corica, placing a ball past both Tony Popovic and Bolton after some alert work from German monster in midfield, Andre Gumprecht. Wonderful finish in the conditions.

Contrast that with Sydney’s starting duo of Alex Brosque through the middle and young Adam Biddle down the right, lightweight both in stature and punch.

Sydney were indeed the Manchester United of Oz football; bereft of strikers.

While the Mariners rarely allowed the ball to get up front through the excellent work of Mile Jedinak, Gumprecht and John Hutchinson in midfield, when it did Sydney’s lightweights weren’t able to keep it there.

Biddle in particular was struggling to shake off the attentions of Dean Heffernan, back in Australia and demonstrating that, despite spending a year on the bench in Germany, he is a far improved footballer. Outstanding from the Mariners left back. How the Socceroos could have done with him in Asia.

Even in midfield, Sydney’s lightweight trio of Steve Corica, Juninho and Ufuk Talay were struggling to shake off the attentions of the physical Mariners midfielder. Jedinak, in particular, was all over Juninho, hammering him every time he got on the ball.

With a bit of luck, the Mariners might have had a couple more, Mrdja smashing one against the post and then Petrovski heading just wide from another excellent cross from the right.

Everywhere you looked the Mariners were all over it, stretching FC. While Heffernan and Adam Kwasnik were dominating the left, Matt Osman and Gumprecht were combining well down the right, exposing Sydney’s lack of natural left-sided width, a point so obvious a week ago.

Sydney’s only chance was a piece of scraps in the box, Brosque rushing his finish, not for the first time in his Sydney career. Much hyped on his arrival a year ago, it has been a disappointing return so far, and with Sydney’s stocks up front thin, Brosque will need to come good soon. He worked had, no doubt, but he is paid to finish and will need to be more clinical. The Cove will be praying Patrick da Silva is a gun.

Only when Jedinak was yellow-carded for one too many hits-from-behind on Juninho did the little fella break the shackles. Just before the break Branko Culina shifted Biddle to the left, Brosque to the right and played his two guns, Corica and Juninho through the middle.

It almost worked a treat, Juninho playing in Corica with a neat through ball before the Brazilian glided through the Mariners defence. He hesitated and Danny Vukovic did well to stay upright. Juninho had just learnt a thing about Australia’s no. 1 in waiting. But the signs were improving for the hosts.

At the break Culina went further, changing from 4-2-3-1 to 3-5-2, with Juinho thrust further forward in support of Brosque, allowing him to shake off Jedinak. Biddle went off, Ruben Zadkovich came on at right wing-back, Terry McFlynn went from right back to central midfield, Mark Milligan went to sweeper and Ian Fyfe went to left wing-back.

But for Fyfe looking uncomfortable as a wing-back, Sydney’s shape looked better and they started to control the game, but the Mariners were up for the fight, and had heroes all over the place, none more so than Jedinak. On this evidence, they might just revive the verve of season one and certainly one of the teams to beat this season.

Sydney created the odd half chance and might have considered themselves unlucky not to grab an equaliser, especially when Mark Rudan turned on a volley.

But the desperate goal-line clearance by promising defender Nigel Boogaard summed up FC’s night, close but no cigar.

That was being smoked by Sydney’s all time top scorer.


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