FRANK FARINA'S first match in charge of Sydney FC won't be remembered as a glamorous spectacle but it at least delivered something. A draw, if an uninspiring one, at least stems the bleeding.
For the first time since round three, Sydney didn't concede, either. True, it was last versus second-last, and surely the Sky Blues must have higher aspirations than splitting the points at home with Melbourne Heart.
Clearly, Farina's biggest test will be to get the team singing from the same songsheet. There is talent in the team, and it was displayed in fits and starts, but never consistently. With a trip to in-form Wellington next Sunday, there has to be an instant lift.
Sydney FC v Melbourne Heart
Sydney FC drew Melbourne Heart in a scoreless game held at Allianz Stadium on Sunday, December 2. Photo: Brendan Esposito
This was a night where Sydney's tempestuous relationship with its primary club would be put to the test. With conditions ideal for football, and at a decent time for fans, this would be an accurate measurement of who had kept faith. The crowd of 12,425, the lowest of the year, said plenty.
Although most thought Farina would play it safe in his first game, he signalled his intent to shake things up by handing A-League debuts to goalkeeper Vedran Janjetovic and 17-year old midfielder Hagi Gligor.
However, Melbourne Heart coach John Aloisi was equally adventurous, selecting three players with a combined total of less than 10 games experience - Samuel Mitchinson, Jeremy Walker and Ben Garrucio.
The first half could best be described as scratchy. Willing, yes, but the execution remained poor. When matched against the top teams in the league, even some of the mid-range ones, comparisons are unfavourable.
Most frustrating for those who hand over considerable amounts of money is that Sydney do not play the kind of football that gets fans out of their seats.
If anything, at times, it is very predictable. When in possession, Sydney do not think their way out from the back. Moves happen on instinct; either Alessandro Del Piero's class or Yairo Yau's pace are usually responsible. The Italian's brilliant run, just after the half-hour mark, had three defenders completely bamboozled, and ended with Jason Hoffman earning a yellow. His effort just before half-time came from a blind angle for Clint Bolton, requiring a late save.
Del Piero aside, the rest in Sky Blue would do little to leave Aloisi sweating. With 54 per cent of possession in the first half, it was only natural that Heart turned the screws after the break. First, Josip Tadic's audacious left-foot volley from a corner dipped just over Janjetovic's crossbar and, not long after, Fred's dink danced along the goal line before spinning wide.
Soon the pulse of the stadium quickened, as it always seems to do in the second half at Moore Park. Del Piero put the ball on Joel Chianese's feet but Mitchinson cleared, then Rhyan Grant sent one over. At the other end, Janjetovic tipped Fred's header over. Game on? Finally. Thirty minutes remained to find a victor.
Del Piero, brought down so often that he seemed as much on time on his backside as his feet, drew a yellow from Matt Thompson. The free kick was fumbled by Bolton but the rebound was scattered clear. That was enough Del Piero, who left the field with 22 minutes to go. The former Juventus star looked exhausted.
Although an unflattering spectacle, the game's knife-edge dimensions created a gripping late dynamic. While both threatened, none would breach the other, and had to share the points. They might share a long season, too.