Sydney FC and Perth Glory drew 1-1 in an fairly evenly matched game in Sydney this afternoon, although Sydney rode their luck as there was a dubious disallowed goal for Perth.
As the coach of a team whose only win of the season was thanks to a forfeit, I'm hardly in a position to criticise a coach who half way through the season can't field a full squad but despite a run of no-wins is still only three points off second place.
Sydney has half a good team unable to play and a couple of players out of their depth on the park, but they still put together a pretty entertaining game. Or half a game.
What's a coach supposed to do if he's stuck with players who can't keep the ball in play or have no idea where they're supposed to be moving? If you are seriously considering getting your reserve keeper to have a run in the outfield to make up the numbers? And still manage a draw? If Terry Butcher needs to be shown the door … look around. No wonder the other A-League coaches are sticking up for him.
Ten minutes to kick off and the crowd was patchy. Disappointing for such a fine football day. Not surprising, perhaps, that the fair-weather fans were off looking for another bandwagon to scramble upon.
Perhaps Sydney needs to rethink the video of the team song hacked out by Jimmy Barnes and ending with a trophy held aloft by another brief stayer from the good old days.
Talk in the seats behind is about Sydney needing someone dynamic in front of goals. There's no small amount of envy of Mori's success for the Mariners.
Iain Fyfe, in thick of it for Sydney in the first half, was brought down by the yellow-carded Leo Bertos in the third minute, after a run Fyfe had started from the back, then cutting inside after crossing half way. Sydney won a corner from the free kick.
Bertos won a free kick on the right for Perth and David Tarka headed wide.
There was some nice defensive work by Robbie Middleby who soon had a run at goal and shot on target.
A good ball into the Perth penalty area for Sasho Petrovski won another corner for Sydney. Meanwhile someone behind me sang Middleby's praises. Middleby and Ufuk Talay were making a good stab at stand-ins for Terry McFlynn and Steve Corica and Mark Milligan … and ...
Talay, in particular, seemed to thrive in the role of general. One entertaining drive to goal began with Talay, then Fyfe and Ruben Zadkovich and Fyfe and Petrovski and Fyfe … and Fyfe was stopped on the edge of the Perth penalty area.
Petrovski looked sharp. Alex Brosque looked (and kicked) out of touch.
In the 16th minute Petrovski, allowed to the goal line on the right, almost waited too late to cross but found David Zdrilic in front of goal. Aleks Vrteski got his hands to the header but the ball slipped through and Sydney were in the lead.
Two minutes later, Stuart Young with a groin strain was replaced by Luka Glavas. Which might have been a mixed blessing for Perth. Glavas provided Perth's eventual equaliser and very nearly got two goals, but the visitors lacked the direction and composure that Young might have provided.
In the 19th minute Petrovski set up Zdrilic on the edge of the Perth penalty area but Zdrilic skied it embarrassingly.
Talay hit a lovely ball for Fyfe down the right but the adventurous fullback gave it away.
In the 24th minute Petrovski, giving Tarka a hard time, made another good run down the right. His cross won Sydney another corner.
Perth were going nowhere. They had no ideas. And Sydney allowed them no space.
Again there was good tackling back by Middleby. Fyfe, again pushing forward, played inside to Brosque who evaded well and hit a soft low shot to Vrteski.
Petrovski, this time played into the left side of the Perth penalty area, stepped over attractively but should have trusted his left foot with a shot.
Talay, evading his opponents with some neat close skills, won Sydney a free kick in their own half.
Perth couldn't keep the ball when they did get a look at it.
In the 40th minute Brosque combined well with Zdrilic and Middleby who hit a nothing cross.
Alvin Ceccoli had a crack and got a corner for his effort. Bertos, when he had a few seconds with the ball, looked quite a talented player and almost troubled the Sydney defence.
In the last minute of the first half Glavas had a free shot at goal. It was a good volley but went straight to Clint Bolton. Bolton couldn't hold the ball. Sydney couldn't clear. Perth had another shot but one of their own deflected the ball into Bolton's arms. It could have gone anywhere. Sydney were lucky to be in the lead at half time. But Perth didn't deserve to be even.
