A below-par Sydney FC came from behind to secure the 3 points in Gosford, while Melbourne Victory put on a show against the Wanderers at Marvel Stadium.
Central Coast Mariners 1-2 Sydney FC
Sydney FC coach Steve Corica admitted his side “didn’t play well” and slammed their “poor, poor performance in the first half”, despite emerging with a 2-1 win against the Mariners at Central Coast Stadium.
The Sky Blues began with an unchanged line-up – only Daniel De Silva omitted from the bench, having been ruled ineligible to play against his parent club.
The Mariners, meanwhile, brought in Jake McGing for the suspended Kalifa Cisse, while captain Matt Simon started in place of the injured Ross McCormack.
And perhaps fittingly, the former Sydney man Simon opened the scoring in the 16th minute, making the most of some non-existent marking to bundle home Matt Millar’s cross from six yards out.
The goal was no more than the Mariners deserved, after Sydney started at a frankly lackadaisical pace. However, in the 41st minute, the visitors found a scarcely-deserved equaliser via a contentious penalty decision. There is no doubt Jack Clisby caught Rhyan Grant on the shin, but whether the contact was inside or outside the box remains inconclusive.
Birthday boy Adam Le Fondre powered his spot-kick straight through the hands of Ben Kennedy to claim his sixth sausage roll of the season.
Sydney improved in the second half, but created few clear scoring chances. It was left to holding midfielder Brandon O’Neill to take the initiative in the 65th minute, given the space and time to take several touches outside the box and tee up a searing left-footed wonder strike from 25 yards which arrowed into the top right corner of the net. A magnificent goal to be sure, but Kennedy was rightly furious with his defenders for not closing the Irish-Australian down.
They say the mark of a great team is the ability to win games when you’re not playing well. If that is indeed the case, Sydney FC truly are a great team.
Melbourne Victory 4-0 Western Sydney Wanderers
In Saturday’s primetime kick-off, Melbourne Victory put the struggling Wanderers to the sword with ease and laid down a marker for the rest of the competition.
Melbourne were forced to admit Georg Neidermeier through concussion, while James Troisi was a surprise late withdrawal. In their place started Nick Ansell and Raul Baena respectively, with Baena shifted to the left side of the diamond, and Antonis in the #10 role.
Markus Babbel, meanwhile, named an unchanged line-up from the one that lost 2-0 to the Jets the previous week.
From the opening moments of the contest, Victory were cutting through the Western Sydney backline with ease. Honda put Ola Toivonen through on goal with a lovely pass in the 3rd minute, but the Swede shot straight at Vedran Janjetovic.
The Vuck faithful only had to wait 8 more minutes for the breakthrough. A sweeping team move saw Baena play through Toivonen down the left flank. The Swede checked back and fired a pinpoint cutback to Antonis which dissected four Wanderers defenders. Antonis took the ball on the (Cruyff) turn and played a beautiful lofted diagonal ball to the onrushing Honda at the back post, who headed across Janjetovic and into the far corner. A truly breathtaking unbroken sequence capped off with a pinpoint finish.
Melbourne Victory were playing some champagne football at Marvel Stadium – a shame that less than 20,000 were there to see it. Antonis relished the freedom of his playmaking role. Honda orchestrated everything – one touch passes, lethal movement off the ball, and delicate touches that left multiple Wanderers defenders racing to the wrong fire.
In the 31st minute, the home side doubled their advantage. Baena took advantage of Brendan Hamill’s failure to clear a Barbarouses cross, and put Elrich to the floor with a sly shot-fake before burying the ball in the bottom corner for his first Victory goal.
The hapless Elrich’s nightmare of an evening went from bad to worse, as Barbarouses clipped a bouncing ball over his head, Paul Gascoigne-style. Elrich attempted to clear the danger with an ill-judged diving header that missed the ball entirely and sent him clattering into Kosta. The Kiwi flyer dusted himself off to take the penalty, sending Janjetovic the wrong way to claim his first for the season.
As usual penalty-taker Honda explained in the post-match interview: “I think Kosta needs a goal in this moment.” A generous gesture from a man who is proving as much of a leader as he is a marquee superstar.
Markus Babbel made a double substitution at halftime, bringing on Tokich and Sotirio for O’Doherty and Majok. The changes seemed to steady the ship to some extent. 18-year-old prodigy Tokich was very comfortable on the ball, and Sotirio at least provided some defensive work rate down the flanks.
However, Victory were still very much the better side, and another beautiful team goal in the 83rd minute capped off a memorable display. Given a chance to counter-attack, Honda clipped the ball over the top for Barbarouses, who sent an early cross in for Ola Toivonen. The big Swede unselfishly – and delicately – played the ball first time into the path of Antonis, who had made a lung-busting late run. Antonis smashed the ball from 12 yards with such pure venom that poor Janjetovic hardly stood a chance.
It’s taken some time for the Victory’s star-studded line-up to really click into gear, but last night they showed what they are truly capable of. The only question that remains is how does Muscat fit Troisi back into the team?
The Wanderers were humbled, and for the disappointingly small band of fans who travelled to Melbourne, it’s more of the same. Defensively wide open, with glaring weaknesses in both midfield and backline. For Markus Babbel, the return of Patrick Ziegler cannot come soon enough, and a tactical rethink should be on the cards.