Wet conditions and a never-say-die attitude from Newcastle conspired against Sydney tonight. Ante Milicic's lethal finishing provided the equaliser that prevented Sydney narrowing the gap to first placed Adelaide.
After an unproductive first half, Sydney lifted in the second period and took the lead in the 72nd minute when a piece of good fortune aided the always threatening David Carney.
Carney was a highlight, but Dwight Yorke, despite again failing in front of goal, was Sydney's powerhouse. Many Sydney fans missed his performance, however, deterred by wet weather.
Nevertheless, the Cove at one end of the ground was well populated despite the rain. At the other end a handful of very noisy Newcastle fans almost gave the Cove a contest.
The difficulty for the players on a pitch sodden with day-long rain was apparent as soon as Newcastle kicked off, with Ante Milicic and Nick Carle falling over one another. What was comic at the beginning of the game was not so humorous afterwards when coach Richard Money lamented the failure of his key ball players.
A physical battle between Carle and Sydney's David Carney brightened up what was otherwise a lifeless first 30 minutes. (Though one man's "dire" game can be another fan's fascinating "arm-wrestle" or tactical battle. Another perspective could be that Sydney and Newcastle were too tentative, cautiously sizing one another up.)
Whatever ’Ä¶ Carney on the right of the Newcastle penalty area was aggressively brought down by Carle. If the incident had happened later in the game Carle surely would have received a yellow card; but referee Mark Shield used some leniency, presumably not to inflame the situation ’Ä¶ and to give the game a chance.
Sydney had their first shot on target after the free kick. Newcastle responded and Clint Bolton got up for a long ball from Mateo Corbo. And Sydney countered with Liam Reddy getting up to meet a long ball from Ufuk Talay.
Alvin Ceccoli conceded a corner after doing everything right then struggling with the surface to make safe a cross from Richard Johnson on the right.
Carney beat Corbo (which seemed pretty easy for him) but couldn't manage Carle as well.
While Corbo had his hands full with Carney, Ned Zelic and Allan Picken weren't greatly troubled by Dwight Yorke and John Buonavoglia (who started in place of the suspended Saso Petrovski instead of David Zdrilic).
At the other end, Ceccoli was doing a good job shutting down options for Matthew Thompson.
Carney beat Corbo and this time also Carle, but Picken proved too much. Carle let Carney know he wasn't happy being embarrassed.
Carney sent a neat ball down the line for Buonavoglia, but the diminutive striker had nowhere to go.
Then Carle displayed some of his trickery to get a pass around Carney but the return from Labinot Haliti found Carle offside.
Corbo called for a switch that went so far behind him he conceded a corner desperately tyring to stop the ball going over the touchline.
Sydney's first good chance came for Iain Fyfe. Fyfe, at the left post headed wide a ball from the right. My daughter and regular footballing companion excused Fyfe, saying the ball was clearly slippery.
With what is evidently a Newcastle instinct, Milicic tapped back for Carle who shot on target. Bolton was comfortable.
Richard Johnson let Talay know he was there with a late clip. Terry McFlynn was pulled up for a Corbo tumble (though it wasn't clear McFlynn was to blame).
Twenty-two minutes in and the game was even. Whether due to timidity, patience, errors or the pitch, both teams struggled to keep possession or reveal any penetrating strategies.
Then in the 26th minute Corbo gave the fans something to cheer (or, rather, jeer) about. Carney hit Corbo with a late tackle which so upset Corbo he would not accept Carney's apologies. Carney copped a yellow and the crowd, displeased with Corbo's attitude, proceeded to boo his every touch of the ball.
Johnson walked over Talay from behind, and this time was penalised.
Yorke, getting frustrated, fouled Zelic.
Johnson tripped Talay as he was working a one-two with McFlynn.
Corica added some sparkle with a quick spin and shot from inside the Newcastle penalty area and the visitors looked in trouble from several further half chances.
Carney continued to frighten Corbo and was almost around him until Carle bowled him over.
Fyfe almost had a chance in the Newcastle goal box.
Milicic, meanwhile, was making lots of decent runs, arm raised. But was pissed off that no-one, not even Carle, could give him decent service. It always came late after Jacob Timpano or Andrew Packer had shut him down.
In the 34th minute Haliti hit a long shot off target.
Packer, wide on the right, hit a good cross just behind Yorke who still managed to drag a shot high to the right of goal.
Johnson and Packer had words, up close and personal.
While Yorke, with his hands down his shorts, was hamming up a strike to his manhood, a Packer clearance shot without pursuit up the right touchline.
When Buonavoglia volleyed a shot parallel to the goal line and out over the touchline some Bonnyrigg players near me expressed their admiration for Sydney fans who were so loyal they'd happily applaud such a misdirected effort. The applause was mostly genuine: any contact with the ball in front of goal was such a rarity.
Reddy made perhaps his most difficult save of the match, catching a good cross from the left.
Ceccoli hit a right foot shot wide after the ball came from the right through Packer and Yorke.
