Sydney FC boss Graham Arnold has heralded the Sky Blues' fighting spirit after they overcame a difficult travel schedule to beat Pohang Steelers 1-0 in matchday 3 ACL action on Wednesday night in South Korea.
A clinical first half-strike from Chris ‘Kiki’ Naumoff was the difference at the Steelyard as the Sky Blues defied their domestic form to notch back-to-back wins in the AFC Champions League (ACL).
Sydney FC are now two points clear at the top of Group H after Urawa Reds came from two goals down to claim a draw against Guangzhou Evergrande in the group’s other match-up overnight.
Pohang had previously only lost two of their 27 home matches in the ACL and hadn’t conceded in their last five matches going into the game.
However the three-time Asian club champions had only one shot on target all night as the Sky Blues’ new faces nullified the home side's attack.
“I thought it was a fantastic away performance from us. We had a lot of young players on the field tonight that did extremely well, the senior players were excellent in leading them,” Arnold said post-match.
“To be honest I’m a little bit surprised that we won the game because I was confident that we could win it but after we had to travel 36 hours to get here it was very difficult. We look forward to Pohang [at home] now."
Arnold acknowledged that his side’s fate in the tournament is firmly in their own hands as the Sky Blues bid to make the knockout stages of the competition for the first time in the club’s history.
“The benefit for us is we have two home games out of our last three. We have to play Pohang at home, Urawa Reds at home and then Guangzhou last game away,” said Arnold.
“We have to make sure and focus that we win our home games. Pohang have now had two home games and obviously the away games and travelling is difficult.
“My players are experienced at travelling because we’ve done it many times before but if they haven’t experienced it before it’s something new and very hard.”
Goal hero Chris Naumoff said the ACL result was the perfect tonic for the squad’s recent domestic struggles.
“We came here to get the three points and it’s great that we could achieve that tonight,” said the striker.
“For the whole 90 minutes each player did their job and we worked for each other which is what you want in a team each and every week.
“It’s a perfect night to come here and get the three points after a long time travelling and the boys are very happy with that.”
The Sky Blues will now begin the journey home ahead of Saturday night’s clash against the Mariners in Gosford.
“Having to travel 36 hours to Australia with a game this Saturday night [against Central Coast in Gosford] is very hard and very taxing on the body and it’s very tough for the players to travel that far and perform well," added Arnold.