Sydney v Jets

A-League report by Stephen Webb
Sydney FC v Newcastle United Jets

Steve Corica's injury time winner against Newcastle Jets sent the Sydney fans home knowing they had a team they could believe in.

And the Jets coach saying his team did not even believe in themselves.

Even with five games undefeated and then holding out nil all with ten men after 90 minutes would have left Sydney's coach, players and fans despondent.

They needed a win to keep up with the leading pack. But they also needed it to prove they had the mettle to be contenders. To prove they could be winners.

As is often the case in football, Sydney lifted and dominated after losing a player - Ruben Zadkovich being dismissed in the 52nd minute. Sydney seemed more likely to score, frequently getting the ball into the Newcastle penalty area and finding the heads of Mark Rudan and Mark Milligan.

The fans knew a draw wouldn't have been good enough. And it would be typical of Sydney's luck that bloody Mark Bridge would get away on a counter attack and steal a win against the run of play.

Corica's goal was great medicine for any self-doubt in the stands. And it was just reward for the pride, commitment and perseverance of Sydney's coach and players.

The game as a whole, while starting with promise, was largely dull. Afternoon storms kept the Becks Effect fans away and Sydney, faced with Newcastle's dour physicality and without Juninho for inspiration, were seldom exciting.

Matthew Breeze's refereeing left supporters on both sides scratching their heads, if not seething.

Sydney started with some nice possession play, until giving the ball away to Bridge. Then Newcastle held the ball for a while until Stuart Musialik lobbed into the Sydney penalty area for Bridge, who was stopped by Rudan.

Tarek Elrich, frequently effective down Newcastle's right flank, made a good run into the box, where he was caught and went for a roll.

Robbie Middleby, who must take some credit for Sydney's strong heart, was then good holding out Elrich, and Zadkovich ripped the ball into the back of the Newcastle net but the goal didn't count because Michael Bridges was ruled offside.

Iain Fyfe stuffed up three times, finally giving away possession then hurting himself chasing back. Middleby had to foul Joel Griffiths outside the Sydney penalty area to end the danger. Fans behind me commented on Sydney's seeming vulnerability in defence.

Adam D'Apuzzo ? what a big game he had for Newcastle in the first half ? fell all over Bridges in the Newcastle penalty area. The Sydney players and fans wanted a penalty. But the referee didn't.

D'Apuzzo was strong on Corica and after 20 minutes, with Sydney struggling, Milligan fouled Joel Griffiths.

Middleby almost slipped the ball through for captain Tony Popovic, running into the left side of the Newcastle penalty area, and Andrew Durante made a good block after some nice play between Alex Brosque and Bridges, holding up the ball for one another.

Jade North whacked Bridges while stumbling over his back and D'Apuzzo fouled Brosque as Sydney made a smart move down the right. Brosque went off for treatment and Corica stuffed the free kick.

For Newcastle, Bridge was putting in a good effort, making strong runs off the ball.

D'Apuzzo was strong beating Brosque, who was still looking shell shocked, and then fouled Zadkovich.

The best chance to that point came in the 35th minute with Brosque away down the left. He crossed in to Bridges whose shot was saved by Ante Covic, diving to his left.

Middleby again caught Elrich at the top right corner of the Sydney penalty area, and this time was rewarded with a yellow card.

Corica - who probably should have switched to Bridges free on the right - played Brosque down the left. Brosque thought he was held back and wanted a free kick.

Rudan was good stopping Matt Thompson, who had been irritating Sydney down the left and then, though Sydney were defending with a line of five, Elrich still got behind and sent in a cross from which Bridge had a shot.

Zadkovich had a speculative shot and won a corner, Milligan was good chasing back to stop Thompson on a run into the Sydney penalty area, and that was pretty much the end of the first half.

Early in the second half Middleby drove Bridge into the advertising hoardings and, like the gentleman he is, picked him up.

Bridge had a soft, low shot at Bolton and Zadkovich put a good ball into the Newcastle penalty area for Brosque but it was well defended by Durante.

