Sydney v Knights

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

If you consider that Knights beat Roar and Roar beat Adelaide, then Knights beating Sydney is not so much of a surprise.

But the team coming last beating the current champs, the in form team, the team looking likely to secure second spot, the team that hasn’t conceded a goal in five matches, undefeated in nine … that’s still something special.

And New Zealand Knights FC were something special tonight. They outplayed Sydney in the first half and fought to hold on in the second.

Sure, some bad luck for Sydney played a part. But so did good organisation and motivation on the part of the Knights: credit to new coach Ricki Herbert.

Sydney coach Terry Butcher said his team was not complacent. But he obviously thought it would be safe enough to break up his proven back line by including the rusty Jacob Timpano instead of playing him off the bench — perhaps the key factor in the night’s result.

Robbie Middleby wasn’t available so some change was inevitable, but Ruben Zadkovich filled in surprisingly well at right back against Newcastle the week before so the only experimentation required was on the left flank.

And maybe Alex Brosque wasn't quite the right pick to take on the Knights large and experienced backs.

Former English Premiership defender Dean Gordon kept Sydney quiet down the right in the first half and Knights' goal scorer Che Bunce saved the visitors' bacon several times in the second half.

Goalkeeper Mark Paston was something of a hero for the Knights but the saves he had to make were mostly balls hit straight at him by the Sydney strikers.

Darren Bazeley played with good sense throughout and the whole team contested in defence — Richard Johnson with some crucial intercepts. In attack Leilei Gao and Alen Marcina were constant trouble, but the real menace came from Neil Emblen, who often was so confident on the ball he seemed to be toying with the Sydney defenders.

Earlier showers had cleared and the sun shone on the returfed pitch as the match began. Both sides attacked, Sydney through Zadkovich and Knights through Noah Hickey.

Zadkovich was fancy of foot, but fooled himself almost as often as he deceived the Knights' backs.

David Carney put pressure on Gordon and won a corner. Zadkovich dazzled with foot speed on the left. Sydney pushed the ball around, from one side to the other.

Jonas Salley was fouled and Gao's free kick skimmed a few heads on its way to Clint Bolton.

Brosque almost got through on goal but was stopped by John Tambouras.

In the seventh minute Carney robbed Tambouras and dribbled Knights defenders, closer and closer to goal — how easy did he expect it to be. In the event he shot too late and the ball was taken off his toes.

Timpano copped his yellow card in the ninth minute for fouling Marcina, who was rounding him with ease.

In the 13 minute Gao beat Timpano and Mark Milligan and hit a soft shot to Bolton.

The excitement immediately switched to the other end when Carney was played into the Knights penalty area. Tambouras fell over and Carney was one-on-one with Paston who made a terrific save — but in truth Carney wasted another good opportunity.

Sydney were holding the ball well for substantial passages of play — and then making unforced errors, giving the ball away. The usually reliable Ufuk Talay was among the offenders.

Marcina made a great run down the right, cut in and beat Iain Fyfe and would have had a chance but for a tackle from Timpano. But the Knights won a corner that decided the match.

The kick from Gao came in low. Bunce escaped Timpano and, uncontested, hooked the ball past Bolton.

Sydney were affronted and their play turned rushed and scrappy for a few minutes. The immediate counter involved a run by Terry McFlynn, who was stopped by Bunce.

The Knights could see what was possible and started outplaying the home team. The very involved Emblen got in a good cross from the left, headed away by Timpano. Salley caught Steve Corica on the ball.

In the 22nd minute, Brosque, held by Bunce, held up the ball and set up a shot for Carney, well saved by Paston low to the keeper's left.

Sydney kept coming. But Knights' pressure won back the ball and Emblen won a free kick while taking on three Sydney players.

Sydney regained immediately and played long for Brosque on the left. His shot was good, but deflected for a corner.

Milligan, one of Sydney's best on the night, was classy beating Emblen. Talay hit a long shot, just wide. And Milligan was again good against Emblen.

Zadkovich had a run and blocked shot and Brosque had an amusing air swing.

In the 30th minute Paston saved a point-blank flying header from Milligan, meeting a Talay free kick. Sydney won another corner and the cross was deflected just wide of goal.

Gordon defended well against Carney and then against Corica. Alvin Ceccoli laid back for Carney who hit a lazy slog high over goal.

Gordon cut out a ball from McFlynn for Brosque.

New Zealand were quicker getting back than Sydney were attacking.

The Knights went forward and Timpano was very good and hard against Marcina. Emblen shot high.

Toward the end of the first half Sydney had lots of possession but made no progress. Then Timpano stood in for Talay and gave the ball away.

Marcina was looking dangerous through the middle until Ceccoli robbed him and ran on to win a throw in for Sydney on the right.

In the 42nd minute Sydney won another corner and Milligan headed over the crossbar.

When Sydney put the ball forward they were outnumbered five to one. New Zealand attacked and Sydney fouled them. New Zealand attacked again and Sydney fouled again.

