The FFA Cup saw a historic tie between Sydney United 58 and Sydney FC, with the A-League side running out 3-1 winners thanks to two great strikes by Kiki Naumoff. The Blog FC’s Camilo Zannoni was there.
When the FFA Cup was launched on the 24th of February, the competition promised the opportunity for so called “giant killers” to take centre stage, as the lower tier clubs of professional football in Australia were given the chance to test their mettle against a quality A-League opponent. If some of the warning signs put out by Sydney United fans were to go by, including a couple of strung up smurf plush dolls at a light post near the stadium, the club formerly known as Sydney Croatia was not taking this fixture lightly.
With a reported 6,000 tickets sold before doors had even opened for what was being touted as the “new Sydney derby”, there was a certain expectation for an immense atmosphere to consolidate what would hopefully be a great clash between these two Sydney teams. With 20 minutes to go before kick-off the crowd was fit to burst, with the Sydney United active support bay full to the brim of flag-bearing fans who chanted with gusto. This drew an immediate and resounding response from the travelling Cove, setting the stage for a true derby, something that had been missed in the years leading up to the Wanderers’ inclusion in the A-League. The Wanderers fans themselves had a delegation present, although they saved their RBB chants for the upcoming ACL match, instead choosing to focus their efforts on poking fun at the Cove from a distance.
The match began with an immense energy as the players, seemingly fueled by the fans, sought to make an early impact. It was Sydney FC who seemed to take the game firmly by the reins from the opening, with the first 20 or so minutes being played in their attacking third and United doing little to try and win possession, with Mark Rudan’s side focusing on a more organised and compact game. They threatened on the break however, and the Sky Blues were almost left red-faced after a swift counter attack down the right side of the pitch saw a ball driven across goal only for United’s striker to miss a perfect opportunity to take the lead.
Sydney continued to threaten United’s defence with Gameiro looking especially fired up. And who can blame him? With 11 goals from nine pre-season matches so far, Gameiro is seeking to maintain his place in Graham Arnold’s starting XI once the A-League commences in October. However, although he made various breaking runs down the left side he occupied in an attacking 4-2-2-2 formation, he failed to find the final ball to truly cut down his opponents.
A number of stiff challenges from United’s midfield and defence sought to frustrate Arnold’s men, and a particularly bad challenge on Ibini saw the first booking of the match for Chris Triantis – the brother of Sydney FC midfielder Peter. As a result, the pumped-up Gameiro was also booked after his outburst following the tackle saw another yellow card awarded.
The game threatened to peter out as United’s defensive organisation frustrated the visitors, but Sydney found the lead through an outstanding Naumoff drive from 30 yards that screamed past keeper Anthony Costa. It was another nice piece of link up play between himself and Ibini, playing a neat one-two before powering his shot into the top corner.
With the game at 1-0, the magic of the FFA Cup began to rear its head as United almost responded immediately after a bad challenge on the edge of the Sydney area saw Tomic’s header from a set-piece ricochet off the post.
This attempt seemed to kick the Sky Blues back into gear, with Ibini often finding the ball at his feet as he surged forward with a pace that the United midfield could barely cope with. It’s easy to see why Arnold enlisted the young winger who showed a willingness to receive the ball and a quality that he’ll be hoping pays off for Sydney FC and the Socceroos in the future. Having received the ball in the midfield, Ibini fired a powerful shot from distance which deflected for a corner, before Bojic also had a crack after the resulting ball in rebounded and found him on the edge of the box.
United had fought their way back into the contest after initially suffering from a nervous streak and minutes before half-time they were rewarded with a scrap of a goal which nonetheless saw the sides equal at the break after a hard-fought 45 minutes. A long ball down the left hand side of the pitch found its way into the box, a shocking attempt to clear from Petkovic saw an initial shot blocked by Janjetovic before Paric pounced on the loose ball. Although new FC recruit Alex Gersbach flung himself in front of the strike, he was unable to prevent the equaliser from surging past Janjetovic from eight yards.
The second period began with the same energy and pace and not long after the restart Pavlovic found himself clear on goal before chipping an oncoming Janjetovic, however Sydney’s high back line saw the flag correctly raised long before the audacious attempt found the net.
Second half substitutions saw Gameiro and Peter Triantis – who was playing against his brother, Chris – come off for new boy Shane Smeltz and Terry Antonis respectively, and Sydney changed their formation accordingly going from 4-4-2 to 4-3-2-1 with Smeltz the lone striker up front and Brosque shifting to the left.
United’s previous attempt seemed to act as a warning for Sydney as United pushed higher and higher up the pitch searching for the winner that would see them cause an upset. It wasn’t to be however, as Abbas received the ball in the middle of the attacking third before lofting a perfectly weighted cross-box ball to an oncoming Naumoff who took a brilliant touch before firing the ball across an onlooking Costa into the far top corner.
Shortly after the goal flares threatened to disrupt the match, distracting from a near miss by Ibini. The pyro came flying from over the fence behind the Cove, perhaps intended to fool police into thinking the Cove would throw red flares onto the pitch.
Once Sydney pushed ahead, the challenges began flying in as a clearly frustrated and tired United side pushed their opponents to the brink. Tempers flared, and a questionable handball given just in outside the box threatened to set the stadium alight. While both sides set up for the free-kick, United’s Haydar stood in front of FC goalkeeper Janjetovic in attempt to block the ‘keeper from setting his wall, to which Janjetovic reacted by picking Haydar up and thrusting him aside. The United players did not take kindly to Janjetovic’s action, swarming the keeper in a push-and-shove before referee Griffiths-Jones intervened, handing the keeper a booking for his actions. The ensuing free-kick was hardly worth the build up, as Chris Triantis fired it miles over the crossbar.
United, to their credit, were still trying to find a way back into the game and made attacking substitutions with Darko and Glavas on for the tiring Paric and Kofinas, while Sydney brought on Matt Jurman for Gersbach as defensive cover on the 70 minute mark. This saw the game become a race to the end, as both sides seemed to feel the fatigue of battle on the synthetic pitch. However, United continued to push for a goal and, although they put on quite a brave performance, it fell into the hands of their heavyweight opponents and Abbas showed a great bit of quality in injury time to add a third and ensure a quarter final berth for Sydney FC. Having collected the ball on the edge of the box during a Sydney FC counter, he ran at the disorganised United defence, still trying to get men back, before cutting in nicely and slotting the ball into the bottom corner to secure the win.
As Abbas celebrated the referee blew the whistle signalling full-time and, although they tasted a bitter defeat at the hands of another crosstown rival, Sydney United 58 will surely leave the contest with their heads held high after producing a performance that may yet see the club one day reach the A-League. With talk of a second division one day becoming a reality, and David Gallop recently reiterating the desire to expand the competition, who’s to say it won’t happen?
Sydney United 58 1-3 Sydney FC