The revolution may have begun at Melbourne Heart, and establishing the new world order might not take as long as some people thought.
The red and whites have been basking in the sort of attention they have rarely enjoyed in the past since the news of the Manchester City takeover broke just over a week ago. And on Friday night at AAMI Park they proved themselves worthy of all that attention with a hugely gutsy effort to beat high-riding Sydney 2-1, even though they had to play the bulk of the game with 10 men.
Substitute David Williams’ brilliant individual effort two minutes from time capped off a tremendous performance by the hosts, who had to come from a goal down and do without one of their most experienced players, former Dutch international Orlando Engelaar, who was sent off after 33 minutes for a late challenge on Sydney midfielder Hagi Gligor.
This was a game in which it seemed that two goalkeeping blunders, one at each end, would prove decisive until Williams’ late, memorable intervention in the 89th minute when he ran from the halfway line, skipping past two defenders’ challenges to fire home from just inside the penalty area.
Sydney were a workmanlike outfit rather than the inspired ensemble that took Melbourne Victory apart 5-0 last Sunday, and can have few complaints about this result.
Engelaar was late in his challenge on Gligor, but most observers felt the send-off was harsh.
It appeared as if it would be a turning point of the game as it forced Heart to rejig but John van’t Schip’s side, which had barely been able to pick up a point in the first half of the season, showed courage and commitment to upset the odds.
Up to Engelaar’s dismissal the hosts had dominated proceedings, playing with verve and confidence, moving the ball around well and denying Sydney and their key man, Alessandro Del Piero, any time or space in midfield.
Van’t Schip had surprised by sending out a back three and pushing Engelaar into a more forward midfield role, using energetic Argentine Jonatan Germano as a shield for the defence alongside the hard-running Massimo Murdocca.
It worked well as a confident Heart took the game to Sydney, playing with fluidity and movement.
Germano, making his first start in a season ruined by injury, gave them aggression and bite as they harried and pressured Sydney in a way that Victory hadn’t a few days earlier.
But for all their possession they didn’t create any clear-cut openings and were vulnerable on the break.
Sydney were a workmanlike outfit rather than the inspired ensemble that took Melbourne Victory.
Sydney, not surprisingly, came into the game after Engelaar’s dismissal, and took the lead some six minutes later.
Heart goalkeeper Andrew Redmayne failed to deal with an Ali Abbas cross, which deflected off Heart defender Jason Hoffman, spilling what should have been a regulation take, allowing Corey Gameiro to pounce on the rebound.
Heart had the first of a number of penalty shouts ignored when Iain Ramsay went to ground in the dying moments of the first half, and then just after the restart had another denied when Harry Kewell’s goal-bound drive struck Del Piero’s hands. The Heart deservedly got back on level terms through Germano in the 52nd minute, although poor goalkeeping, this time by Vedran Janjetovic, played a part.
Germano looked like scoring when he hooked the ball over Janjetovic but Sydney stopper Matt Jurman got back to clear. Janjetovic fumbled the clearance, and it fell to Germano again, who slid it home.
Sydney looked a shadow of the the team that had humbled Victory last weekend, but still had their chances. The Heart, however, finished the stronger and refused to settle for a draw, playing a man down. Williams’ wonderful run and finish showed that was the right attitude.
Heart might be out of finals contention, but in this form they will be the sort of opponent no finals chasing team will relish coming up against in the next few weeks.