New Zealand attacked and crossed from the right. Bolton caught the ball and looked disgusted that he needed to handle it.

Tambouras brushed Brosque aside as the Sydney forward entered the right side of the Knights penalty area.

Sasho Petrovski replaced Timpano at half time. Zadkovich went back to right back. For a little while Sydney were able to attack from a solid base.

Salley earned his yellow for kicking at McFlynn while he was on the ground.

Petrovski proved more effective against the Knights backs from the outset, winning a corner from a deflection over the crossbar.

In the 51st minute Zadkovich, working well on the overlap with Carney, passed in to the Sydney fans' hero who played a one-two with Corica and hit the woodwork before Paston could gather the ball.

Three minutes later Petrovski was gifted a ball on the edge of the Knights' penalty area. His first attempt was blocked but he followed through only to be stopped by Bunce.

Milligan made a wonderful tackle on Hickey who had been fed down the right by Bazeley.

In the 58th minute Milligan fouled Marcina on the right edge of the Sydney penalty area. Marcina pushed back and Hickey and Milligan ended up toe to toe. Milligan and Marcina received yellow cards for their enthusiasm.

Gao had a corner which Emblen headed over, committing a foul in the process.

Petrovski, threatening in the air in the left of the Knights' penalty area, got a touch but Paston held.

In the 61st minute Carney made a long run and shot. Paston dived and may have had it covered. The ball ripped into the side netting.

Four minutes later a great cross by Salley found Marcina in front of goal. Marcina made good contact with his head … straight to Bolton.

Marcina was again found in space behind the Sydney defence. He ran at goal but his trickery couldn't get the better of Fyfe.

Gao, coming in from the left, beat Zadkovich, Fyfe and McFlynn but shot high and wide.

In the 73rd minute Petrovski laid back for Corica who shot low, but it was easy for Paston to save.

A Zadkovich cross from the left rolled across the Knights' goalmouth before being cleared.

Sydney had a corner from the right and a Brosque volley went straight to Paston.

More anxiety came for Butcher in the 81st minute when Ceccoli signalled that Milligan was hurt and needed to be replaced. Butcher clearly wasn't happy but Milligan came off, McFlynn dropped back and David Zdrilic came on. Sydney were playing with three strikers.

In the 82nd minute Carney was given a good long ball down the right. He cut in (of course) and turned his defender three times (to get back onto his left foot, of course) and shot high.

Petrovksi almost had a chance but his shot was blocked by Bunce.

In the 87th minute Carney passed in to Petrovski who made a great turn and shot from the right of goal. The ball hit the left post and bounced out.

Brosque, free on the edge of the penalty area, hit a left foot shot and Paston saved.

The official stats record that Sydney had 23 attempts at goal to New Zealand's ten. Ten on target to New Zealand's five. Eleven off target to New Zealand's five. Four keeper saves to New Zealand's eight. But, despite 57 per cent of the possession, Sydney were not going to score.

All New Zealand had to do was wind down the clock: Emblen taking the ball into the corner, Hickey milking an injury, the coach making substitutions.

Sydney's desperation was evident in another statistic: 14 fouls to the Knights' eight.

And the Barmy Army, killing time before their flights home or the 20-20, had taken off their shirts and were twirling them madly over their heads. The first time in ages there had been anything like a rival to the Cove at the other end.

It was a fascinating game, to see such a talented team trying every which way to claim the victory they knew to be theirs for the taking, and to see such a competent and committed Knights unit, clearly with different ideas.

Butcher put the loss down to being “one of those days” but gave credit to New Zealand who he said “played really well in terms of defending and attacking, causing us problems”.

He said, “We weren't ruthless enough in the right areas. We could have scored a good few goals but didn't.”

The result had thrown the finals positions wide open and Sydney only had themselves to blame, he said. “We are hurting very much at the moment and its how we react to that hurt and how we react to that defeat today that's very important.”

He said work rate was very important and “you need to work hard to get into positions where you can score. We did that, we just didn't finish any of the moves off … At times our tempo wasn't fast enough to get in behind New Zealand.

"New Zealand came on a high. They worked very hard for the result. They put bodies on the line, blocked everything. The keeper had a great game. And we were denied by woodwork. So in the end it just wasn't our day."

Butcher put the Knights' newfound success to the existing good players and Herbert's organisation. He compared Neil Emblen to John Hartson, "a fabulous player". He said Emblen led the line fantastically well and was always available, held the ball up very well and was always a presence.

He said New Zealand held a good shape and fought like tigers when they needed to.

Herbert said as a philosophy and style of play he hoped the Knights had become more accustomed to "at least giving ourselves a chance by being in a football match … At times we have to keep the ball. We've got to have patience. We've got to have belief."

He said he told his players he didn't want the long ball. There had to be balance and the Knights were a little lopsided previously.

Herbert described his goalkeeper's performance as outstanding.