Terry Butcher's Sydney FC out-thought and out-played Frank Farina's Queensland Roar to gain the necessary draw, which saw them through to the Hyundai A-League play-offs, at Lang Park last night.
The match finished 1-1, to the great disappointment of more than 32,000 home supporters. One of the rumours I have read recently was that Butcher would be replaced by Farina for next season. On last night's display, that would be a retrograde step for the A-League's current champions.
Sydney FC play a passing game which relies on the creativity and skill of their midfield - players such as David Carney, Steve Corica, Ufuk Talay - to set up chances for their strikers.
Queensland Roar play long hopeful balls from the back, and hope that their strikers Damian Mori and Reinaldo can fashion their own chances out of sheer combativeness. Last night they bypassed their midfield time and again, sending the ball forward to a contest. I know which type of football I would prefer to watch.
There's no denying that direct football can be effective. Queensland's goal last night came from just such a long ball, which Reinaldo nodded down perfectly into the path of a surging Mori, who finished with the aplomb of an all-time great of Australian football.
But the long ball is most effective as a counter-attacking tactic. Queensland seemed to use it as its standard way of moving into attack, no matter the position. Even with Sydney well set in defence, Ognenosvki sent long ball after long ball aimed at Reinaldo or Mori. Mark Rudan and Iain Fyfe were no doubt smiling on the inside and thinking "Is that all you've got?"
The game started nervously and at a frantic pace. Queensland missed their suspended duo, skipper Josh McCloughan and livewire midfielder Matt McKay. Remo Buess and Massimo Murdocca took their places, Murdocca starting for the first time since his injury.
One notable difference between the two sides was in the holding midfielder role. For Queensland, Hyuk-su Seo had a rare bad game. When not in possessions he seemed tentative and always on the back foot. When Queensland did have possession, Seo did not looked comfortable on the ball, and he was anything but the main channel for the ball to go through.
Sydney's Talay, on the other hand, was demonstrating his range of short and long passes, and linking successfully with Corica, Carney, Zdrilic and Broqsue. Sydney certainly have quite the array of attacking players.
Sydney's opening goal (in the 13th minute) came from a Roar slip. Zdrilic drew Ognenosvki wide with him, and managed to get the ball into the box towards Brosque. Buess was covered Brosque but lost his footing at the crucial moment. The former Roar favourite kept his cool and stroked the ball past Reddy with his unfavoured right foot.
The crucial first goal to the visitors meant Queensland would have to score twice, and although they equalized quickly in the 20th minute, and although they battled hard and created a couple of real opportunities in the second half, and although the home crowd kept cheering them on the full 90 minutes, in the end Sydney were good value for their draw.
Milicic replaced Murdocca at half-time, and had an excellent half of football. Mori and Reinaldo huffed and puffed and chased every lost cause. But Queensland really couldn't get started. Dario Vidosic was anonymous, and Spase Dilevksi promised much but delivered little.
For all of this writer's pessimism, Queensland did have two good chances in the second half. An acrobatic Damian Mori volley was brilliantly saved by Clint Bolton just on the hour, and five minutes later Reinaldo rose beautifully to a Ben Griffin cross from the right, but headed the ball inches wide.
Mysteriously, Farina made no further changes in the second half until the game was almost over. Simon Lynch came on for Buess, but there was less than 10 minutes for him to make his contribution. Equally strange was the sight of Hysuk-su Seo struggling with cramp, while the versatile and seemingly fit Stuart McLaren warmed up on the sideline but was never called onto the park.
Ufuk Talay was dismissed for a second yellow card with 10 minutes to go, Queensland could not make their extra man count.
Sydney FC are not the best side that has visited Lang Park this season. That honour would be a close run between Newcastle Jets and Melbourne Victory. But on this showing, at least Sydney play the football the A-League fans deserve to see, and they are deserving of the last finals spot ahead of their opponents on this occasion.