Depleted City tops Sky Blues

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On a night where they might have gone top of the A-League for the first time since 2010, Sydney FC fell to a 1-0 defeat against a depleted Melbourne City side in front of 11,638 fans at Allianz Stadium.

The match was played under lights and towering replays; the new super screens at each end a retina-melting 277 square metres in size, and so high in resolution that a fan sitting right up the back of Allianz Stadium might think they were actually at the game – if they had a decent view of the screen.

While Sydney were chasing first place on the ladder, Melbourne City was wary of Brisbane Roar behind them in the hunt for the sixth finals spot, and they opened the match on the front foot, winning an early corner before falling back as Sydney settled into possession.

Marc Janko broke through on the right side after 10 minutes, and came within millimetres of scoring his eighth goal in eight games; hitting the inside of the near post with a purposeful toepoke

From there, Sydney played a comfortable half of football: dominating, perhaps, but never really making a meaningful impression on the game – or, more importantly, the scoreboard.

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Chris Naumoff and Milos Dimitrijevic had shots from long range, and Sydney might have had a penalty after Patrick Kisnorbo wrapped himself around Janko’s legs in the box, but the referee waved play on – the Cove could hardly complain, having been awarded six penalties in as many games previously.

Given the hype in the week leading up to this match, it seemed disappointingly typical that the first half should prove so anticlimactic.

Janjetovic tipped a jabbed shot from Robbie Koren onto the crossbar and out for a corner as the fourth official added on a minute at the end of the first 45 minutes, but pushing in the box meant the half finished as flat as the giant high-definition screens at both ends of the ground.

To this point, Sydney hadn’t scored, but they hadn’t conceded, either – and while the lack of goals at one end would perhaps have concerned Graham Arnold, he surely would have been pleased by the lack of goals at the other, Sydney having conceded at least once in the first half in four of the last five A-League matches.

Sydney might have been 1-0 up at the break – Arnold would point out the penalty non-decision at the end of the match – but they could just as easily have been 1-0 down, and Melbourne City began the second half determined to remind their opponents of their potential.

The ball fell to Mate Duganzic in the box three minutes after the restart, but he swivelled and shot high behind the goal after Koren ran in front of the ball, nearly taking it away from his teammate.

Sydney eventually wrested back control of the match, but Melbourne refused to go away as easily as they had in the first half, stopping Sydney moves high up the field and breaking with purpose through Aaron Mooy and Duganzic.

While Erik Paartalu made a nuisance of himself up one end, backheeling a shot after a corner fell kindly, Bernie Ibini was doing the same at the other, mistiming a bicycle kick after good work from Brosque to get a cross away.

The home side hit the post for a second time just after the hour after Ibini broke through on the left; Tando Velaphi making solid contact with his boot to deny the striker, who might have squared right to an unmarked Janko in the centre.

Melbourne began to tire in the final half hour, and the gap between midfield and attack stretched. Still, they scored the game’s only goal on the break in the 81st minute when Mooy slid a pass through from deep in the left channel to James Brown running through the middle; Brown taking the ball in his stride to round Janjetovic and finish in an empty net.

He leaped over the advertising hoardings and ran across to the few Melbourne supporters who’d made the trip, while Sydney occupied themselves by looking stunned, disgusted, and suddenly awake.

Ibini and Janko threw themselves around after the restart, Janko earning himself a yellow card as tempers finally – finally­ – threatened to flare with 10 minutes remaining.

Sydney continued to whip balls across to the strikers, Robert Stambolziev now up front with Shane Smeltz and Janko, but the final few desperate attempts – a Smeltz header from the edge of the six yard box aside – went well off target, and Sydney fell to their first defeat in nine games.

Sydney leaves behind their big city comforts for the smaller, inferior screens of Wellington next week as they attempt to make up ground lost here against a title rival, while Melbourne City travel across town to the Western Sydney Wanderers, where they will try to hold their position ahead of Brisbane Roar in sixth.

Sydney FC: Janjetovic, Ryall, Jurman, Petkovic, Gersbach, Tavares (Stambolziev 84′), Dimitrijevic, Ibini, Brosque, Naumoff (Smeltz 61′), Janko

Melbourne City FC: Velaphi, Retre (Symeoy 75′), Kisnorbo, Jaliens, Clisby, Germano (Murdocca 73′), Mooy, Paartalu, Koren, Dugandzic (Ramsay 71), Brown

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