Sydney FC coach Graham Arnold has conceded the snapping of their nine-game unbeaten streak a week ago may have been a blessing in disguise.
The Sky Blues have dispatched the Phoenix 3-0 in Wellington to move to within a point of the league leaders.
“Don’t get me wrong, I’m never happy to lose but the loss to Melbourne City woke the players up a little bit and gave us the opportunity to focus more on where we need to be”, said Arnold.
“We beat Brisbane 5-4. We beat Western Sydney 4-3. We were getting the three points but I wasn’t happy with the way we were defending and the way we went about things. The loss doesn’t camouflage problems. We’ve worked hard and talked a lot about tightening up our defence. You take the loss but you learn from the loss and that’s what we did.”
Arnold was delighted with the way his players bounced back to record a seventh road win and keep their unbeaten away record this season intact.
“Tactically we shut them down where we had to, we didn’t give them space and time on the ball and pressed them higher than what they’ve been pressed in the last 3-4 games.”
But Arnold was quick to point out that Wellington had been severely depleted with six players away on international duty.
“Even if they’re not starting players, it takes away competition for places and strength on the bench. When you lose someone like Nathan Burns who’s scored 13 goals and is an important part of what they do, but also Michael McGlinchey, it takes away two very good attacking weapons and makes it tougher”, said Arnold.
Sydney FC also had their top scorer Marc Janko absent, but Arnold was able to bring in Shane Smeltz who scored his 84th A-League goal before being sent off for lashing out at former All Whites team-mate Ben Sigmund.
“I haven’t seen it”, said Arnold of the incident.
“It’s probably the fire in the belly Shane had today. It’s been really tough for me leaving Shane out because he’s such a great player and goalscorer but I’ve had a red-hot Marc Janko scoring goals for fun. Shane’s had to be patient but he’s been extremely professional. Today he did a fantastic job and it’s a privilege to have him in the squad.”
And the canny Sydney FC mentor is relishing his side’s run-in to the finals.
“We’ve got Adelaide next and then Perth. At the end of these four weeks, we will be match-hardened for the finals. Today was a tough game. Adelaide – tough game. Perth – tough game. We come back here for another tough game. If we get through that and we get through it well, we’ll be match-hardened and much harder than some of the other teams with their run-in.”