Macarthur FC have defeated Sydney United 2-0 in the Australia Cup final to claim their first trophy in front of 16,461 fans at CommBank Stadium.
The showpiece event was unfortunately marred by Sydney United fans’ behaviour before kick-off and during play.
It was an open start to the contest, with Macarthur controlling the lion’s share of possession and making multiple forays into the Sydney United penalty area.
It would have been tough for the United squad, most of whom have never been able to play consistently at the professional level, not to be overawed by the occasion, and it seemed there were some nerves in the semi-professional side’s ranks.
Danijel Nizic had plenty to do between the sticks, and kept his side in the contest with some confident saves early on.
For the Bulls it was forward trio Al Hassan Toure, Lachlan Rose and Daniel Arzani creating havoc in the opening stages.
United centre forward Chris Payne was the focal point for his side, expertly holding the ball up with his back to goal from persistent long balls and getting his teammates involved.
Anthony Tomelic was the first player into the notebook for a bad foul on Toure in the 26th minute. The resulting free-kick, probably the best chance of the game to that point, was then duly sent into the wall.
It was Macarthur who went in front, deservedly so it must be said, in the 32nd minute through a composed and well-taken Toure penalty. United fans then unfortunately responded by sending projectiles the Bulls forward’s way.
As the sides went into the sheds at half-time, the 1-0 advantage was no less than Dwight Yorke’s side deserved and thankfully we had gone about 10 minutes with no incidents in the northern end of CommBank Stadium.
It wasn’t exactly 45 minutes of champagne football, but even if it was it would’ve been difficult to ignore what was happening in the stands. Sydney United fans’ efforts to tarnish what’s left of their reputation were embarrassing for the rest of the Australian football community and put an indelible stain on proceedings.
Macarthur went close to doubling their advantage from a goalmouth scramble through Arzani early on in the second half before United were just able to clear their lines.
The NPL side continued to go route 1, bombing it long towards Payne.
Lachie Rose should have scored with a close-range header but could only find the crossbar with Nizic well beaten.
Miro Vlastelica went to his bench 10 minutes after the interval, bringing on semi-final hero Glen Trifiro no doubt in hope of some more magic from the ex-Central Coast Mariner.
The Bulls began to put their foot on the throat, setting up camp at the northern end of the ground and piling on the pressure. A second goal seemed inevitable, with Rose going close yet again for the A-League side.
United were able to string some passes together but failed to apply the necessary coherence in the final third to really trouble their opponents.
As the clock ticked down Bulls fans were surely feeling the nerves but United never really looked like levelling the scores. Even getting on the ball was a challenge, Macarthur in almost total control.
Then in the 89th minute Craig Noone was brought down in the area by a tired challenge, forcing Kurt Ams to point to the spot. Ulises Davila stepped up and dispatched the penalty, firing a dagger into United fans’ hearts.
Passionate crowd bring the atmosphere but ruin it all
Even the chance of lifting a major trophy was huge for the semi-professional Sydney United and it showed in the number of supporters they brought from western Sydney.
Their fans, situated in RBB territory, were in the ground a good hour before kick-off and packed out the majority of the lower bowl at the northern end of CommBank Stadium. The Cup is all about the intersection of professional and semi-professional football in this country and the 2022 final was no exception.
Unfortunately, the fans’ behaviour was less than exemplary and tarnished the whole club. Booing could be heard coming from their home end during the Welcome to Country ceremony, and one supporter was captured on the Network Ten broadcast performing a Nazi salute. United fans’ passion cannot be denied but these incidents should not be tolerated if they are to be accepted into the National Second Division.
The less said about the Macarthur turnout, the better, unfortunately. The Bullpen were unable to fill out even one bay of CommBank Stadium, giving proponents of the National Second Division plenty of ammunition tonight. It’s a shame, but there’s no doubt Macarthur’s crowds at Campbelltown Stadium will be a talking point throughout the new A-League season.
Yorke delivers Bulls’ first trophy
It is fair to say Dwight Yorke’s Bulls side didn’t have the most treacherous of draws on their way to the inaugural trophy. You can only play who’s in front of you, however, and Macarthur are the deserved champions of the 2022 Australia Cup.
It’s a big boon for Dwight Yorke, who hasn’t yet even coached a league game for the southwest Sydney club. He was a curios appointment but with this triumph he has certainly earned some credibility.
Yorke has plenty of quality at his disposal, and while Macarthur are from title favourites, they should be contending for a place in the top six. The ex-Manchester United striker will still have to prove his doubters wrong, but as far as first steps go winning a major trophy – indeed, the club’s first – is not a bad one. For the organisation as a whole, it’s a fantastic achievement and will put a smile on the fans’ faces. The expansion side isn’t going anywhere, and this could be a springboard to greater things to come.
Despite heartbreaking loss, plenty of magic in United’s run to the final
The extra-time win against Charlie Austin’s Brisbane Roar in the Edensor Park sunshine. The penalty shootout triumph over Western United. The pitch invasions. The Magic of the Cup.
The problematic issues surrounding the club’s fan-base notwithstanding, it was an unforgettable run to the final for Sydney United which included two wins over A-League competition. It’s the first time an NPL side has qualified for the Australia Cup final, and the achievement is made greater considering all the years the draw was rigged so that one semi-pro side was guaranteed a spot in the final four.
It was an easy narrative to get sucked up in and we can only hope the precedent is followed in future editions of the national cup competition. As much as it is another trophy on offer for the A-League sides, it’s the NPL clubs who breathe life into this competition. The late Mike Cockerill’s genuine affection for the semi-pro clubs, Adam Peacock sampling the local cuisine on-air, and the fans on the terraces – that’s what the Australia Cup is all about.