Sydney FC coach Graham Arnold was in a bullish mood after watching his side claim second spot on the Hyundai A-League’s regular season ladder with a 2-1 win against the Phoenix in Wellington.
First-half goals from Bernie Ibini and Shane Smeltz were enough to see the Sky Blues secure their eighth straight away win of the 2014/15 campaign.
“I honestly believe that we are the form team in the competition," said Arnold.
“Since Christmas, that’s 32 points from a possible 39 and we’re getting better and better. I don’t think there’ll be too many teams in the finals series who would be happy to play us.”
Arnold also revealed his side had exceeded his own expectations by nabbing a top-two spot and the chance to host a semi-final in two weeks’ time.
“I didn’t think at the start of the year, we’d get top two. We’ve stretched our goals. I gave them high standards to reach and they’ve reached (all) except one. One of the goals was ten clean sheets and we got nine. Everything else, they’ve reached. Now we go into a new competition for two games.”
The win also completed an astonishing unbeaten season on the road for the Sky Blues with ten wins and four draws away from Allianz Stadium.
“It’s about togetherness and keeping the same routine whether we’re home or away”, said Arnold of the reason for Sydney’s blistering road form.
“I sat here four or five weeks ago and said if we can get through this period, we’ll be battle-hardened for the finals. We had four out of five games away and we’ve got nine points out of nine in the last three away games to give us the opportunity to be where we are. The boys have been brilliant.” he said.
Golden Boot leader Marc Janko didn’t travel to Wellington after suffering a quad injury in the team’s final training session of the week. In his absence, veteran kiwi striker Shane Smeltz started the game and netted from the penalty spot.
“That’s the benefit of having Shane Smeltz. When you’ve got two quality players for each position, it creates competition and Smeltzy was outstanding tonight”, said Arnold.
There’ll be no time for Sydney’s players to rest on their laurels though as they prepare to face the highest qualifier from next week’s two elimination finals.
“There’s no time off”, warned Arnold.
“We’re into a three-week competition now and if you lose, you’re out. I couldn’t be prouder of the boys over 27 games but that’s over and now we’ve got to focus on the next few weeks and try to perform better than we did in the first 27 games.”