Knights v Sydney

A-League report by Jeremy Ruane
New Zealand Knights v Sydney FC

Reigning Hyundai A-League champions Sydney FC did little to justify that tag during their performance at North Harbour Stadium on September 21, but they still produced just enough to prevail 1-0 over a similarly shot-shy New Zealand Knights combination.

This decidedly sterile fifth round encounter, witnessed by 2764 hardy spectators, was about as bad an advertisement for the beautiful game as you could get. It's saying a lot when referee Ben Williams came close to heading home with the Man of the Match honours - he was one of the few to rise above the mediocrity on display in this clash.

The quality of passing, particularly with regard to delivery of the final ball, was often dire, and both teams were repeat offenders. Part of it could be put down to the at best indifferent quality of the playing surface, but generally, this was a poor game, one which did nothing to encourage potential patrons to consider making the effort to attend an A-League fixture.

There were just a handful of chances created in the first half, the first after nine minutes, when David Zdrillic lashed a volley past the post. Seconds later, Alex Brosque chanced his arm with a twenty-five yard free-kick, awarded after Knights defender Che Bunce had welcomed former team-mate Jeremy Brockie back to his old stamping ground by clattering the dreadlocked Sydney winger from behind.

Michael Turnbull turned this attempt round the post at full stretch, and was little troubled by a tamely struck Brockie effort fourteen minutes later, after Zdrillic had pounced on a loose ball in midfield.

In the fourteenth minute, the home team came close to opening the scoring. Malik Buari - one of the few corners he took in the match which went past the first defender at the near post - picked out the head of Sime Kovacevic with this delivery, and the defender's header rocketed straight towards Noah Hickey.

Four yards out, the striker instinctively directed a glancing header at the target, but Sydney custodian Clint Bolton had read exactly what the Knights man was going to do, and positioned himself perfectly to save.

The home team enjoyed another couple of openings in the shadows of a half-time whistle which couldn't come soon enough. Neil Emblen's crossfield ball picked out Hickey, who angled a cross in towards Dani Rodrigues. Sydney captain Mark Rudan headed clear on this occasion, only for Buari to pick up the pieces and fire in a low cross with which Rodrigues just failed to make contact at the near post.

Surely the second spell had to be an improvement on the first half! It was, albeit marginally!! Terry McFlynn released Brockie down the left five minutes into the spell, but the former Knights man dragged his shot under pressure across the face of goal, before blazing over the top three minutes later as Bunce headed away the danger posed by Rudan's forward surge.

Encouraged by the success of this forward foray, Sydney's skipper joined the attack five minutes later, as Mark Milligan earned a series of set-pieces on the left. Successive corners were cleared by Bunce and Emblen, the latter's touch-finder prompting a throw-in.

Milligan flung the ball into the edge of the penalty area, where Rudan met the ball perfectly on the volley. The sphere careered past Turnbull into the top far corner of the net to ensure the match would have at least one moment of quality to be remembered by.

It was the goal the game badly needed, and the Knights were quick to try to level matters. Within two minutes, they squandered a great chance to bring about parity. Hickey's cross from the left was headed clear by Matt Bingley, but only as far as Scot Gemmill. The Knights' midfield general directed a downward header into Buari's path, but his snatched volley cleared the crossbar, much to his undisguised frustration.

That was about as good as it got for the home team, for while they pressed for an equaliser, they got very little change from the Sydney defence in the remaining half-hour. Even when Bolton flapped at a Darren Bazeley cross, Milligan was on hand to clear the danger.

The visitors, meanwhile, came close to extending their lead on a couple of occasions. Only a fine save by Turnbull thwarted Milligan in the 72nd minute, after Brockie and McFlynn had combined to set up the midfielder's twenty-five yarder, while two minutes later, Ruben Zadkovich just failed to make decent contact with a cross to the far post from Brockie, after he had scooted clear on the right.

In truth, though, this game only deserved one goal at most. And while the defending champions will fly home happy with the three points it earned them, theirs was a performance far from worthy of reigning title-holders.

It was enough to inflict upon the Knights a third consecutive defeat, however, and while their new-look 3-5-2 formation stemmed the flood of goals which they had conceded in their last two games, their need to score goals is becoming more and more pressing.

Including Pre-Season Cup games, this was their seventh blank in eleven matches in the 2006-7 campaign, and they've scored just one goal in each of the other four games.

Their next fixture is in a week's time, at home to Central Coast Mariners, who, at the time of writing, have yet to score in four games this season … let's just say a high-scoring thriller doesn't look likely!!