Jobe Wheelhouse was replaced by Noel Spencer, but I couldn't see what difference it made.

The strange turning point came when Middleby battled with Adam Griffiths on Sydney's left sideline. Griffiths finally won out and Zadkovich came across the pitch to cover. He jumped in and took the ball. But two feet? Studs up? Whatever, straight red.

Surely Sydney would go down from here, particularly since Zadkovich was one of the few Sydney players who could match Newcastle for pace. But no. Newcastle, formerly physical and quickly pressuring Sydney on the ball, withdrew into themselves.

Certainly the game got more physical briefly, as Sydney vented their frustration at the Zadkovich dismissal, but Sydney also started stringing long series of generally uncontested passes together. First time knocks in all directions. Zadkovich should get sent off more often.

Thompson put in a cross from the goal line on the right and Bolton caught over the head of Bridge.

In the 60th minute Bridges headed over goal on a Popovic cross from the left.

Two minutes later Sydney had two great chances. First Brosque expertly brought down ? slight tangent here: no small pleasure watching Sydney is seeing Corica, Bridges and sometimes Brosque catch long passes, Dennis Bergkamp style, on their feet ? Brosque brought down a long ball in the Newcastle penalty area and shot into the oncoming Covic's chest. Brosque regained possession and passed back in to Bridges, whose shot was blocked by Durante just off the goal line.

Then Bridges was replaced by Terry McFlynn. And I had a brief consultation with the bloke next to me along the lines of that being a defensive change; hey, I?m a McFlynn fan, but surely Sydney needed to go for goals now; isn't he there to replace Talay when Sydney get ahead; wouldn't Santalab or Zdrilic have made more sense?

Then we thought that we?d look like gooses when McFlynn scored the winner and proved Kossie right after all.

Joel Griffiths was 'mysteriously' felled behind play and then Sydney were defending so well that the only way he could score was from an offside position.

If not shooting from offside positions, all Newcastle could offer were near useless long shots.

Good pressure from Rudan forced Griffiths to head wide, Talay hit a great long switch for Middleby who wasted his cross and Bridge got the ball on the left, cut in and shot to the right of goal.

Another long ball from Talay found Rudan running into the box but the defender's header glanced wide.

Brosque brought down another long ball but was fouled on the edge of the Newcastle penalty area. Sydney won a corner off the free kick. And two more corners from defensive headers.

Popovic blocked a cross from Thompson and Newcastle got a corner which went to Bolton.

A Popovic cross from the left was just deflected beyond two Sydney players free on the right side of the Newcastle penalty area.

Rudan got another header on a ball in from the right but it went way wide.

Late substitute Mario Jardel missed a sitter for Newcastle ? but he was offside anyway. Good luck to the coaching staff trying to find a way to make use of him in the final third.

Sydney, a man down, had to rely on the guts, determination and experience of their defenders. And didn't they come through!

Rudan was marvellous taking a long clearance from Talay down the right sideline, beating his marker and crossing. McFlynn was prescient in resisting his normal urge to shoot and instead passing on to Corica ? who got in front of Elrich and scored.

Sydney won and still the fans booed the referee.

But weren't the fans pleased! They chap next to me said McFlynn might not have scored, but he did the next best thing: he set up the goal.

Sydney played better with ten men. They attacked and defended better.

In the after match wrap Sydney coach John Kosmina said his team found a new lease of life when Zadkovich was sent off. They wanted it more.

Popovic thought Sydney had the best chances of the game and he praised Rudan's pride and commitment.

Kosmina said he replaced Bridges with McFlynn because Bridges wasn't a midfielder and he wanted to lock up the middle of the park.

Newcastle's Gary van Egmond said his team were devoid of ideas. They didn't overlap, didn't make runs, didn't get forward, didn't switch on and didn't have belief. He said it was one of their worst performances of the season.

He said some players lacked self belief and others lacked belief in their team mates.

They were not cohesive and needed to do more work on their movement in the final third, he said.

Since the coach was so unimpressed, I'm loathe to allocate them match points, but Durante, Bridge D'Apuzzo did okay some of the time.