Sydney v Knights

A-League report by Stephen Webb
Sydney FC v New Zealand Knights

It was a dream return from injury for David Carney tonight, scoring the last of four goals that ruined the Knights' hopes of drawing level with Perth Glory at the bottom of the A-League ladder.

Though Knights coach Paul Nevin thought theirs was a poor performance, even by Knights' standards, Sydney consider the win a boost for morale and a "platform" from which to launch a defence of their title.

All they have to do is beat better teams in weeks ahead.

New Zealand actually had a couple of chances they should have made more of, but Sydney dominated possession and, if you like rapid-pass football, entertained. The goals were quality efforts.

Every week lately, Sydney fans have been watching their boys, thinking, "This will be the game …" When what? They'll win? Brosque will prove himself? The team will live up to its billing?

But tonight the team at least lived up to its dreadful theme song: "We won't look back … it's all attack." Though they did pass the ball back quite a lot in their endeavours to penetrate the New Zealand backline.

Both sides were in hard from the start. A typical Sydney attacking strategy was on display early: Nikolai Topor-Stanley switching to Iain Fyfe who punched the ball low and hard to Sasho Petrovski coming back to the ball and passing inside to David Zdrilic who, in this instance, was forced off the ball. The Fyfe passing long forward tactic was common and, though Fyfe hit a number of duds, Zdrilic and Petrovski were able to shield and pass on often enough to cause New Zealand real trouble.

My prediction of New Zealand scoring first through the combination of two ex-Wolves was ruined before kick off by Adam Casey pulling a hamstring during warm-up. And Dustin Wells didn't seem to get a look in for the whole game. Neil Emblen came off the bench into the starting line-up and his experience was useful in the first half, though he lacked a lot of condition, let's say.

After one brief attack at the start, daughter Alex reckoned New Zealand were fast. They had few more opportunities to demonstrate that speed. In defence, Che Bunce was catching on to what happened when Fyfe had the ball at his feet.

A higher ball came through, deftly nodded on by Zdrilic for Petrovski who won a throw from the right.

As against Newcastle the week before, Sydney persisted with lots of quick passing and an emphasis on possession. But they were only getting as far as the New Zealand penalty area. No decent shooting opportunities.

Probably because of Sydney's emphasis on attack, New Zealand did manage to get into Sydney's penalty area. Fyfe headed clear a ball on its way to Noah Hickey. Alvin Ceccoli later was needed to come across and block Jonti Richter.

Robbie Middleby, always looking tricky on the ball and sweating like you wouldn't believe, got into the New Zealand box on the left but muffed his pass to Zdrilic. New Zealand didn't clear properly and Sydney forced a save from Mark Paston, apparently the visitors' third choice custodian.

Sydney captain Mark Rudan received a cut over his left eye and was off for treatment and a bandaging for several minutes.

Sime Kovacevic was good cutting out a Middleby cross from the right.

Fyfe played forward to Zdrilic who passed onto Petrovski (is this sounding predictable?) whose long shot bounced off Paston's chest (not the only time that rib cage would save New Zealand). "This goalie's shit," said Alex. I'm sure I didn't teach her to speak like that.

Petrovski, on a dancing run, was brought down 30 metres from goal. Emblen beat Topor-Stanley to Ufuk Talay's free kick.

Ruben Zadkovich was robbed by Malik Buari. But Sydney quickly regained possession and played keep the ball for quite some time, until Hickey robbed Fyfe and New Zealand ran the ball into the Sydney penalty area.

In the 25th minute, after another long Sydney build up, Zadkovich, possibly getting a bit frustrated, let one fly from 30 metres to the right of the New Zealand goal.

Talay collected the ball in midfield and took it to Alex Brosque who struck well at Paston from outside the box.

Zadkovich ran the ball from the back, down the right and crossed well, just beyond the reach of Petrovski.

In the 28th minute Sydney appealed for a penalty when the ball bounced from Scot Gemmill's outstretched arm. Referee Angelo Nardi wasn't interested.

Richter wasted one of the best chances of the game, in room at the top of the Sydney penalty area, but firing wide with Hickey in even more space on the left.

Middleby got inside the New Zealand box but picked out Paston's chest, the keeper doing well to come off his line and spread his body.

