Sydney FC’s title challenge remains very much alive after beating Central Coast Mariners 4-2 in a Saturday afternoon thriller at Allianz Stadium.
Despite going ahead early on through Marc Janko, the Sky Blues looked in danger of a shock loss as a brace to Fabio Ferreira had the visitors 2-1 in front midway through the second half.
But Sydney’s substitutes made their mark with first Rhyan Grant and then Shane Smeltz coming off the bench to score before Janko made it safe with his second in stoppage time.
It was Janko’s sixth goal in his last four matches and 10th for the season, taking him level with Nathan Burns at the top of the goal-scoring charts.
WHAT THEY SAID
“It was tough for us there for a while but we played until the final whistle and scored in the last few minutes there to seal it. We’re really happy to get the three points and I’m happy to score.” - Sydney FC defender Rhyan Grant
“It was more positive from us today, we were attacking more and creating a lot of chances. For me we deserved to win the game but we lost and now it’s finished so there’s nothing you can do.” - Central Coast striker Fabio Ferreira
1-0 Janko (14’) – A simple set piece by the home side, with Milos Dimitrijevic’s well-placed corner finding a horribly unmarked Janko just six yards out. The giant Austrian was never going to miss from there, rising well to plant a powerful header past a stranded Liam Reddy.
1-1 Ferreira (45+1’) – Sydney defender Aaron Calver was dispossessed just inside the Mariners half, allowing the visitors a quick counter-attack. Anthony Caceres played a superb defence-splitting pass to get Ferreira in behind, the winger playing the ball through the legs of Jacques Faty then dinking his finish over the diving Vedran Janjetovic.
1-2 Ferreira (58’) – Isaka Cernak got free down the left and cut back in field, producing a scintillating solo run that saw him slalom through four Sky Blues defenders. As he got to the top of the box he squared to Ferreira, who took one touch before burying his shot low into the far corner.
2-2 Grant (68’) – A cross from the left cause havoc in the Mariners box, with Alex Brosque picking up possession with his back to goal and laying it back into the path of Grant. Instead of trying to lay it off to a midfielder, Grant let rip from 30 metres out, striking it sweetly and getting enough power and swerve on it to sneak inside the post.
3-2 Smeltz (81’) – Bernie Ibini’s cross from the right picked out Janko at the far post, with the Austrian showing great awareness to chest the ball down to Smeltz. Under pressure from two defenders, Smeltz dummied a shot once, then a second time before slotting it calmly in at the near post.
4-2 Janko (90+2’) – Young defender Alex Gersbach showed all his class, weaving his way into the box down the left and getting to the byline before cutting it back to Janko who had the easy task of side-footing it home from close range.
Grant started on the bench but came on 10 minutes into the second half for the out-of-sorts Aaron Calver. Despite seeing the Mariners go ahead soon after, the versatile Grant had a decisive impact at the other end…and what an impact it was. Grant doesn’t get a lot of goals but his sublime strike 22 minutes from the end not only swung the momentum back in the home side’s favour but was the catalyst for them to go on and secure a valuable three points.
OPTA DATA KEY STATS
Fabio Ferreira just loves playing the Sky Blues, his brace taking his tally to six goals in six games against Sydney FC including his time at Adelaide United. The result was Sydney FC’s first home win in seven games while it completes a hat-trick of wins against the Mariners this season, making it the first time since August 2008 they’ve win three in a row against the Central Coast. The Sky Blues have now scored at least three goals in each of their last four matches.
You couldn’t fault referee Matthew Conger for not getting close enough to the action, especially in an incident late in the first half. Sydney FC looked like launching a dangerous counter-attack when Bernie Ibini got on the ball, turned and dribbled straight into the rookie whistleblower. The collision drew howls from the home fans but was quite comical and while Conger did well to keep his feet, who probably should have been shown a yellow card for obstruction.
Given the Mariners’ woes in front of goal this season, they can’t afford to be wasting clear-cut chances. But that’s exactly what Nick Fitzgerald did just before the half hour mark. The ever-dangerous Ferreira again got in behind the Sky Blues back-four, squaring it across the face of goal where Fitzgerald was arriving. While the ball might have been just in front of Fitzgerald, he should have scored, getting a toe on it but it slid agonisingly wide of the post from just six yards out.
THE FINAL WORD
It was a crucial win for the Sky Blues who remain very much in the hunt now for at least a top four spot – and maybe more – given their impressive run of form. But they can expect a huge battle next weekend with a blockbuster Sydney derby against the Wanderers at Pirtek Stadium. The Mariners also have a derby to look forward too as they make the short journey up the F3 for a clash with Newcastle Jets. But unlike Sydney who are fighting for a top six spot, the Mariners-Jets encounter could all be about ensuring they can avoid the dreaded wooden spoon.