There’s been talk of Sydney FC going unbeaten this season, but such notions were always premature, and their last three performances including last night’s will leave Graham Arnold with plenty to ponder.
Sydney’s six-game winning streak to start the season will be largely irrelevant by season’s end – the A-League is such a long slog that anyone can win from anywhere as Adelaide proved last time around.
It will be of serious concern how many big players didn’t show up for the FFA Cup’s showpiece event – and is also a concern to see Sydney reject their passing game in favour of an aerial bombardment for the last half an hour as they tried to find a way back into the game.
First to the players.
Filip Holosko and Milos Ninkovic, so good in the six game winning streak, were in the background, the former withdrawn after only an hour.
Brandon O’Neill and Josh Brillante lost the metronomic consistency which has been their hallmark this season, eschewing their short passing to spray Hollywood passes to the flanks which inevitably turned over possession.
And tactically – Arnold, unflappable as his team cruised to their six wins in a row, panicked in the dugout, sending on one of his favourites Matt Simon with half an hour to go, pairing him with Bobo in attack and proceeding to watch his side play a procession of long balls in their direction.
You could count Simon’s touches in that last half an hour on one hand, for all his heart and persistence he is a plan C player for the last ten minutes, not plan B for the last half an hour.
Arnold made life difficult for himself with the change of shape, too. With Ninkovic and Alex Brosque in the wide positions of the 4-4-2 they were as far away from their most effective areas as possible and with the ball flying over the heads of Brillante and O’Neill, there was no control whatsoever.
It meant Arnold’s only other option in pursuit of an equaliser was to withdraw O’Neill and replace him with David Carney. It was a move that smacked of desperation and with the side already committed to playing long in the direction of Simon and Bobo, the influences of Brosque, Ninkovic and Carney in the final part of the game were minimal.
The simple solution would have been to replace the misfiring Holosko with Carney instead of Simon and continue to back the side to rediscover the panache that took them on their winning streak.
Carney was hugely effective as a substitute on the right hand side (where he made his name all those years ago) as Sydney chased the game against Melbourne Victory a few weeks ago – it was the obvious thing to do.
Instead, they were too clever by half – and it really ruined their chances of getting back into the game.
City meanwhile, did what they had to do, and they leant on a proven match winner.
Tim Cahill is obviously a player who knows how to win big games, it’s a skill Sydney and Arnold are still to discover.