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The A-League Men needs a lot more games like the Sydney Derby

26th November, 2023
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26th November, 2023
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In another time and place, Marko Rudan might have been watching on from the Sydney FC bench as local junior Zac Sapsford smashed home the winner for the Sky Blues in the Sydney Derby.

Rudan was one of the first names ever inducted into Sydney FC’s Hall of Fame.

And there’s no doubt that at one time he would have coveted the Sky Blues’ coaching role.

Instead, he’s now masterminding Sydney Derby victories across town as head coach of the Western Sydney Wanderers.

And that’s a good thing.

This is what exactly what derby rivalries are made of in every city around the world.

Rudan’s side were good value for their 1-0 win at Allianz Stadium on Saturday night, having created the better chances throughout and been unlucky not to take an early lead when VAR ruled Marcus Antonsson offside after he headed home a well-worked set piece.

Sydney FC failed to heed the warning in what was a grinding affair short on real highlights, but if the game needed someone to provide a moment of quality, then former Sydney FC youth team midfielder Sapsford delivered it in spades.

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(Photo by Mike Owen/Getty Images)

After coming on early for the injured Brandon Borrello, Sapsford found himself in acres of space from a quick counter-attack in the 72nd minute.

But he still had the presence of mind to side-step a back-tracking Jake Girdwood-Reich before arrowing a side-footed finish into the far corner.

And he celebrated by giving it to The Cove behind the goal.

How different the complexion of the derby might have been had Jaiden Kucharski not fired straight at Lawrence Thomas with the goal at his mercy, but the Wanderers deserved their three points on what was a perfect night out for the huge contingent of travelling fans.

The whole match had the vibe of the big derbies of old – including the broadcast, which was expertly called from the stadium by Simon Hill and Andy Harper.

So that was the highlight of the round.

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The lowlights came on Sunday, when Brisbane Roar and Perth Glory risked life and limb on an almost unplayable Suncorp Stadium pitch as the Roar ran out deserved 2-1 winners.

Ross Aloisi’s combative Roar side always looked the likelier winner thanks to a couple of well-taken goals from Henry Hore and Jay O’Shea, even if Aleks Susnjar’s stoppage-time header made them sweat even more profusely in the brutal Brisbane humidity.

The club is doing all it can to entice fans back through the gates at Suncorp Stadium, and the home fans in attendance were treated to a gritty victory against a resolute Perth Glory side.

But after a couple of Paul McCartney and Def Leppard concerts – and with The Weeknd having cancelled two other shows scheduled for a week ago – the sodden turf ended up playing more like an ice rink.

The APL are caught between a rock and a hard place when it comes to venues, because if stadium operators had the option, they’d stop football being played on their fields entirely.

There are simply not enough fans coming through the gates at A-Leagues games to convince anyone that pitches are worth protecting.

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That’s why Venues NSW will schedule a round of Australian Supercross at McDonald Jones Stadium in Newcastle, then shrug their shoulders when the F3 Derby has to be moved because they’ve invariably destroyed the pitch.

They simply don’t care whether they provide an adequate playing surface for football or not.

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And given how few fans are filing through the turnstiles, there’s absolutely no economic incentive for them to.

So it is that every Monday we look forward to discussing the one good game of the round – always the Saturday night fixture – and a bunch of other fixtures that struggle to showcase the league at its best.

We need more games with some in-built meaning.

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A bit like the one that saw Marko Rudan and Zac Sapsford break the hearts of their former club and the Western Sydney Wanderers record their third derby win at the new Allianz Stadium in a row.

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