Sydney FC 2 Perth Glory 1
Only Sydney FC could turn a seemingly straightforward match against a lowly opponent into a nail-biter, leaving their fans to sweat until Richard Garcia’s injury-time winner.
They probably were never that close to catastrophe, especially so given Perth’s dreadful year, but these fans have seen too much drama to have ever settled comfortably into their chairs.
Ultimately, the result would push Sydney above Adelaide to fifth, their two-goal buffer over seventh-placed Newcastle increased to three, ensuring a return to the playoffs. The reward is an away final against their old foes, Melbourne Victory, set to take place at Etihad Stadium next Friday night.
Arm-wrestle: Perth's retiring skipper Jacob Burns tangles with Sydney FC's Ali Abbas. Photo: Anthony Johnson
|View Match Statistics|
|Players||Antonis (38min) , Garcia (93min)||Goals||Griffiths (46min)|
They will be rank outsiders to stay in the finals race beyond the first weekend, and this effort will have done little to convince of their prospects as a championship dark horse. One can only hope they were endeavouring to keep something in the tank.
"It wasn't pretty. In patches it was decent, and it was disappointing to concede just before half-time but we'll take it," said Sydney coach Frank Farina. "We were playing against a side with nothing to lose and nothing and we had everything to lose. So it was different kind of pressure."
However, Farina said it mattered nought leading into next week's sudden death edition of the "Big Blue".
A-League: Sydney FC vs Perth Glory
Sydney FC take on Perth Glory at Sydney's Allianz Stadium, Moore Park. April 13, 2014. Like these photos? Selected images available from www.fairfaxsyndication.com. Follow us at twitter.com/photosSMH Photo: Anthony Johnson
"It's a new ball game. The regular season is finished now and it's just who turns up next Friday night, who is better prepared and who plays better," he said. "Alll the previous form really counts for nothing because these games - in sudden death - is a different pressure on everyone."
Perth coach Kenny Lowe - who felt his team "absolutely battered" Sydney all night - was frank about his thoughts on the Sky Blues' finals prospects.
"I think they've got some quality players but it depends if you allow them [to play]," he said. "It'll probably be tough for them, if I'm being totally honest and realistic. They're not one of the top sides at the moment, I think that would be fair say."
If there was brief period where the bulk of the 15,285 looked the most at ease, it came when Terry Antonis nailed a splendid drive to open the scoring after an otherwise tepid opening hour.
Yet the matter was re-opened on the brink of half-time as Rostyn Griffiths casually tapped home a corner that was completely missed by Sydney goalkeeper Vedran Janjetovic.
That gave way to a nervy second half, with every Perth thrust met with a palpable gasp. To have their lead over Newcastle whittled further would’ve been too uncomfortable. Fortunately for the hosts, the Glory’s bark was worse than their bite, and their plentiful possession in attack amounted to nothing.
That air of nervous energy was in the air well before kick-off, too, and no doubt the sight of stony-faced Sydney Swans fans exiting the neighbouring SCG – having been shocked by an unfancied North Melbourne outfit – only added to the fear.
There was pause for reflection pre-game when ex-captain Terry McFlynn was farewelled in fine style by the home fans. Minutes later, he was spotted sipping a beer in a corporate box, and by the evening’s end, adorned in a Sydney scarf.
The hosts lined up as expected, their starting side finally gaining an air of predictability. The time for experimenting has passed and coach Frank Farina will live and die by this lot.
By contrast, Perth’s formation looked at times like a game of musical chairs, the attacking midfielders rotating through the striker’s role, none doing a particularly convincing job. In truth, they miss Shane Smeltz, and desperately need him fit next year.
It was always going to be a tough afternoon for Jacob Burns, his retirement papers also being processed. There would be no Harry Kewell or McFlynn-like send-off for him, a fact rubbed in on five minutes when he was effortlessly skinned by Matt Jurman.
Burns had his customary run-in with Alessandro Del Piero 20 minutes in, the latter collapsing in mock agony, and Burns protesting his innocence. The predictable yellow card came ten minutes later as he bodychecked Seb Ryall.
The game was at a crawl when Del Piero paused 30m out from goal and nudged a pass into space for Antonis. The youngster – Sydney’s best player since returning from injury – put his laces through an effort that fizzed through the air and pierced the back of the net.
But the hosts didn’t deserve their lead and were denied the advantage heading into the break when Griffiths found himself perfect placed to equalise, Janjetovic badly misjudging the ball flight.
That seemed to unsettle Sydney again, not to mention their fans. The Sky Blues scarcely looked likely in the second half, save for a miracle stop by Jack Duncan, whose leg blocked Del Piero’s close-range flick.
Perth chugged forward time and again but lacked the necessary conviction, letting the hopes of the Hunter Valley fall with every failed attack.
That effectively allowed Sydney to lock their place in the top six, a matter finally settled when Garcia burst into the clear, beautifully scooping the ball over the keeper with the final kick of the game.