Late goals get courageous Sky Blues off the bottom
Sydney FC 2 Melbourne Heart 0
IT WASN'T pretty, but it certainly was courageous. Sydney FC scored two late goals to end their three-year winless record against Melbourne Heart with a dramatic 2-1 comeback at Allianz Stadium.
A fortuitous Brett Emerton equaliser in the 85th minute set the stage for Rhyan Grant to seal the unlikely victory with a close-range header deep into injury time to propel the Sky Blues off the bottom of the table.
''I've tried to drum into the players that you've got to play for 90 minutes, particularly in this league, and if you do that you'll always have a chance if it's tight,'' said Sydney FC coach Frank Farina. ''Don't get me wrong, we didn't play great. It wasn't free-flowing beautiful football but we ground out a result again and it was purely down to the players not dropping their heads and giving up.''
Classy … Alessandro Del Piero splits the Heart defence at Allianz Stadium on Sunday. His inch-perfect cross allowed Rhyan Grant to score the winner. Photo: Brendan Esposito
After a frantic opening spell in which both teams struggled to contain possession in the wet, Heart's Nicky Kalmar came close to netting an early goal. Poor marking by Sydney defender Trent McClenahan gave Kalmar time and space to shoot from inside the box and a swerving right-foot attempt forced a fine save from Vedran Janjetovic.
The Heart were the quicker to adapt to the slippery conditions, and began exerting a fluid passing game to take hold of the midfield.
Sydney began to restrict Melbourne Heart deep in their own half. However, just as the momentum appeared to have swung in favour of the hosts, the Heart took the lead against the run of play in the 24th minute. A set piece taken short allowed Kalmar to whip in a cross to catch Sydney's defence napping and Richard Garcia outleapt Grant to power a header into the back of the net.
Sydney FC vs Melbourne Heart
Jason Culina tackles during the game. Photo: Brendan Esposito
The Heart began to choke the midfield and suffocate Sydney's creative outlets, Alessandro Del Piero and Ali Abbas, forcing coach Frank Farina to make an early substitution to kick the Sky Blues back into life. Blake Powell replaced Abbas, who left the field visibly angry, and had a heated exchange with Del Piero.
''You don't have to worry about that [what was said] - it doesn't need to be made public,'' Farina said.
Garcia came close to killing any chances of a Sydney comeback early in the second half with a low drive from the edge of the area. He was only denied his second goal of the game by a superb reflex save by Janjetovic.
Sydney's midfield struggled to maintain their shape in the second half and Farina responded by bringing on Terry McFlynn for Peter Triantis in the 59th minute.
A moment of inspiration by Yairo Yau in the 70th minute injected life into Sydney's attack. The Panamanian forward tackled Heart defender Patrick Gerhardt near the corner flag before skipping past two more defenders to send a low cross to the unmarked Emerton inside the box. The Socceroo side-footed the ball high and wide from close range.
The Sky Blues continued to rally late in the game and their efforts were rewarded with the help of an Andrew Redmayne blunder. McFlynn played a delicate through ball over the top of Heart's defence to the oncoming Emerton, who fired a shot at Redmayne, who palmed the ball into his own net.
Del Piero then delivered an inch-perfect cross to Grant in the box and the defender sent the crowd of 13,125 into raptures with a low header into the back of the net.