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Lucas Neill has been repeatedly booed and Sydney FC soundly beaten as Melbourne Heart gave the Socceroos skipper an unpleasant A-League debut.
The Heart won 3-1 at AAMI Park on Sunday to climb to fifth spot, while the Sky Blues fell to seventh on goal difference.
Compounding a bad day, Sydney lost striker Joel Griffiths to hamstring tightness and defender Sebastian Ryall to a red card.
Neill had said pre-game he was happy to play the part of a “pantomime villain” and it turned out that way, as Heart fans jeered him when his name was announced and whenever he touched the ball, after he backtracked on an indication he would join their club.
One fan held up a sign labelling him a rat.
But the AAMI Park crowd quickly found plenty to cheer about, as the 34-year-old debutant and his fellow defenders proved unable to resist the Heart’s attack.
Nick Kalmar and Jonathan Germano scored five minutes apart in the first half.
The game was effectively over 10 minutes into the second half when Ryall was ejected for dragging down David Williams in the penalty box and Williams converted from the spot.
Griffiths replied for the visitors before being subbed off injured.
Sydney coach Frank Farina said his side’s defence had been a problem all season but that Neill had shown enough to suggest he could help.
“It was a bit of a baptism of fire for him coming into this game but I’m relatively pleased and he’ll just get better,” Farina said.
“But we as a team have to improve.”
Neither Heart coach John Aloisi nor assistant Hayden Foxe shook Neill’s hand post-game, with Foxe walking straight past the Socceroos captain while Aloisi said he didn’t see him.
Aloisi was delighted with his own team, although said they frittered chances to win even more comfortably.
The match drew 13,752 spectators, the Heart’s biggest non-derby crowd ever, attracted no doubt by the presence of Neill and Alessandro Del Piero, who announced during the week he would continue with Sydney next season.
It was the Heart’s fifth straight home win but they’ve lost six straight away, a streak they aim to end against bottom-placed Wellington in Dunedin next Sunday.
“We’ll enjoy the win tonight but we’ll focus straight away on the Wellington trip and we’ll put this away record to bed,” Aloisi said.