·8 October 2022
·8 October 2022
Melbourne Victory have spoiled Sydney FC’s Allianz Stadium homecoming, defeating the Sky Blues 3-2 in an entertaining first Big Blue of 2022-23.
It was a see-sawing affair with five goals and two lead changes between the old rivals.
VIctory’s marquee signing Luis Nani notched an assist on Victory’s second goal and looked to get on the ball throughout the game.
Questions will surely be asked of the home side’s defending, with Jack Rodwell’s absence highly conspicuous.
As the rain tumbled down in Sydney, Sky Blue imports Joe Lolley and Robert Mak were getting involved on either flank early but were unable to find too much penetration
The Englishman in particular had some very classy touches, perhaps a preview of things to come down that right-hand side for Sydney this season.
For the visitors, Nani attempting to get on the ball as often as possible.
Just as Sydney started to gain the ascendency, it was Mak, fed by a perfectly nimble ball from Patrick Yazbek, who netted the first A-League goal at Allianz Stadium sending the partisan home crowd into rapture.
The opening goal brought the Big Blue to life, Victory going straight down the other end immediately on the hunt for an equaliser.
Tony Popovic’s side began to pile on the pressure, and in the second phase of play following a corner-kick, Nicholas D’Agostino rose above the pack to nod home Ben Folami’s cross to level the Big Blue in the 31st minute.
Lolley continued to cause problems for Victory defenders, the Englishman stinging Paul Izzo’s gloves with a left-footed effort from the edge of the area.
Just minutes later, Anthony Caceres found himself with space in the penalty area but could only deflect his volley wide of Izzo’s back post.
It remained all square at 1-1 as the players headed to the sheds under the persistent Sydney rain.
As the second stanza got underway, Lolley continued to create chances as he had done all night. Cutting in on his left foot, he was a constant threat, firing shot after shot at Izzo but failing to really test the Victory gloveman.
There was a slightly frightening incident in the 53rd minute when referee Chris Beath and Rhyan Grant’s heads made contact. Both referee and player returned to the action after being assessed for a head injury.
For a Round 1 fixture, the intensity level was quite high and the tension only increased as the Big Blue wore on.
In the 67th minute it was Nani who stamped his authority on the game with a fantastic assist for Chris Ikonimidis. The ex-Man United winger’s ball caused all kinds of problems for the home side’s defence, and in the end it was a simple finish for Ikonomidis.
Twelve minutes later Sydney were level through James Donachie with a strong header, setting up a grandstand finish in the wet.
Sydney’s joy was to be short-lived, however.
Parity would only last four last minutes before the visitors went ahead once more courtesy of former Sydney FC midfielder Josh Brillante with quite possibly the easiest goal of his career, a tap-in after some excellent Victory counter-attacking.
It finished 3-2 to the visitors, spoiling the Sky Blues’ return to their Moore Park home on a dreary night in Sydney.
Miserable weather can’t dampen fans’ spirits
The weather is, unfortunately, something club and league administrators cannot control. The Harbour City has copped significant precipitation over the last three or four days, and the foul conditions extended north to Central Coast Stadium, where earlier in the day the APL was forced to postpone the F3 Derby between Central Coast Mariners and Newcastle Jets.
Attendances for earlier fixtures at AAMI Park and Suncorp Stadium were also disappointing.
In by far the biggest match of Round 1, and in spite of the challenging conditions, a sizeable crowd was on hand at the sparkling new Allianz Stadium to witness the first Big Blue of 2022-23. Undoubtedly the new stadium bump contributed to the attendance figure, but it was still an encouraging result in the context of Round 1, and the sentiment surrounding the A-League Men competition more broadly.
The Cove, Sydney FC’s active supporters, unfurled a classy tifo display pre-game and were in full voice throughout the 90 minutes, while Victory brought a healthy contingent north.
Attendances around the league will no doubt be a regular talking about throughout the season for media and fans. Let’s hope we see more crowds like the one here this evening, and fewer that are sub-10,000.
Nani shows flashes of brilliance but plenty more to come
There is absolutely zero doubt that Luis Nani was the biggest name lured down under over the off-season. The Portuguese netted 25 times in 147 appearances for Manchester United, also spending time in La Liga and Serie A, and won the European Championship in 2016. His signing was an enormous coup for the A-League, the likes of which Australian football had been deprived of for years on end.
Tonight perhaps wasn’t the strongest showing for Nani, now adorning the No.17 Victory shirt. He was, however, involved all night and notched the all-important assist for Chris Ikonimids’ match-winner.
But there’s so much more potential for him in an A-League campaign in which, deservedly so, much is expected of Melbourne’s largest club. There’s much more to come from Nani as Victory will be right up there with Melbourne City in challenging for trophies.
Do Sydney’s A-League hopes live and die with Jack Rodwell?
There were rumours during the week that Jack Rodwell, one of Sydney FC’s biggest off-season signings, wouldn’t be fit for the Big Blue and those whispers were confirmed when Steve Corica named James Donachie to partner Alex Wilkinson in the heart of defence with Rodwell not even fit enough for a bench spot.
The Sky Blues had a successful off-season, bringing in the likes of Robert Mak, Joe Lolley and Rodwell, but their centre-back depth, or lack thereof, could prove to be quite concerning. Donachie isn’t exactly playing at the level of a championship-winning centre-half, and beyond that, there’s really only 21-year-old rookie Aaron Gurd in terms of recognised centre-backs. Captain Alex Wilkinson still holds his own, but at 38 years of age, can he sustain that level all season long?
Rodwell’s injury problems have been well-documented. If the ex-Everton man can’t stay fit, it may well irrevocably derail Sydney FC’s season – he’s that important to the team.
View publisher imprint