Sydney FC’s four-game winning streak ended at the hands of the champions and the feet of last season’s golden boot on Saturday night, but coach Frank Farina refused to blame the loss on the absence of Alessandro Del Piero.
The Sky Blues were missing their star veteran, leaving it to another wily campaigner, Daniel McBreen, to prove the difference, flicking a neat goal on 26 minutes, which Mariners coach Phil Moss said exuded the kind of class you see in the English top flight.
“I thought Macca really looked back to the Macca of old,” he said of McBreen, 36, who made his second start of the season.
“He was putting himself about, getting into some good areas in the box and his finish was class. To have the composure, the foresight to get his body in the way and use his back foot like that was something you see on the highlights from the English Premier League. I’m very happy for him.”
He was very happy for his side, too, which responded well after last week’s 0-0 draw with the Victory at home.
“Tonight I asked for a reaction from the boys,” Moss said. “We copped a lot of criticism through the week and I don’t like seeing our players criticised… We were below par last week, I asked for a reaction and boy did we get it in the first 45 minutes. Second half we probably defended a little too deep … I’m just delighted for the boys to get a home win. We treat this place as our fortress.”
It has certainly been a fortress against Sydney FC, who haven’t won in Gosford since 2008. Their task seemed much harder without marquee men Del Piero, who suffered a hamstring strain in last round’s 2-0 win over Newcastle, and Brett Emerton.
However, Farina said his players had no one to blame but themselves.
“I don’t think that was the factor tonight,” Farina said of the impact of Del Piero missing. “The real problem tonight was our own doing. It was just an off night by a number of players, which can happen in football and did to us tonight.
“I thought we were our own worst enemies. We can’t complain about the result. The effort was there, but we just turned over way too much possession. We were making bad passes, losing possession, and then in the final third our penetration and our choices were poor. We just weren’t good enough tonight.”
A win would have enabled the Sky Blues to leap cross-town rivals the Wanderers into second, just one win adrift of leaders Brisbane Roar. Instead, the Mariners’ tenacity won out, characterised by sweeping counter-attacking moves that created numerous chances and, particularly late on, should have ensured a bigger winning margin.
The decisive moment came when Josh Rose perfectly timed a run down the left wing and cross for McBreen, who used his wiles to get the spoils.
The Sky Blues stayed upbeat. In his first start for Sydney, Ranko Despotovic was bright and former Mariner Pedj Bojic added zest from the right side. However, the Mariners were sharper and better kept possession, with Rose, young New Zealander Storm Roux, Marcos Flores and Michael McGlinchey the standouts.
An unmarked McBreen should have had two but he mis-timed his header inside the six yard box nearing the half.
Mariners defender Marcel Seip received a yellow card early in the second half for a nasty tackle on Richard Garcia, the most intense moment of a dull opening to the second forty.
The changes were introduced by both coaches, including Yairo Yau for Sydney and Matt Simon for Central Coast.
As Sydney pressed, more opportunities opened up for the home side, including Simon’s one-on-one, which was saved by Vedran Janjetovic in the 78th minute and Mile Sterjovski’s curler, which hit the post.