Carle deployed another clever one-two - this time with Thompson - but fouled Packer while looking for the return.
Yorke, now starting to make an impact, found some space and supplied Carney on the right. Buonavoglia came close to making contact with Carney's cross.
Sydney broke away again, but in a pattern repeated for the rest of the match, the two front runners were left on their own to take on five defenders.
Early in the second half Talay played a lovely lob down the right for Carney who put over a good cross.
Then Sydney made a good attack to Newcastle's right post through Yorke, Steve Corica and McFlynn.
And Sydney again looked dangerous through Yorke then Corica and Corica and still Corica! Until Picken brought Corica down from behind. The free kick from 23 metres out was twice touched to set up Ceccoli for a slamming shot. That was blocked near the edge of the penalty area.
Sydney played the ball up and over Newcastle's defence to Corica who ran at goal and into the penalty area. A better bounce might have seen a shot but Picken recovered in time to clear the ball off Corica's nose.
Carle played the ball back from the left corner for Paul Kohler who put a soft shot on target.
In the 58th minute Talay hit the best looking shot so far, dipping from 25 metres just over the crossbar.
Jade North shut down Buonavoglia on the left. Sydney won a corner that was hit just over by Carney.
Talay played a great ball to Carney on the right. Carney cut in past two Newcastle players and shot just to the right of goal.
Yorke won a corner off Picken. Then there was a scramble in the Sydney penalty area and Newcastle won a corner. Sydney cleared to Yorke who made a run to goal but pressure from Corbo on his right shoulder forced Yorke to squeeze his shot wide.
Ceccoli, after a long tussle down the left against Franco Parisi, won a free kick.
Fyfe was excellent holding Milicic away from a loose ball on the edge of the Sydney penalty area.
A Packer cross from the right evaded a dramatically diving Corbo but also made insufficient contact with Yorke.
Ceccoli was brilliant down the left, beating his opposite number and crossing to Buonavoglia who had a perfect chance ’Ä¶ the easiest chance of the game ’Ä¶ but pushed the ball outside the left post.
Then Buonavoglia got away down the left but couldn't deliver a good enough ball for Corica.
In the 72nd minute Carney was on a run through the middle with Buonavoglia and Yorke in front of him. But Carney backed himself and again cut left and shot. With a deflection off the back of North the ball went over Reddy and into the goal. Sydney's pressure was rewarded.
Yorke, increasingly a commanding presence, broke from midfield and held the ball up waiting for Fyfe who'd made a long run down the left. Yorke delivered a perfect ball to Fyfe who in turn hit a great pass inside to Buonavoglia who wasn't able to keep the ball moving to Yorke on his right.
Then Yorke was free again but was again isolated amid superior Newcastle numbers.
On the counter, Newcastle struck back. In the 76th minute Parisi, allowed access by a Fyfe slip, ran the ball to Sydney's right upright before surprising the defence with a pass back into the path of Milicic. Who slotted home.
Sydney didn't learn from this defensive lapse because it wasn't long before Newcastle tried the same thing with a pass back from the left upright. Fortunately for Sydney, Ceccoli was able to block the shot with a full-length dive to the ground.
The game finished after some end-to-end exchanges. Newcastle were by no means out of it. But were clearly relishing the point they'd nabbed.
Robbie Middleby, who some fans had been calling for all night, replaced McFlynn but made little impact. David Zdrilic, who had replaced Buonavoglia (far too late by my reckoning), played to Carney on the right. And Carney, with a taste for shooting, again came inside and hit another left-footer, this time just to the right of goal.
Johnson made a good tackle on Packer in time added on. And North made an important clearance of a Corica corner from the left with Matthew Bingley lining up a shot outside the right post.
Sydney coach Pierre Littbarski thought the first half was slow because both teams were waiting for their chances, but more chances were created in the second half. One mistake cost Sydney two points.
He said Sydney was the more active in the second half but he congratulated Newcastle taking a point home.
He said in the first half Sydney were too far away from the ball and were not applying pressure. In the second half they did not stand so deep and pressured the Newcastle backs into making mistakes.
Talay, though playing very well, was replaced because he was tiring and Littbarski was worried that with Carle pushing forward Talay would not be able to get back to defend when required.
He said Yorke was going through a barren period as many forwards do. "He had a great start and now we are hoping that he'll score again."
Newcastle's Richard Money said his side gave the ball away too cheaply at the beginning of the second half, "but our togetherness and our collective spirit got us through. I don't think they had too many chances. I certainly don't think they caused our 'slow' defenders too many problems. Because we had a good organisation."
He said he couldn't think of too many saves Reddy had to make.
He said, "I think the team showed what it's about. We've gone behind and come back and equalised and probably had the two best chances to win it."
He said, though, that Newcastle certainly didn't deserve to win the game, but they were all happy with the point. They came thinking they could win but knew they hadn't passed the ball anywhere near as well as they could have.
"One or two of our creative players didn't have a particularly good day."