The seventh season of the A-League has now been in action over a month, but a run of away games early meant that yesterday was just the second home game of the season for Sydney FC.
And it was a game to remember, as the Sky Blues came from two goals down to grab a last-gasp win over Gold Coast United.
The round-ball game has undergone a revival of support in the early stages of the new season, and an encouraging crowd of 11,051 attended in overcast conditions at the Sydney Football Stadium, well up on last season’s average.
There were plenty of fans in the Cove, the vocal supporters’ area behind the northern goal. And they were in voice early as the home side threatened to score.
With a megaphone, a resonating drum, and with big flags waving in the front of Bay 23, the Cove are both a visual and audible stronghold of support.
As they sang their repertoire of chants, Sydney FC had the ball in Gold Coast’s half and peppered the goals, but were unable to penetrate.
But against the run of play, it was Gold Coast who opened the scoring. From a corner, Kristian Rees was unmarked and had no trouble in stretching his tall frame to head the ball into the Sydney net.
The Sky Blues wasted little time looking for an equaliser, but time and again would be denied. United ‘keeper Glenn Moss frustrated Sydney FC with a series of acrobatic saves.
When Mark Bridge did manage to lob the ball over Moss’ head towards the goals, Michael Thwaite threw himself at the ball, crashing into the woodwork as his scissor-kick kept the ball out of the net.
As the half-time break neared, and Sydney FC continued to attack, Gold Coast worked to milk the clock to maintain their lead.
Adama Traore incurred the wrath of the crowd after cynically rolling around on the ground, holding up play as a stretcher was called for only to jump up and return to action.
Such displays of sportsmanship, while accepted in some parts of our confederation, irritate Australian crowds.
When Traore went down a second time early in the second half, a chorus of booing echoed around the ground; and after he was subbed off when behind the goals, had to run a gauntlet of angry calls from over the fence as he walked back to the bench.
But Sydney FC had more important things to worry about, as within seconds of the second half getting under way, the United lead doubled.
The crowd were still making their way back to their seats as Dylan Macallister caught the Sydney FC defence napping as he faced minimal resistance to steer the ball into the Sydney net.
The Sydney FC players were stunned, and even the Cove became subdued. The Sky Blues had been the better side around the ground, and had created far more scoring opportunities, but found themselves two goals behind.
But The Cove regrouped and found their voice. Slowly, with silent pauses, their call echoed around the ground. “Sydney FC, score us a goal” they pleaded.
Hearing the call was Bruno Cazarine, and on the hour he threw the home side a lifeline. A cross from Pascal Bosschaart found Cazarine’s head, and the ball’s next stop was the corner of the net.
The crowd roared, a sea of sky blue flags waving around the ground.
Just two minutes later, Sydney FC were in again. This time it took some individual brilliance from Nicky Carle, curling the ball into the net from a tight angle.
An even louder roar around the ground rang out, as beer cups flew into the air in the Cove. It had taken only two minutes to wipe out the deficit and put the game back in the balance.
Momentum was running Sydney FC’s way, and the home side continued to attack. With every corner, the crowd would drum their seats.
The Cove, more vocal than ever, had plenty to sing about as their deficit had been erased. “Where you go I’ll always follow. Sydney, save our hearts from sorrow” was the call.
But, although they continued to press, the winning goal would prove elusive. And, as time ticked by, frustration began to take its toll. Referee Peter Green showed his displeasure as he began to flash his yellow card with regularity.
Sydney FC captain Terry McFlynn, key attacker Nicky Carle and marquee Brett Emerton all found themselves booked, while Gold Coast also found two of their number in the referee’s report book.
As the clock ticked into injury time, a few patrons decided to leave early to beat the traffic. But they would be regretting their decision, as this was a game when time added on would be more than just the game winding down.
Sydney FC thought they’d get a penalty when Bruno Cazarine appeared to have been held, but the referee called play on.
But in the final minute of added time, the referee’s patience ran out, and when Michael Beauchamp was held in the area, Peter Green had no hesitation in pointing to the spot.
The fate of the game lay on Karol Kisel’s shoulders as he stepped up to take the spot kick. The Slovak international, returning to the club he won championship glory with two years ago, made no mistake with the kick.
The Cove ran to the front of the bay as the Sydney FC players in front of them jumped over each other with pure joy.
There was barely time for Gold Coast to kick off again before the full time whistle was blown. Sydney FC 3, Gold Coast United 2.
A lap of honour for the players, as they bowed to The Cove after the game. Sydney FC had been the dominant side all day, but it had taken until the final seconds for the home side to take the lead.
But those final seconds were the ones that mattered, and it was a crucial three points for the Sky Blues.
Other than the dominance of Brisbane Roar, it’s been an even season so far. Only the Roar have a positive goal difference, only two games separating second from last.
The three points for Sydney FC see them move to fourth place on the ladder.
On the back of an injury time equaliser against Melbourne Heart last week, and a late winner against Adelaide the week before; the Sky Blues’ superior stamina that sees them run out beyond the 90th minute could well be a significant factor in how the premiership standings take shape this year.
The Cove continued to sing long after the players returned to the rooms. “Ole ole ole, every day I love you more”. With such a thrilling performance, it’s not hard to see why.