Petrovksi, with Sydney's best chance so far, shimmied into the New Zealand penalty area but, trying to set up the shot, tapped the ball forward to a relieved Paston.

Talay, spotting a run by Brosque, chipped nicely over the New Zealand fullbacks.

In the 37th minute Ceccoli hit a long chip to the edge of the Knights' box. Zdrilic nodded down and Petrovski made no mistake in a similar position but with a more difficult chance than his earlier miss, placing the ball out of reach to Paston's right.

As the half wound down Sydney seemed to be the only team on the pitch.

It rained at half time and continued for much of the second half, which New Zealand started with promise. Fernando came on for Emblen and the Knights started to push the ball around a bit.

But soon the game reverted to the way it had been in the first half. The slippery pitch didn't daunt Sydney's attacking mentality.

Zadkovich was skilful and speedy breaking up the left. He cut to the centre and played back out left to Middleby who in turn cut to the box and shot on target.

Buari made a good effort, coming in from the right and shooting off target from the top right corner of the Sydney penalty area. Buari was soon the recipient of a ripper tackle by Brosque (whose tackling won Sydney some good possession the week before also).

Hickey shot on target from distance and then hit a good ball for Richter.

In the 53rd minute Zdrilic at the top left corner of the New Zealand penalty area squared in to Brosque who laid the ball back for Petrovski who took a right-foot shot in his stride, slotting the ball into the bottom left corner of the goal. Sweet.

Sydney were two-nil up and the Knights were sunk.

Bunce headed clear a cross from Ceccoli (increasingly involved in attacks) but Sydney won a corner, held by Paston.

Kovacevic's yellow card in the 58th minute was for bringing down Brosque who looked clear on his way to goal. Talay's kick from just outside the penalty area was good but New Zealand managed to scramble the ball away from the right upright.

Zdrilic headed a high ball high over goal and Middleby had a soft shot on target.

Petrovski was impressive dropping deeper in midfield, getting lots of work joining Talay for a while as an instigator of attacks.

In the 65th minute, on a throw from the left, Zdrilic took the ball at the top left corner of the box, beat Kovacevic, rounded Bunce, and planted the ball in the bottom right corner of the goal.

Three up and Sydney applied more pressure. Zadkovich cracked another one wide. New Zealand's skipper Darren Bazeley looked buggered, but there were still 20 minutes to go.

Fernando looked dangerous but appealed in vain to get more of the ball from his team mates. Buari, one of the causes of Fernando's frustration, lobbed harmlessly over the Sydney goal. (After the game, New Zealand coach said Fernando's style of play would have been appreciated in a team that could actually play football — or words to that effect.)

Ceccoli forced a corner from Buari and Fyfe just missed getting on the end of Talay's ball in.

In the 73rd minute Bazeley was replaced and David Carney stripped (to his playing gear; unlike a fan who later stripped completely and dashed through the Sydney penalty area) to loud applause from the Sydney fans.

Carney replaced Petrovski.

Ceccoli pressure on Paston won Sydney another corner.

Fernando turned and shot from 25 metres, wide of goal.

Jeremy Brockie replaced Zdrilic.

Sydney had a free kick from the left of the New Zealand penalty area. Paston went down on his back but Fyfe, Rudan and Topor-Stanley couldn't scramble the ball into the net.

In the 88th minute a fab ball from Talay ran perfectly for Carney heading in from the right across the top of the box. Carney turned to goal but his first touch was poor and the ball skipped on to Paston. (He'd "screwed it up", in the words of the kids sitting next to me). But Carney collected the ball off Paston's arm, spun and chipped just inside the left post. Magic.

Couldn't tell if Carney was laughing or crying when he turned away from the Cove after his celebrations. And wasn't the Cove great! Sad crowd (what, did all the Sydney fans also have U2 tickets?).

A week ago I thought Petrovski and Ceccoli were below par. Tonight they shone and so did Sydney. Zdrilic was great for at least the third week running. As was Talay. Clint Bolton didn't have a lot to do. But when he was needed — pulling in high balls, presenting himself for passes back — he was spot on.

Nevin hardly had a good word for his team, so I won't argue.