Saturday, December 22, 2007

Finally, a Christmas cracker to write home about

A-League round 15 match analysis, CCM 4 v SFC 5

HOW many times after an A-League game this season has one felt compelled to get straight on the PC and start blogging?

Well, to borrow a popular phrase from the competition's first season, "not many, if any".

In what has been a fairly disappointing version 3 to date, finally a game for the ages, a Christmas cracker if ever there was one.

It wasn't always aesthetically of the highest standard, but who cares about aesthetics when we're dished up entertainment of this variety.

A record Mariners regular-season crowd, nine goals, the most in a game in the short history of this league, two Mariners sends-offs, two penalties, players dropping all over the place for the hosts and a Sydney winner with the last kick of the match that took them above Adelaide into the top four.

Anthony La Paglia, sitting in the Sydney dug-out and a regular at FC training of late could rarely have come across a more riveting script.

This match had it all and rightly there will be a rush to declare it the best game in competition's short history, at least from an entertainment perspective. In analysing the 'football', let's remember that much of the goal mouth action came from set-piece scraps.

Tragically for the hosts, the match ended in pain not only on the scoreboard but the sickening news that their left fullback Dean Heffernan looks to have broken his leg after an awkward fall from a late Ufuk Talay challenge. Best man at his brother's wedding this afternoon, he must have thought long and hard about whether to take part in this postponed game.

After attending the service this afternoon, the idea was to scamper back to Sydney and deliver the best man speech at 11pm. Tragically, it looks like he'll still be in hospital, where the loss, the thought of missing his brother's wedding and realisation that he has missed out of a chance to represent the Socceroos will compound the pain.

Life can be cruel.

Another man feeling the pain, both for his Mariners and for his hopes of representing the Socceroos against Qatar in February 6 is Danny Vukovic. After being exposed by the looping Paul Agostino header last week, this week he raced off his line and was beaten by the slick Bluetongue surface. Pounded by rain this afternoon, a long Sydney ball skidded off the surface and came to him quicker than he would have expected, leaving him little choice but the thrust the left arm out and Matthew Breeze little choice but to issue red.

Coming just over a quarter of an hour in, it altered the flow of the game.

Up until then the hosts had dominated and were two up, exposing the makeshift Sydney rearguard. John Kosmina's decision to play journeyman midfielder Mark Robertson in the centre of defence looked a calamity, and but for a lax moment from Sahso Petrovski it should have been three for the Central Coast, who had Tom Pondeljak on fire in the early going.

But Vukovic's moment changed everything. With Petrovski sacrificed for Mathew Trott, Kosmina moved Robertson to his rightful place, in the centre of midfield and Sydney went to a back four.

Suddenly Sydney had the numbers in midfield and Talay enjoyed the space, quarter-backing the game, directing traffic from left to right. The visitors were in control and the corner count started to mount.

The set-piece became Sydney's outlet and best friend. Their first came from a Talay corner, powered home by Fyfe just after half an hour. Their equaliser, after the break, was from a Nick Tsattalios corner, Terry McFlynn expertly spinning on a loose ball after Trott had denied Tony Popovic.

By then the wheels looked to be falling off the competition front-runners. Soon, they looked gone, John Aloisi going down and looking to have some serious damage to his left knee.

Vukovic at one end, Aloisi at the other. Pim Verbeek, despite being at home in Holland, suddenly might have even more to think about than he thought he originally did.

In any case, Matt Simon, on for Aloisi, did as he does best and started throwing himself about, making a nuisance of himself. Popovic, struggling to deal with him and not at all at peace with the man between Sydney's sticks, Ivan Necevski, panicked in the box and gave away a penalty.

This time it was the hosts at the set piece, minus their first three penalty takers (Kwasnik, Aloisi and Petrovski), but Greg Owens calmed nerves and no doubt reserved a thought for his old boss in the Sydney dug-out. Great character from the Mariners.

But Sydney, desperate to bounce back after last week's missed opportunity against Perth, had a fresh injection off the bench from Adam Biddle and Brendan Santalab. No doubt emboldened by their displays against the LA Galaxy, both made telling contributions.

First Biddle did Heffernan's Socceroos hopes no favour with a dink inside, catching out the slow Trott, before Santalab profited from another set piece and lashed the visitors into the lead. Thrilling stuff.

Surely the Mariners were gone!

Not so. This time it was Adam Kwasnik, another late sub, who picked up some back-post pieces from another free-kick, sneaking one under Necevski. 4-4, just breathtaking stuff.

But neither side seemed content with that. The Mariners pressed on, exposing the space down Sydney's right (Kosmina had earlier made a positive substitution, bringing on Biddle high on the right, taking off Tsattalios on the left and shifting Middleby over to that side - it created plenty of space in behind Biddle, a gamble Kosmina seemed prepared to take).

But when Heffernan was upended by Talay, Sydney broke forward with purpose and resorted to the aerial route that had hitherto reaped so much success. Once again it drew a poor response from the Mariners rearguard, Kwasnik penalised and red-carded while Sydney earnt a stoppage time penalty.

Talay, so influential throughout in a team missing a number of key men (Mark Milligan, Juninho, Ruben Zadkovich and Clint Bolton among them), did the rest and sent FC into the four for the first time under Kosmina's reign.

Whether they stay there might depend on how Adelaide respond to their recent poor form, and next week's clash on what is sure to be a slick Adelaide Oval could prove decisive.

The Mariners, meanwhile, remain atop the league, but will be counting the costs of a horror evening of injuries and suspensions. A box office success, this epic was a disaster on the field.

Next week, when the champions come to town, the Mariners will be missing Hutchinson, Vukovic and Kwasnik through suspension and at least Heffernan through injury, while Aloisi and Owens look doubtful.

Plenty of soul searching ahead for the Mariners, but for the A-League, this was a night to remember.

Updated 11.30pm; have just had confirmation from the Mariners that Dean Heffernan has broken his tibia, will have his operation tomorrow and will be out for the season. TRBA's best wishes are with Dean and his family.


Blogger john said...


I called it the best ever too. Crickey, didn't hear about Heffernan. Sydney went in looking thread bear and CCM went out looking so. Melbourne have been done a favour, not that it is likely to help them much.

Great blog. Great game to be at.

Maybe that will be enough to convince LaPalia to keep his money in Sydney.

Sun Dec 23, 08:54:00 am AEDT  

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