Sydney FC 0 Central Coast Mariners 1
Alessandro Del Piero is put under pressure by Nick Montgomery of the Mariners. Photo: Getty Images
A month might be a long time in football but that doesn't mean things will change. Sometimes it means more of the same.
In December, Sydney FC ventured to Gosford full of hope but were crushed by Central Coast, the 1-0 scoreline hardly indicative of the gulf between the two sides.
Sydney played host on Saturday night but the scene was straight out of Groundhog Day. A single goal to the Mariners was enough to clinch victory and they were a class apart all night.
Corey Gameiro shows his frustration. Photo: Getty Images
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There is no easy way to sugar-coat this for Sydney FC fans. The malaise has returned and hopes of turning the season around are fading. The title talk is gone; now the club faces an almighty scrap just to make the finals series. This was nowhere near a fitting send-off for Brett Emerton, who received a pre-game ovation so grand that it moved his wife, Sarah, to tears.
Lowly Wellington's 5-0 hammering of Melbourne Victory has drawn them within two points of Sydney and if Adelaide defeat the Wanderers on Sunday, the Sky Blues will slip to eighth.
The inverse applies to the Mariners, who temporarily move within two points of second spot. So much for not playing their best football: they continue to round up the points, home and away. Turns out Phil Moss and those players who haven't been sold are doing quite a job.
But they might be wheeling out the barn door for a spot of shooting practice at Tuggerah this week. Central Coast should have wrapped this one up by half-time.
It began with Storm Roux in the opening minutes, who blasted his effort high and wide. Daniel McBreen's header soon after was at least on target but Corey Gameiro was on hand to clear off the line.
Josh Rose was on the end of Nick Fitzgerald's clever pass into space but he finished like a left-back: shooting low but straight into the planted foot of Vedran Janjetovic.
As the half wore on, Mile Sterjovski had a tough effort from close range, managing only to hook it into the side netting. Matt Simon also should have done much better when he only needed to get his effort on target, heading too far across goal instead.
Last but not least for the half, Fitzgerald would be left kicking himself after being put into the clear thanks to a lovely long-range pass from Trent Sainsbury. Fitzgerald seemed to miscalculate his angles, however, and despite being one-on-one with Vedran Janjetovic, ran wide and managed to shoot wider.
Sydney thought they had the lead when Alessandro Del Piero hooked a great pass to Ranko Despotovic but as the Serbian rounded Liam Reddy to score, the linesman spoiled the party by raising his flag.
Apart from that, Del Piero had a bona fide stinker. His free kick after 48 minutes summed up his night - it nearly made the second tier.
This was another errant display from the Italian, the kind that has become all too frequent of late. When the game gets played around him, he looks pedestrian. His teammates failed to play to his strengths, however, rendering him redundant. All can take a share of the blame.
More lively appeared Gameiro, who brings a spritely presence. After Despotovic did well to knock a high ball on, Gameiro was through but followed the Mariners' lead by shooting wide.
They were subsequently made to pay when Sterjovski rifled a shot from 30 yards out that took a wicked deflection off Matt Jurman's elbow, leaving Janjetovic flat-footed as the ball bounced into the net.
Frank Farina's reply was to send on new signing Milos Dimitrijevic and returning forward Joel Chianese, but neither could alter the flow, so in control were the visitors.
McBreen could have doubled their advantage midway through the half but Janjetovic - in another credible display - blocked the effort with his left foot.
That he was Sydney's best player on the night said it all.