As the Central Coast Mariners marched forward, eight points clear and 12 games undefeated, Sydney FC were left to lament another poor start on Sunday, leading to their third loss on the spin.
With only one win from their six games so far at the Sydney Football Stadium, and even that due to some late fortune against the Gold Coast, it’s fair to argue that Sydney’s poor work in the transfer market over the past few years has come back to bite them in a big way.
But how did it get to this? What becomes patently clear, in assessing Sydney FC since Vitezslav Lavicka came on board two and half seasons ago, is the lack of strategic squad building.
Players have come and gone. Gaps have been left in the squad. Players have been signed for too much or for too long, or, in the case of some of their youngsters, for not long enough, for peanuts, or not at all.
They have been a club without a plan.
Much of this is down to the clear lack of a leader, someone pulling the technical strings.
This is not entirely the fault of Lavicka. Indeed, I often wonder just how much control the quietly-spoken Czech has ever been given in his time in Sydney.
To these eyes there have been far too many chefs in the kitchen, many of them not qualified to cook.
Whereas the likes of Ange Postecoglou and Graham Arnold have been given the reins at Brisbane Roar and the Mariners, making all the decisions around player recruitment, Lavicka often looks to have had his hands tied.
After his first season, a premiership and championship winning one, the word is he wanted to keep Karol Kisel, a key part of Sydney’s forward and defensive transition.
The club, keen to secure Nicky Carle as a replacement for Steve Corica, didn’t act quickly enough on Kisel and he was on his way, only to come back a season later, by then aged 34.
Nothing, it seemed, was smooth.
There were other dramas, surrounding the departure of Clint Bolton, John Aloisi and Simon Colosimo, who were all let go, apparently in the name of a rebuild, only to be replaced by the likes of Liam Reddy, Hayden Foxe and Bruno Cazarine.
The loss of Colosimo and Bolton, in particular, stung the defence, and it wasn’t until Matt Jurman finally got his chance, late last season, that there was some form of “re-building”.
But, no sooner was he in then he was off to the Roar, Sydney again acting too slowly. The club’s inability to retain youngsters had bitten again.
So, 12 months after Colosimo was released, the club had to rebuild the defence again, bringing in 30-somethings in Michael Beauchamp, Pascal Bosschaart and Jamie Coyne.
The signing of Coyne and Beauchamp stunned some close observes who had watched them struggle in recent seasons.
Meanwhile, Scott Jamieson was meant to be a key signing at the start of last season, with Lavicka intent on using him as a wide midfielder, but he struggled there and has only looked slightly more comfortable at left back this season.
Cazarine’s arrival, meanwhile, was the result of an elongated search for a “target man” (at the time I questioned whether that was what Sydney really needed), a search that became a circus, played out in front of the media, at one point delivering trialist Ibrahima Thiam.
When Alex Brosque left for Japan, Cazarine was joined by another “target man” in Juho Makela. From being slick and mobile in attack during their successful season five, Sydney had become stagnant, slow and predicable.
The fact they are taking up two of the club’s current visa spots says a lot.
Another, in Hiro Moriyasu, was knocking about in the local state league, hardly the type of Asian player a club of Sydney’s stature should be signing.
Only Bosschaart, of the imports, has proved his worth this season, and even then his form in recent weeks, since signing a contract extension, has tapered off.
While the loss of Brosque has hurt Sydney like no other, so has the retention of some of the non-performers.
Mark Bridge, for example, has had more chances than most and remains an enigma.
Meanwhile, with the pace and standard of the league lifting in the past two seasons, skipper Terry McFlynn’s game has been exposed as limited to being a ball-winner.
Sydney needs much more out of the holding midfielder role, someone willing to demand the ball and own a game.
Others, like Sebastian Ryall, Rhyan Grant and Shannon Cole continue to play bit-part roles, while the big off season recruit, Brett Emerton, has yet to produce consistently.
Only Carle and Terry Antonis, when fit, and to a lesser extent Bosschaart and Petratos, have been producing close to the level required each week.
Good managers, they say, adapt in all circumstances, but looking at the make-up of the current squad, even Jose Mourinho might struggle to conjure up an effective strategy. There are holes everywhere, including having two second-string goalkeepers.
Of course Lavicka has to shoulder some of the blame. He has been caught short, especially tactically, too often erring on the side of caution.
At the end of the season, if not before, he is likely to be on his way, and while results have been up and down, he should at least be remembered for lifting the professional standard of the competition.
In that sense, one might argue that he’ll leave the club in a better state then when he arrived, but there appears much work to do over the next pre-season.
At the very least, the club appears to be heading in the right direction, with Dirk Melton steadying things off the pitch and Gary Cole brought in to head the football department.
Now comes the most important bit, with the appointment of the next manager and the building of next season’s squad set to decide whether Sydney will move beyond the Lavicka years.
Which Sydney FC players should the club retain next season?