Sydney's luck continued as the second half began. Perth put the ball in from a free kick from the right. Bobby Despotovski was on the end of it at the far post and the ball went in the net. Perth were celebrating. But the assistant ref had his flag up. Referee Ben Williams went over to consult. The assistant held his arms out and moved them from right to left. No goal. Go figure.
No. Better still, figure Ruben Zadkovich who was getting a real bollicking from the guys behind me the whole game. I told daughter Alex that Zadkovich reportedly plays well when we are not watching. But she didn't believe me.
The reason Fyfe was so prominent in the first half was because Zadkovich wasn't. Wasn't prominent. Wasn't anything much. Maybe Butcher told him, "Look kid, you just stand over there. When Iain gets the ball you just drop in behind him. Otherwise stay out of mischief."
Look. Fyfe made a mighty effort. But, except when Petrovski came over to torment Tarka, Sydney's right side was crap. Did you hear the rumours that Carney was coming back two weeks early?
Just to prove me a bitter and twisted pessimist Zadkovich had a few good moments in the second half - especially when the style changed from purty football to desperate and direct. Zadkovich appeared outside the top left corner of the Perth penalty area. He turned. And turned again. "Shoot! Shoot!" we all yelled. But no, he wouldn't shoot. But he did deliver to Petrovski in the box and Petrovski turned to his left foot and did shoot: just outside the left post.
In the 51st minute Zdrilic got free on the right and the crowd rose and cheered in anticipation of the wonder strike that would seal the game. But Zdrilic was unselfish and attempted unsuccessfully to turn the ball in for Petrovski.
Petrovski down the right beat Tarka and played inside for Brosque. Brosque passed on to Zadkovich who shot way high.
Brosque made two great tackles then attacked down the left.
Perth came forward but with no clear intention. They were outnumbered by blue shirts anyway. Despotovski forlornly lobbed the ball to Bolton.
In the 60th minute Ceccoli took one of his long throws from the left. Vrteski should have claimed it but ended up fending a header over the crossbar.
Perth started looking interesting. They came forward through passenger Stan Lazaridis, Glavas and Despotovski who hit another soft shot.
Lazaridis, getting more involved because he was about to come off, came across the pitch and attacked down the right. He was soundly beaten by Ceccoli and Sydney countered leading to a shot from Zadkovich, spilled by Vrteski.
In the 65th minute Zdrilic won an "Oooo…oh…oh….oh" from the crowd for a spin and shot that Vrteski left but which dropped just wide of the top right corner of goal.
Bolton sent Zdrilic down the right. It was a great run but his cross was poor … but it won Sydney another corner.
Ceccoli was excellent beating Glavas and cool as you please playing back to Nikolai Topor-Stanley. Sydney attacked again and Zadkovich won a corner trying to shoot from inside the right side of the penalty area.
Ceccoli flicked the ball around Glavas before taking the ball midfield.
Despotovski had his second best chance from the edge of the Sydney penalty area. And gave Bolton something to think about.
And it was Despotovski in the 76th minute who made Perth's equaliser, coming across the top of the box from the right, evading several sad attempts at tackles and slipping the ball through to Glavas. It was an easy chance but well taken.
Zdrilic made a great effort chasing a Ceccoli ball down the left and beating two Perth players. He was brought down outside the box but the referee played on because Brosque had possession in front of goal. Brosque's critics would no doubt say that was not an advantage to Sydney. Brosque was marked and could only lob over the right corner of goal.
Perth were on top now. What could Butcher do? He brought on Matthew Bingley for Middleby.
Bertos looked for Glavas. Almost successful.
Sydney worked the ball to the Perth box largely through the efforts of Zdrilic. Zdrilic shot weakly to Vrteski. Ceccoli crossed to Zdrilic who headed to Vrteski. Zdrilic crossed to Petrovski who tried one of his spectacular bicycle kicks … but it wasn't so hot.
As Sydney got more desperate and sloppy, Perth got more assured. The draw was inevitable.
But it wasn't good enough for the Sydney fans who held aloft the banner: "It's football, but not was we like it."