Sydney FC has progressed to the quarterfinals of the 2022 Australia Cup, outlasting the Bentleigh Greens 2-1 at the Kingston Heath Soccer Complex.
Fresh off the back of Dockerty Cup success over the weekend, the hosts made two changes from their 2-1 win over the Oakleigh Cannons, Chris Droutsas, and the injured Jack Painter-Andrews making way for Maceo Jones and Mitch Hore.
With the bright lights and a bumper crowd squarely focused on the locals, the Greens saw the first sight of goal, a George Lambadaridis strike failing to trouble Socceroos hero Andrew Redmayne.
Towards the end of the first half, the visitors found the breakthrough, a masterful ball from Alex Wilkinson allowed Adrian Segecic to bear down on goal, before he tucked away his first Sydney FC goal to see his side in front.
Early in the second half, Bentleigh almost drew level, an outstanding Redmayne save somehow keeping a ball destined for the bottom corner out after a deflection almost wrong-footed Sydney’s shot-stopper.
Almost immediately, the A-League Men juggernauts had their lead doubled, Aaron Gurd nodding home powerfully from a Max Burgess corner, setting Bentleigh a task to get themselves back into the game.
Just as the Greens’ cup campaign was petering towards a conclusion, Ajak Riak breathed life back into the cup tie with a header from a Corey Sewell set piece, giving his side four minutes and stoppage time to force another half an hour.
KINGSTON HEATH SHINES BRIGHT ON NATIONAL STAGE
While Bentleigh could not get the job done on the pitch, the NPL Men’s Victoria outfit can take something from the happenings off it.
A sea of green, totalling well into four figures, engulfed Kingston Heath, and while the Greens fans did not have too much to cheer about on the night, they nonetheless contributed to a brilliant spectacle.
Granted, the new lights and the wonderful commentary gantry are ostensibly only temporary measures, but regardless Bentleigh has reason to be positive about the extra measures put in place that helped them gleam brightly in front of the television cameras.
It is easy to see why Melbourne City have been attracted to the facilities in times gone by, with some of their A-League Women and Australia Cup clashes played at the venue in times gone by.
A national second tier is on the horizon, and it would be wise for clubs in contention to take notes from the Dockerty Cup champions, as they look to set a precedent for others to follow.
While AAMI Park stands clear as the best rectangular ground in the state of Victoria, Kingston Heath should be at least considered when discussing the state’s best local grounds.
SYDNEY’S CONSISTENCY SHOWS ITSELF ONCE MORE
Regular fixtures late in the national cup competition regardless of the name it bears, Sydney FC have done it again.
Throughout their illustrious yet short history, the Sky Blues have more often than not found a way to win, and this is yet another showing of that.
They did not have it all their own way though, with cult hero Andrew Redmayne called into action a number of times on the night, doing a sterling job to keep Bentleigh at bay.
Despite that, the visitors were worthy winners, the quality on show doing enough to ensure that the Phoenix remains the only A-League Men side to fall to the Greens in the cup’s history.
It was by no means a classic, but the dream of adding another trophy to their glittering cabinet in 2022 remains alive.
CAPTAIN, LEADER, WILKINSON
In what was quite an inexperienced Sydney FC squad, Alex Wilkinson stood tall.
Relishing the opportunity to help guide the club’s next wave of talent, Williamson and 20-year-old Aaron Gurd complemented each other well at the heart of defence, showing in microcosm just how much the 16-time Socceroo can offer, on and off the ball.
“It’s something I enjoy, it’s something that comes naturally, this year is even more important because we have got a lot of young guys in the squad, a lot of guys who have come up from the youth team,” he said following the full-time whistle.
It was a blend of youth and experience that gave the Sky Blues the extra edge, perhaps best evidenced by Wilkinson’s glorious assist for youngster Adrian Segecic’s opener.
This will give Steve Corica something to smile about heading into the A-League Men season, alongside the fact that highly touted youngsters Jaiden Kucharski and Oscar Priestman got minutes late off the bench.
With an embarrassment of riches in terms of young talent at Corica’s disposal, Wilkinson looks set to be a key pillar once more going forward, as Sydney’s next generation starts to break through.
Australia Cup Round of 16
Bentleigh Greens 1 (Ajak Riak 86m)
Sydney FC 2 (Adrian Segecic 40m, Aaron Gurd 68m)