Sydney v Wolves

Round 14 report by Stephen Webb
Sydney United v Wollongong Wolves

This is a fans' website so, as a fan, let me say this was a night of ecstasy and agony.

The team I support, Wollongong Wolves, continued their trajectory upward thanks to the fifth game in a run where they have defied pundits and the skills of teams in the top six.

But the team they defeated contains more recent Wolves players than does the current Wollongong side. In particular, Sydney United now boasts one of my favourite Wolves players, David Huxley. And in the middle of its magnificent backline is someone who must be in the reckoning for player of the season if the United defence continues along its relatively impenetrable way: Mark Rudan.

United had enough chances to win - mostly missed by Franco Parisi - but Chima Nwaogazi scored his fourth goal in as many games, from a very slight chance, that appeared to come from nothing.

The game started in overcast conditions, on a spongy pitch that was yellowing in places.

United had the recovering Brendan Santalab and Mathew Langdon on the bench. Wollongong had the newly-returned-to-Australia Jason van Blerk on their bench.

The United team seemed to have the edge, on paper: more potentially dangerous players and fewer weak points.

The two number 8s - two who had in effect switched clubs - Huxley and Nahuel Arrarte, were involved in some early skirmishes.

Arrarte, taunted by the United Boys for being a local "reject", gave Nwaogazi a smell of the ball in the United penalty area. Then Rudan cleared a Wollongong cross.

Ben Blake went in well on a United free kick conceded when Nwaogazi fouled Damon Collina. Referee Simon Przydacz awarded a quick succession of free kicks against Wollongong.

Zeljko Babic had a bit of a run and shot left of goal.

I discovered I was sitting next to a United fan who hadn't missed a game in over 30 years. He told me he didn't think Liam Reddy was a very good keeper. I wondered how that could be, since he had the best protected goal in the league, but Reddy at that point spent ages deciding where to kick the ball, before booting it out.

Collina beat Arrarte but Arrarte fought back and took the ball from Babic.

In the 12th minute Huxley seemed to have done enough to stop Arrarte running at goal, but Arrarte was strong enough to still have a mishit shot at goal.

Bobby Dragas brought down Babic on the edge of the Wollongong penalty area - bringing back memories of United's successful trip to Wollongong - when Babic was looking good, fighting to stay on his feet and beating two Wolves players.

Parisi and Michael Cunico worked the free kick, Parisi shooting low to the right hand corner of goal where Andrew Crews saved. The United corner was headed over.

In the 17th minute Babic, with Crews at his back, backheeled at goal. The deflection off Crews went just wide. From the corner Crews caught the ball.

Michael Hawrysiuk beat Haliti and got in an okay cross.

In the 19th minute Parisi collected a good ball down the left, turned in and shot a good effort at goal. Crews saved.

Parisi then was very quick on a through ball and ran toward the right side of the Wolves box where he seemed to have space, avoiding Blake. But he cut left giving Blake the chance to block him with a very good tackle.

Cunico got a great ball to Haliti in the left corner; Haliti first-timed his cross but no-one was home.

Parisi and Cunico had another free kick, this time wasted high over the crossbar.

In the 26th minute Stuart Young beat Rudan, flicking a header on over the big defender; Young got near the ball again inside the United penalty area but it rolled too close to Reddy who shut him down.

A nice spell of passing by Wolves - Nwaogazi, Young, Arrarte and Lyons - ended with a corner that Reddy caught at the second grab.

Again Parisi turned well, beat his marker and moved toward goal but had no idea what to do with the ball. For some reason swinging his right boot didn't seem an option.

A Lyons shot rebounded to Stewart van Bentum who hit a gentle shot to Reddy.

Babic couldn't control a hard ball to his chest but it still came through for Parisi who again beat his marker. Parisi's shot beat Crews but was wide of goal.

Haliti got a gift from Adam Hughes and fed Parisi who again looked dangerous but was stopped by Lyons who came across to cover.

Hawrysiuk fed Arrarte from the right corner and Arrarte shot high.

Danial Cummins, on for a hobbling Jacob Timpano, was supplied from the middle and moved forward himself, close enough to try a shot, wide to the left of goal.

Parisi made a good chase to catch a ball near the Wollongong goal line. His low cross was held by Crews. Almost immediately, Blake had to be tackled off the ball at the other end.

Haliti was at first finding the going slightly harder against Cummins than against Timpano but was soon getting his own way again. Later in the game it Hawrysiuk who had to put Haliti in his place.

Young hit a great ball for van Bentum but Joe Vrkic cleaned him up easy.

Young, Arrarte and Nwaogazi tried hard to work something anything.

As the first half was drawing to an end Cunico lobbed a United free kick to Crews with his head. And Nwaogazi got a good break and crossed and Huxley cleaned up.

The second half had barely begun when Nwaogazi scored what turned out to be the winner. From a Wollongong throw (presumably Hawrysiuk's), Nwaogazi got the ball near United's left post. Rudan stepped in too soon, Nwaogazi evaded him and struck from an impossible angle up into the roof of the net. A goal from nothing, the guy next to me kept saying. (I had it on good authority before the game that back in Nigeria Nwaogazi used to be known as the "Headmaster" because that was how he invariably scored. Lately for Wolves he's been the Luckmaster; not that any Wolves fan would be complaining. Another football writer has noted that Chima hasn't been much use, apart from scoring a goal a game, but against United he was showing signs of actually fitting in with Wollongong's passing game.)

