Arnold’s Sydney trumps Mariners

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Graham Arnold delivered against his old club as Sydney FC recorded a comfortable 2-0 win over the Central Coast Mariners at Allianz Stadium on Sunday afternoon, with first half goals from Terry Antonis and Sasa Ognenovski.

Any sense of anticlimax after the bleary-eyed heroics of Sydney FC’s rivals over in Saudi Arabia this morning was mitigated somewhat by clear skies and a healthy crowd of 17, 761, though the opportunity to move top of the ladder – temporarily, at least – was also one for immediate reply.

The Wanderers now, in less than three years since their inception, have already eclipsed whatever Sydney has achieved in t10 – there can’t have been many Australians who wanted the Wanderers to lose to Al-Hilal, but the Cove will feel sore about how quickly domestic power seems to have shifted out west.

Win the A-League and Champions League football will follow. Graham Arnold knows it, too: he took the Central Coast Mariners to the group stage in 2012, and qualified for the knockout stages the following year, but between a disastrous few months as head coach of the Socceroos and flopping with Vegalta Sendai in Japan, it’s become clear that Asia isn’t really Arnold’s thing – which is just as well, really, given that Sydney will only be playing A-League football for the foreseeable future.

We’re still a few weeks away from being able to make any real sense of the table – it’s difficult to see how the newly-crowned champions of Asia, for instance, will finish last – but an ability to convert an early concerted effort into points on the board is encouraging for Arnold as Sydney aim high.

The Mariners, meanwhile, arrived at Allianz having won one game and lost another, which doesn’t really mean anything.

There was hope that Shane Smeltz might be named amongst the substitutes, but he sat high in the stands while Marc Janko swaggered around in the sun below. Sydney settled into possession quickly, and began rolling forward in numbers through Ali Abbas and Corey Gameiro, determined to take control of the match with an early goal.

Skipping down the wing, Sebastian Ryall managed to pull a cross back to Janko after ten minutes, but the Austrian applied too much forehead to the finish and missed the inside of the far post.

Gameiro followed up shortly afterwards, lashing a shot over the crossbar and establishing a pattern for the match to follow.

After twenty minutes, Terry Antonis gave Sydney an inevitable lead after scoring from a corner swung out to the edge of the box. Antonis took the ball down and drilled a low shot through a sea of legs; the crowd as delighted by the result as the Mariners were surprised by the move from the training ground.

Five minutes and a nervous scramble in the Sydney goal later, they had a second through part-time footballer, full-time gangly, defensive disaster Sasa Ognenovski. Sydney had fooled the opposition once already with a cheeky set piece, but this time, as Dimitrijevic lined up a strike after receiving a short pass from a wide free kick, it was shame on the Mariners.

Ognenovski claimed the final touch after Dimitrijevic’s shot deflected in front of Matthew Nash, and Sydney, as they did last week against Brisbane Roar, assumed an air of deserved superiority. This – that is, just reward for playing well – stood in stark contrast to much of what Allianz Stadium has been witness to in recent years.

The Mariners had barely threatened Sydney’s dominance in the first half, but started the second with a determination bordering on belief in their collective ability to participate in the match.

Despite an effort to bring themselves back into the game, Sydney soaked up early pressure from Eddy Bosnar and John Hutchinson, and soon decided to take control of things again. Brosque dropped in and out of the front three as Gamerio continued to bound through the Mariners’ defence, while Mariners goalkeeper Matthew Nash found himself busy with Sydney’s relentless forward moves frequently ending in two or three shots on goal.

With a few minutes remaining, Nikola Petkovic pulled down Bosnar in his six yard box, and gave away a penalty which would’ve left the scoreboard dishonest about Sydney’s supremacy had Mitchell Duke converted. Instead, Vedran Janjetovic sprang low to his right to deny Duke with a strong save, before smothering a weak follow up from Kim Seung Yong.

Sydney continued to swarm forward until the last, the crowd electrified by their side’s newfound competency, but the Mariners held on limply for a 2-0 loss.

The Mariners return home to face Perth next week, while Sydney heads to second-placed Adelaide to cement a spot for themselves at the top of the table. Tonight, anyway, the Cove will be blissfully ignorant of their western rivals’ international exploits.

Sydney FC starting XI: 20. Janjetovic (gk), 2. Ryall, 6. Petkovic, 3. Ognenovski, 22. Abbas, 17. Antonis, 8. Dimitrijevic, 11. Ibini, 7. Gameiro, 14. Brosque (C), 21. Janko

Sydney FC substitutes: 1. Necevski (gk), 4. Bojic, 13. Naumoff, 16. Gersbach, 19. Carle

Central Coast Mariners starting XI: 1. Nash (gk), 2. Roux, 25. Bosnar, 4. Poscoliero, 3. Rose, 7. Hutchinson (C), 10. Caceres, 15. Sim, 9. Duke, 18. Trifiro, 14. Mane

Central Coast Mariners substitutes: 30. Pearce (gk), 5. Anderson, 8. Montgomery, 11. Fitzgerald, 26. Kim

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