When Dylan Wenzel-Halls opened the scoring for Brisbane Roar late Saturday afternoon, things looked ominous for reigning champions Sydney FC.
The Sky Blues had been out-enthused early, would continue to be so for much of the contest and Andrew Redmayne’s clanger between the sticks was the last thing they needed.
Entering the match week in ninth and looking a far cry from the dominant force they have been in recent seasons, a good start would have been the basis of the Sydney pre-game talk.
Redmayne needs no scolding, it was a rare howler and on the balance of play Brisbane appeared the far more likely to score.
However, the shock of the moment was potentially emblematic of Sydney’s season thus far; one where things are travelling far less swimmingly than what they have become used to.
As was the next moment, one which raised a serious and obvious question for coach Steve Corica.
Wenzel-Halls’ strike had come in the 18th minute. In the 22nd, Sydney had the chance to draw level. A good chance. A very, very good chance. A seemingly unmissable chance.
As is often the case Milos Ninkovic triggered the ignition sequence for the attack, before Anthony Caceres played a key role, receiving the ball from the Serbian and sliding it through deftly, on a slight angle and perfectly into the path of Kosta Barbarouses.
It was the kind of opportunity that a 239 game A-League player with 72 career goals would and should bury with ease.
Instead, with the weakest and most unconvincing use of his right foot, Barbarouses meekly dribbled the ball directly and slowly into the bread basket of Jamie Young.
In anticipation of a strike that would be directed to a corner of his net, Young had set himself athletically for the save and the limited physical exertion he actually required to secure the ball made his effort seem somewhat overstated.
I’m not sure the shot stopper could believe it, nor anyone at the ground, nor Barbarouses himself, let alone stunned A-League fans at home who let out a collective, “What in the world was that?”
In isolation the moment would mean little, if anything. Yet it rubber stamped a broadly held belief that Barbarouses is well out of form, down on confidence and making things very difficult for Sydney FC to extricate themselves from the mini-slump in which they lie.
To be blunt, the 31-year-old Kiwi international stank on Saturday. When he took possession Barbarouses lost it or seemed likely to, he was caught offside lazily and offered little in terms of service to his men in the box when occupying a wide channel.
Toss in the butchering of a gilt-edged chance that could have changed the momentum of the match and potentially the outcome, and a player rating of two or three would have been a fair and justified assessment.
A minor injury to speedster Trent Buhagiar has combined with Barbarouses’ poor form to expose a disturbing truth in Sydney’s attacking stocks.
Without those two in form and buzzing around the box, it is simply far too slow.
Ninkovic continues to shine, yet Alex Baumjohann looks short of a gallop and despite the obvious aerial danger he presents to defences, Bobo certainly doesn’t add speed to Sydney’s attacking waves.
Therefore, the task of moving the ball briskly enough to threaten opposition defences lies with Ninkovic, the inconsistent Caceres, an out of form Luke Brattan and Rhyan Grant, the absent Buhagiar and Barbarouses himself.
No wonder Sydney FC are in serious trouble.
Still a clear three points from the top-six and surrounded by teams with a game in hand, Sydney FC need a circuit breaker up front. If Corica does not make the difficult call and drop one his most experienced servants for Wednesday night’s clash with Western United, he will be playing a very risky game and sending a dangerous message to others keen to grasp their opportunity.
Western United will prove a mighty challenge, a side playing confidently despite gifting the Wanderers a win with an appalling defensive error on Sunday.
If a flailing Barbarouses again produces nothing better than his recent form, United will walk away winners and journalists would be fair to ask Corica just how long he can persist with a player desperately in need of a break and a re-wiring.
Kosta Barbarouses has A-League play in his blood and no one takes satisfaction from citing his recent ponderous performances.
However, in professional football the spade must be called a spade and the coaching staff in Sydney need to make a call on a front third that is just not working; should they still have ambitions of challenging for the A-League championship this season.