Sydney FC defeated Melbourne Victory 1-0 in the third and final Big Blue of the season at Allianz Stadium on Saturday night.
It’s an astonishing 10th loss of the campaign for Tony Popovic’s side, while Andrew Redmayne claimed just his third clean sheet of 2022-23.
With Victory talisman Jake Brimmer out ‘indefinitely’, Chris Ikonomidis was thrust into the No.10 role by Tony Popovic – on paper at least. Ikonomidis took up a very high position, almost playing like a second striker alongside Bruno Fornaroli.
For Sydney it was Robert Mak who was deployed as the No.9 in Adam Le Fondre’s absence, the Slovakian preferred to the effervescent Patrick Wood in the striking role.
It was a tense opening to the latest instalment of the Big Blue as both sides made tentative starts. Andrew Redmayne and Paul Izzo were mostly spectators, with the latter only called into action to bat away a Max Burgess cross.
The contest started to heat up with the two old rivals trading chances at either end as the pace of the game increased. The visitors gained the ascendency as Sydney struggled to maintain possession, with the desperate Victory fashioning some half-chances. After 22 minutes the Sky Blues still had not registered a shot on goal.
Against the run of play, Steve Corica’s side were ahead through a lovely Mak turn and finish but the goal was ruled out by VAR as Max Burgess was in an illegal position in the build-up. It was Sydney’s best moment up to that point.
Things only got more fiesty with the tension at Allianz Stadium turned up to 11. Mak was making himself a nuisance in the penalty area with his quick feet and agile movement.
Despite the ball clearly coming off Alex Wilkinson from a set-piece, Sydney were awarded a corner. Taken short, Anthony Caceres played a give-and-go with Burgess before rifling in a powerful strike to beat Paul Izzo at his near post and open the scoring for the Sky Blues.
It was a goal against the run of play. For all of Victory’s chances, they still found themselves behind and with a mountain to climb as their season hung in the balance.
It remained 1-0 in favour of Sydney as Alex King blew for half-time in a pulsating Big Blue.
The first chance of the second half fell to Ikonomidis, who had an empty net to aim for but instead looked to square for a teammate and could only find Redmayne’s chest.
Victory were knocking on the door but the backline of Sydney managed to repel their attacks.
The pace of the game began to degrade significantly with the home side shutting up shop and Victory unable to penetrate the Sky Blue defence.
Jack Rodwell entered the fray, deployed by Corica in a rare midfield role as Sydney looked to close out the Big Blue.
As the clock ticked down, King sent Burgess for an early shower after the Sydney man followed through on Bruce Kamau, a stupid and unnecessary way to get yourself sent off.
Can Brimmer-less Victory save their season?
It’s going to be a mightily difficult task for Victory to get back into finals contention from here, and the loss of talisman attacking midfielder Jake Brimmer only makes it harder. It was supposed to be a season of building on last season’s semi-final exit for Popovic’s men, but instead it has turned into a fight to avoid the wooden spoon.
There’s still quality in this side, however too many Victory players are having down seasons, and it’s unclear where the spark for a season-saving run is going to come from.
Mak effective in No.9 role
After a poor start to the season, Adam Le Fondre was just starting to find some form for Sydney when he went down with injury. Patrick Wood has been given enough chances now, he is what he is: an Energizer bunny but far from a clinical No.9.
That leaves Mak as Corica’s best option in the striker role, and the Slovakian put in a very good performance today. He had the ball in the net in the first half only for his goal to be rubbed out by VAR, and put himself about throughout the contest, causing problems with his movement and dancing feet in the penalty area.
Le Fondre is due back before the finals but now Corica knows he has another capable option up front.
Sydney take out Beyond Blue Cup
In an up-and-down campaign for the Sky Blues, winning the season series against their arch rivals is certainly a bright spot. The rivalry perhaps isn’t as ferocious as it was in the days of Terry McFlynn, Alex Brosque, Kevin Muscat etc. but it still means an awful lot to both sets of supporters.
Despite going down 3-2 in Round 1, Sydney have turned it around with a 2-1 triumph in Melbourne on Australia Day and tonight’s 1-0 win.
Conversely, for Victory it’s another crushing blow in a campaign to forget.
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