For the first time this season, Isuzu UTE A-League Men’s football found it’s way to Leichhardt Oval for the match between Sydney FC and the Central Coast Mariners on Sunday afternoon.
In what was a quiet opening 30 minutes, the contest exploded to life following with an end to end match. Sydney FC took the lead late in the first half before Mariners recovered early in the second to make it 2-1. After a controversial decision, Sydney FC drew level and then found a winner late on through Anthony Caceres with the bumper crowd at Leichhardt Oval enjoying one of the best games this season.
The match began in warm weather with eyes glued to Mariners new recruit Jason Cummings who was thrust into the starting eleven despite being in the country for less than a week. Dan Hall and Lewis Miller also were recalled after missing last week’s match due to illness, with Josh Nisbet and Nicolai Müller finding a spot on the bench.
The Mariners started well and looked to create chances on the counter with Jacob Farrell and Lewis Miller winning the ball deep and setting Marco Urena who had the first chance for the visitors in the half as he drove forward from halfway and struck a fierce strike that was palmed around the post by Tom Heward-Belle in the Sydney FC net.
The next chance of the afternoon would fall to captain Ollie Bozanic who lined up from outside the area and saw the ball take a crazy deflection that looped it high into the afternoon sun and forced Heward-Belle to tip over awkwardly underneath his crossbar.
With the Mariners building momentum, the best chance of the half would fall to Trent Buhagiar of Sydney FC who found himself in acres of space when the ball broke to him, however his shot somehow found the side netting when he only had Mark Birighitti to beat one-on-one.
While alienated for much of the half, Jason Cummings sprung to life in the box when the ball fell his way after industrious work from Lewis Miller, and after beating two Sydney defenders with some tidy footwork, saw his shot palmed away by Heward-Belle, much to the angst of the travelling support.
Béni Nkololo was next to test the Sydney shot stopper after he cut inside from the left and struck a shot from a tight angle that would’ve rippled the roof of the net, but again Heward-Belle threw up a hand to keep the match goal-less.
The first talking point of the match would come late in the half as the board went up to indicate two minutes added, no sooner would referee Kurt Ams point to the spot for a questionable hand-ball on Jacob Farrell who upon reflection appeared to be pulling his hand away from danger, despite being only yards away.
There would be no overturning of the decision and Anthony Caceres stepped up to fire the ball home and ensure Sydney went into the sheds 1-0 up.
After a tactical switch at half time that saw Josh Nisbet replace Moresche, the Mariners looked hungry and ready to get back into the game.
They didn’t have to wait long for their equaliser, and it came in the most spectacular of fashions.
A short corner was worked to an un-marked Ollie Bozanic on the edge of the box who curled a sweet strike off the underside of the cross-bar which was no more than the visitors deserved.
With Mark Birighitti making a save at one end, Jason Cummings at the other proved just as decisive as he put the Mariners ahead. He made space for himself on the edge of the box and with his back to goal, turned and fired a shot off one post, saw it roll along the line into the other, and then trickle over the line. A debut performance that was capped with a brilliant goal with more to surely come from the Scottish import.
It was from this point onwards that the quality game of football that was on show from both sides was given a nasty twist with VAR controversy.
With the Mariners controlling the game and looking likely for a third, Sydney FC swung a ball into the box and after a Sydney player looked to have gotten a touch on the ball, Bobo latched onto it and smashed it home. The assistant’s flag went up for offside however upon consultation with referee Kurt Ams, a goal was given claiming that no touch was made on the way through to Bobo and that the original decision of goal should stand. There was a lengthy VAR check on the incident and with inconclusive pictures, the decision was upheld, much to the frustration of the Yellow and Navy.
With Mariners bodies still recovering from COVID-19 exposure only a week ago, the legs began to tire in the midfield and Sydney found a third goal through Anthony Caceres with five minutes left on the clock.
A valiant effort from all in Yellow and Navy however, it was not meant to be with the controversial decisions either side of the half leaving the Mariners reeling and wondering what could have been.
Ahead of the Mariners lies a big week with a trip to Melbourne next Saturday to face Melbourne Victory in their first ever FFA Cup final before the Isuzu UTE A-League action intensifies throughout February.