Villa strikes in City and Sydney’s score draw

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David Villa scored a goal and a few other non-David Villa related events happened in the 1-1 draw between Sydney FC and Melbourne City in front of 25,525 people at Allianz Stadium.

Taking the lead early in the second half through Corey Gameiro, Sydney was ultimately undone by the same defensive lapses that frustrated them last season as David Villa scored his first goal in Australian football.

The opening round of the A-League was scheduled at the same time as an international break, meaning that a few of those exciting, new players that we’ve been hearing about were at the AFC Under-19s Championship, playing European qualifiers or pointlessly drawing against the United Arab Emirates.

Shane Smeltz was injured, as were David Williams and Robert Koren. David Villa, otherwise unengaged, started on the bench.

Melbourne City found a rhythm early, bringing Damien Duff into the game by focusing most of their play out wide, and nearly scored after four minutes when James Brown tested the structural integrity of the crossbar with a looping drive that sent Ivan Necevski sprawling in the Sydney goal.

For the first half, it almost seemed like nothing changed; Melbourne was wearing red and white, Sydney struggled for inspiration and it felt like 2013/14 all over again.

Massimo Murdocca caused havoc with driving runs and dangerous passes in the final third, eventually winning a free kick in a threatening position a few metres outside the box.

Aaron Mooy stepped up and slapped a low shot through the Sydney wall at Necevski, who was fortunate not to spoon the ball over his shoulder and into the net despite his best efforts to do just that.

David Villa stood up from the Melbourne City bench and jogged over to warm up in front of the hundred-odd fans that had made the trip up from Victoria.

The game kept going despite the distraction; Mate Duganzic skewing a shot wide after Sasa Ognenovski swung a hopeful boot through thin air to let the Croatian run clean through on goal.

It was a chance that might otherwise have been taken by a better striker – namely, the better striker stretching his legs at the opposite end of the field.

Ognenovski’s lack of tactical direction was worrying. He seemed less than confident with the ball near his feet, but made himself dangerously involved in Sydney’s defensive effort regardless.

Lumbering through midfield after throwing himself at attacking set pieces, he made space for Melbourne’s counter-attacking play through Duff and Murdocca, and drew groans as he failed to control simple passes from his fullbacks.

Ognenovski’s performance was something of a reflection on the impotence of the first half; void of any meaningful events besides Brown’s strike against the crossbar and David Villa warming up, it rivalled peak-Seinfeld for nothingness.

Without Shane Smeltz or Marc Janko, Sydney lacked a focal point. Without Del Piero, the Sky Blues lacked someone to make everything happen for them.

Finally, two minutes into the second half, David Villa was deemed sufficiently warm and was let onto the field. With Villa on, it seemed against natural order that Corey Gameiro would open the scoring.

With a little more than half an hour left to play, the young striker, deputising for Smeltz and Janko up front, received a pass out wide from Nicky Carle and steered a curling shot back across Andrew Redmayne into the top right corner.

Suddenly, as though they finally realised that there was a football match going on, Sydney clicked into gear, playing with a sense of urgency that had previously abandoned them.

They played fewer long balls and began to use their midfield. Until Gameiro’s goal, Sydney was looking like the proverbial lipsticked pig as the crowd threatened to go kosher; for all their new signings, static play in the first hour of the match provided an unwanted reminder of last season’s frustrations.

With two-thirds of the game gone, David Villa’s lack of involvement was becoming a concern for everyone with an interest in the A-League – and then he scored.

Damien Duff hit a weak pass across the edge of the box from the right side as the ball found Villa, who took a touch to slip back across the onrushing defender before sweeping a low shot underneath Necevski to give him a 100 per cent shot/goal ratio in the A-League.

The goal wasn’t so much a result of Villa’s superior ability as it was the fault of the Sydney backline – he made it look easy, but then so did the defenders.

As the game fizzled towards an end, Terry Antonis reminded the crowd of a time when both teams seemed interested in winning with a spectacular long shot that looped down onto the woodwork – a shot which Graham Arnold keenly observed would’ve won Sydney the game: “If it didn’t hit the crossbar.”

It finished 1-1 after the traditional A-League injury time frenzy, with both coaches happy enough with a point from a curiously loose match.

Sydney will have most of its new signings available for their next game and the Sky Blues will need them against cross-city rival Western Sydney.

Melbourne City will hope for more points early in the season as it plays its first home game against Newcastle Jets next weekend.

Sydney FC starting XI: Sebastian Ryall, George Blackwood, Sasa Ognenovski, Matthew Jurman, Nikola Petkovic, Corey Gameiro, Milos Dimitrijevic, Alex Brosque (c), Terry Antonis, Nick Carle, Vedran Janjetovic (GK)

Sydney FC subs: Ivan Necevski (GK), Predrag Bojic, Alexander Gersbach, Peter Triantis, Max Burgess

Melbourne City starting XI: Andrew Redmayne (GK), Robbie Wielaert, Erik Paartalu, Aaron Mooy, Iain Ramsay, Massimo Murdocca, Damien Duff, James Brown, Mate Dugandzic, Patrick Kisnorbo (c), Ross Archibald

Melbourne City subs: David Villa, Paulo Retre, Tando Velaphi (GK), Jacob Melling, Marc Marino

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