Sydney FC locks scores amidst extraordinary match day circumstances

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Sydney FC managed to overcome the late withdrawal of star midfielder Anthony Caceres and a late penalty scare on Saturday to find their way past a resolute Western United defence.

League front-runners Sydney and United cancelled each other out on Saturday with a 1-1 draw at a water-logged Netstrata Jubilee Stadium, but it happened to be on a day which was not without its drama for the Sky Blues.

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Ending up playing without Caceres, Mustafa Amini and Patrick Yazbek on the night, it was the first of the Sydney midfielders whose withdrawal from the game was confirmed some 12-hours before kickoff in extraordinary circumstances.

“When I got a phone call from the physio at 7:30 in the morning, I knew it wasn’t a good sign,” said head coach Steve Corica.

Corica confirmed that Caceres had been struck down with gastro the night before the match. This once again, however, proved to be far from where the drama would cease on the day.

A contentious penalty call in the 94th minute saw United being awarded a spot kick from referee Shaun Evans’ original on-field decision. A subsequent VAR check, however, saw Evans sensationally backflip on his initial judgment as the match soon drew to a close.

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With the result fringing on Evans’ last minute call, both coaches naturally expressed conflicting views on the matter after the game.

“I think he made the right decision in the end,” Corica said.

“There was no way that Rhyan Grant could have got his hand down from there.”

United head coach John Aloisi disagreed.

“It didn’t hit the shoulder. It hit the arm,” he said.

“He was facing the wrong way and he’s stopping our player from actually challenging for the ball.”

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Whilst the United head coach and former Socceroo was left dumbfounded by the decision, Aloisi did direct some of his post-match comments into praise for his side’s defensive performance.

“I don’t want to keep going on about it [the penalty] because it was a good game of football,” he said.

“When they had to defend, they defended with the great desperation and intensity that they did.

“We do the same when we’re going forward with how we play and how we can hurt oppositions, but we do work very hard on our defence structures.”

Aloisi’s reservations, however, whilst partially correct, have not held exactly true to his side’s defensive form this season.

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From their first 11 league games, United have kept an impressive total of five clean sheets but have also been scored upon nine times. Including conceding two goals against both Macarthur FC and Wellington Phoenix, and three goals against Melbourne Victory in round six.

United’s defence did come undone on occasion in Sydney as Leo Lacroix was notably dispossessed by Adam Le Fondre for an opportunity on goal in the first half.

The Victorian side also quickly lost their lead within just eight minutes of finding an opener, as Max Burgess broke through the defence of his former club to equalise in the 64th minute.

In the wake of the Sky Blues’ early morning drama, the 27-year-old was forced to change midfield roles on short notice in his teammates’ absence.

“Obviously Caceres would have started [today] so we had to change that around,” Corica said.

“That’s why Maxi Burgess played as the number six today instead of the original 10 that he was supposed to play.”

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Despite the constant flow of COVID interruption experienced right across the A-Leagues, Corica insists that his side have become well and truly accustomed to such unanticipated events.

“We’re getting used to these conditions, he said.

“Whether it’s COVID or gastro or whatever these days, we’ve just got to go with the flow.”

And go with the flow they will, as the continuing uncertainty of the 2021/22 season now means that the two sides will prepare to meet up twice more within the space of four weeks.

Feature Image Credit: Jaime Castaneda

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Jimmy Alexander
Jimmy Alexander
Covering Sydney FC for the 2021/22 A-League season. Studying a Bachelor of Sports Media (Journalism) at Charles Sturt University.

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