The A-League season came to a close on Sunday night, with Sydney FC claiming the championship with a penalty shootout victory over Perth Glory.
As tense, dramatic and thrilling as Friday night was, Sunday night’s A-League semi-final between the Sky Blues and Victory proved to be anti-climactic.
Sydney FC hammered the visitors 6-1; a rarity in matches played between these two great clubs.
It will go down in history as the ‘Mother’s Day Massacre’; a term coined at some stage during the second half, as the Sky Blues put their foot to the floor and dished out a humiliating punishment on Kevin Muscat’s team.
It was partly disappointing; knowing we were denied another epic ‘Big Blue’ and the match become more of a dust-up than a stoush.
Yet the sheer lop-sided nature of the scoreboard created a level of drama that Melbourne Victory and Sydney FC usually manage to construct on the pitch with closely fought contests.
In stark contrast to Friday’s opening semi-final, one side ran riot and the winner appeared clear within the first 45 minutes.
The same could not be said of the Perth Glory versus Adelaide United epic.
Marco Kurz could not have hoped for a more fitting performance from the Reds in his final match as manager. Despite chasing the game from start to finish, Adelaide showed a resolute desire that eventually saw them do the unthinkable.
A Perth Glory side with a comfortable 2-0 lead? At home? With the quality they possess and against a team that has struggled to find the net consistently enough this season?
Cognisant of such realities, it appeared likely that Diego Castro’s second goal in the 74th minute would be enough to send the home side through to an historic A-League grand final.
Yet Adelaide had a dream and it was lived out through Baba Diawara and Ryan Kitto’s late strikes in normal time and Michael Marrone’s extra-time equaliser.
The absurd penalty shootout that followed will go down in the annals of the game. But for Joel Chianese’s poised strike that ended the drama, it could still be going. Such was the nervousness evident in the kicks taken and the superb goal keeping of Liam Reddy and Paul Izzo.
For Tony Popovic’s Premier’s Plate winners, it was the scare of all scares and the manager appeared to be praying intently during the final moments of the shootout.
However, as finger-nail close as Adelaide brought the Glory to elimination, was the scare actually less than the utter fear they should feel after watching a rampant Sydney FC destroy the Victory?
There was something ridiculously efficient about the men in sky blue on Sunday night. After a few dishevelled weeks where players had been rested and Asian Champions League commitments proved their usual challenge, Steve Corica finally sent out his complete and healthy ‘A’ squad and the result speaks for itself.
There was an eerie feeling that Corica had been holding something back. As unflappable as the 46 year-old can be, he seemed hyped and on edge during the pre-game; eyes darting and lips moving more quickly than usual.
Did he know or expect his charges to put half a dozen past the Victory? I doubt it. Although perhaps something was brewing, considering it would only be the seventh occasion this season where he was able to send Siem de Jong, Alex Brosque, Milos Ninkovic and Adam le Fondre onto the pitch in the starting eleven at the same time.
The last time the quartet began a match together was in Round 12. Since, injuries and illness have forced Corica to use a variety of other attacking options.
On Sunday night the four were sublime and complimentary to one another. Ninkovic occupied his pocket on the left, de Jong drifted between the lines and Brosque’s intense pressure and frantic speed up top added something that Corica needs to defeat Perth Glory.
Le Fondre has been the mainstay throughout the season, hardly missing a minute and as part of the foursome, looked potentially even more dangerous than he has at any time during his debut A-League season.
As solid as Tony Popovic’s defence has been, Sydney FC look to be heading west with a sharpened tool and a willingness to use it.
Is Popovic scared? No way, nothing scares the iceman. Is he concerned? You bet. Dino Djulbic, Matthew Spiranovic and Shane Lowry will have their hands full.
Sydney will hope to occupy much of Ivan Franjic and Jason Davidson’s time in the defensive end; forcing them to aid the back three for long periods and blunting their attacking potential.
The week will slowly build to a fitting climax on Sunday. Sydney appear to have the momentum yet Perth have the plate and were the most consistent team all season.
Despite that consistency, Sydney’s performance against the Victory will definitely have caught their eye.