A second for Wollongong should have come straight away. Vrkic half cleared a cross from the right by Hughes. It fell to van Bentum who ran into the box and hit an easy chance high over the crossbar.

Hawrysiuk was good robbing Haliti, Doumanis stuffed up a couple of times, and the guy next to me said Doumanis was just a 20 minute player.

In the 56th minute Haliti turned in from the left and tried to line up a right foot shot but was too closely hassled by Hawrysiuk. Hawrysiuk finally felled him with an almost wonderful legal tackle. Almost. United had a free kick in front of goal. Parisi and Cunico again stood over the ball. But they pushed it back for Rudan who, according the guy next to me, hit a "bullshit" shot.

At this point I started musing at the difference in temperament between the older generation of fans and the young United Boys and Girls behind them. The Boys, demonstrating reasonable local geographic awareness, yelled, "Go back to Dapto you c****!" "What if your mother is listening?" said someone in Croatian. A woman said they should cheer but not swear like that. Yet as the match went on it was the old guys, increasingly frustrated by the misery unfolding before them, whose language purplified. The Boys were most offensive when they tried to be racist. Nwaogazi copped some of that. Ending with a demand that he go back to Fiji. I pointed out that he came from Nigeria. The guy next to me suggested arguing with them was pointless; they were too drunk. But my attempt to broaden their geographical repertoire set them back on their heels for a while; with no more witty repartee they sipped silently on their (ugh) whisky mixes.

Haliti beat Hawrysiuk and got in a good cross.

In the 60th minute Huxley beat Young and worked with Doumanis who fed Parisi who with speed broke clear of Dragas. With only the keeper to beat, Parisi again struck wide right. The guy next to me admires Parisi's ability to beat a player, "but there's no finishing!"

Reddy misjudged a soft cross and Collina dug it off the line.

Haliti won good ball and fed long for Babic to chase into the right corner where Lyons hunted him down.

The guy next to me, with slight overstatement, said Wollongong would be nothing without Young.

After the 66th minute came a couple of interesting changes. Brendan Santalab finally came on but surprisingly for Babic. And Jason van Blerk made his jet-lagged appearance for Wolves.

Santalab soon won a free kick for United. Dragas headed clear but United won a corner.

With the fans cheering on Doumanis ("Go Mini, Go Mini") the home side was looking better. And Santalab bore most of the local hopes: "If someone pushes the ball he's gone. He runs like a bastard!"

van Blerk looked like he wanted to assert some authority and Hawrysiuk again had initial success against Haliti but again conceded a free kick.

Collina hit a free kick looking for Santalab, but Dragas got it of course. Parisi, however, nipped in and turned and finally hit a decent shot on target. Crews saved.

Cummins got the better of Haliti (he'd run himself into the ground) and Santalab won a free kick against Dragas.

Cummins then showed some skill leaving his marker and crossing. But no-one was in the middle for him.

It was then Parisi who turned on the skill, keeping possession under pressure; but, instead of looking for someone in a better position, he shot a tame ball from distance.

In the 79th minute Mathew Langdon came on for Filipovic and Haliti switched wings. Langdon's first cross was rubbish. But then, much as Cunico languished wide on the right in the first half, Langdon was largely ignored in space on the left.

In the 85th minute Parisi was free on the right; it was a good break but on a bit of an angle to goal. And, again, instead of looking at Langdon unmarked on the other side of the box, he slammed one himself. High.

Langdon had another try at crossing and almost found Santalab. This time Santalab messed up, falling all over Lyons.

Then it was Doumanis' turn to shoot high from distance, while Langdon was "sitting like a duck over there".

The final minutes were tense - yellow cards were issued for time wasting and stamping - but this clearly was not a night for Sydney United to score. Wolves had three points.

After the game Wolves' coach John Turner said the refereeing meant there was lots of stop-start football - something he would have appreciated more against a team like Parramatta Power.

He said they'd come to Sydney United wanting a point and just wanted to hold them out. "Once we scored we were always going to be doing it tough but, to the boys' credit, they kept battling out there." He said Crews was over the moon with his first clean sheet of the season.

Grant Lee said his side lost to a sloppy goal and didn't take the one-on-one chances. Of Parisi he said, "The nice thing is he's in areas to score goals. Things will click. On a night like this he could have walked off with three or four. What do you do?"

Turner said Nwaogazi hadn't scored spectacular goals and he was astounded the ball went in from that angle tonight. "He didn't just put it in, he whacked it into the roof of the net But he still gets himself in those positions That's the sign of a good striker. His work off the ball is getting quite good too now."

He said van Blerk had enough experience to play anywhere in the team. He was a great talker and he sat him in front of the back four. "He can tackle. I told him he didn't need to go forward, just sit in there, we're going to weather the storm for 15 or 20 minutes; just keep them in shape. And he did that. I think the best of him is to come."

At the moment, he said, Lyons and van Bentum were doing good things on the left hand side. van Bentum had a good second half, he said. At half time he told him he had to get forward and it worked well.

Lee said he had to be careful bringing Santalab on because he had been out of touch for a while with a hamstring injury.

He said it would have been nice to get something out of the game against Wollongong. Now the games over the Christmas period were going to be even more important.