Sydney v Knights

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

Reigning Hyundai A-League champions Sydney FC thumped the cellar-dwelling New Zealand Knights 4-0 at Sydney Football Stadium on November 10 to kick-start their faltering campaign, much to the delight of the rain-soaked 9871 fans present.

The visitors were no match for the home team, mustering just one effort on goal in the entire first half, which, it must be said, was dire. In the first twenty-five minutes, just two goalscoring opportunities came to pass, the first of which saw Sime Kovacevic heading away Robbie Middleby's twelfth minute cross which was intended for David Zdrilic.

Two minutes later, a neat piece of play saw Iain Fyfe pick out Sasho Petrovski, who played a one-two with Zdrilic before letting fly from twenty-five yards. Knights ‘keeper Mark Paston was right behind this effort, before blocking a 26th minute effort from Alex Brosque with his legs, after Ufuk Talay had pounced on a poor attempt to clear by Che Bunce and played the ball through for his team-mate.

Talay himself had sent a thirty-yard effort flying wide of the target seconds earlier. The playmaker was relishing the space being afforded him by a Knights combination which adopted a new approach to an old philosophy in this match - the best means of defence is plenty of it!

The visitors were virtually non-existent as an attacking force, so Sydney, enjoying possession aplenty, were quite content to knock the ball around, even if they were finding penetration something of a challenge given the way the Knights were defending in depth.

Scot Gemmill, for instance, was well inside his penalty area in the 28th minute when a ball in from Alvin Ceccoli struck his arm, and fell to his advantage. Sydney howled in vain for a spot-kick, Angelo Nardi seeing no reason to cloud his reputation as a referee who avoids making contentious decisions where penalty area incidents are involved if at all possible.

Four minutes later, Talay whipped in a super cross from the right which arced just beyond Petrovski as he arrived on the far post. The visitors gathered possession, with Jonti Richter sending Malik Buari racing down the right before carrying on his run.

It was as well that he did, for Buari's cross was blocked. The rebound fell kindly for Richter, who picked up the pieces and, despite the presence of the completely unmarked Noah Hickey across from him in the penalty area, let fly … high, wide and not at all handsome was the verdict, one endorsed by the New Zealand international's withering glare at Richter - Hickey was far from happy, and with justification.

Sydney promptly trundled downfield from Clint Bolton's resulting goal-kick, Nikolai Topor-Stanley playing a lovely ball through into the path of the charging Middleby, whose shot cannoned to safety off the chest of Paston.

Eight minutes from the half-time whistle the Knights were hoping to reach with the deadlock intact, it was broken. Middleby and Fyfe combined on the right, the latter switching flanks to bring Ceccoli into the attack. He chipped the ball into Zdrilic, whose lay-off allowed Petrovski to bustle past two defenders before volleying crisply home wide of Paston and in bvia the foot of the post.

1-0 to the reigning champions, raining being the appropriate word for the second half - when the teams came out, it was bucketing down!! Middleby tested the waters with a twenty yard grasscutter four minutes after the resumption, but Paston smothered the effort well after the former Football Kingz winger had evaded two challenges.

The Knights began this half in a far more positive fashion, and the half-time change of tactics by coach Paul Nevin should have paid dividends twice inside the first seven minutes of the second spell.

Darren Bazeley and Richter linked with Buari five minutes into the half, the burly African scything in off the right flank past two opponents before savagely slicing his shot well wide of Bolton's goal. The custodian then dealt well with a twenty-yarder from Hickey, as the visitors went about throwing caution to the wind in their search for an equaliser.

It never came, for in the 53rd minute, their bright start to the half was obliterated by another Petrovski bullet! Talay's raking crossfield ball picked out Zdrilic on the left, and he played the ball across to Brosque. He, in turn, rolled the ball into the path of Petrovski, steaming up on his right … thwack! Hard, low, bottom far corner, Paston helpless - an unerring strike which effectively ended the contest there and then.

It was a blow from which the Knights never recovered, and for large periods of the next twenty minutes, they gave the impression of being all at sea. Sydney dominated possession, and after Zdrilic and Middleby had gone close with a header and a twenty-five yard grasscutter respectively, further emphasised their dominance on the scoreboard in the 65th minute.

This goal came down solely to a schoolboy error from a team playing like them! While the Knights rearguard were ball-watching, Zdrilic's anticipation of Ceccoli's throw-in took him on an angled run in behind the defence to pick up the ball on the left. The striker skipped round both Kovacevic and Bunce before burying his low drive across Paston and into the far corner of the net - 3-0, the local faithful's joy unconfined.

Sydney continued to savour possession without doing a great deal of note with it until six minutes from time, when a Talay free-kick picked out the head of Topor-Stanley. Cue chaos inside the six-yard area, as the Knights bid to clear their lines. Bunce and Paston eventually combined to clear the sphere off the line, but the threat was only briefly allayed.

For in the 89th minute, the home team scored a sumptuous fourth, with Talay the architect once more. Picking up the ball in the centre circle, he spotted the darting run of fit-again David Carney in behind a defender, and promptly weighted a forty-yard grass-cutting pass into his path which such accuracy that the substitute didn't even have to break stride.

Carney swept past Paston before, from an ever-diminishing angle, picked out the top left-hand corner of the net with a cracking finish to wrap up the scoring in this one-sided 4-0 romp, a very welcome result for Sydney nonetheless.

The Knights, apart from the brief spell after the interval, looked completely out of their depth at times - rank amateurs in a professional competition. Any more displays of this nature and the growing clamour for the under-achieving Kiwi team's exclusion from the A-League competition may prove too hard for the league's managers to ignore.