He may be affectionately known as the ‘Big Blue Man’ in the Harbour City, but club legend Mark Rudan became the master of the Sky Blues’ downfall as Sydney FC were dismantled by Wellington Phoenix in spectacular fashion.
Rudan led the Sky Blues to Hyundai A-League glory as captain in their maiden season in 2005 and he cemented his place in club history as one of the inaugural inductees to the Sky Blues’ Hall of Fame in 2015.
But there was little room for sentiment as his Wellington outfit, who had only picked up five points from six Hyundai A-League games, shredded the reigning Premiers in a devastating opening 45 minutes at Jubilee Oval.
It was the first time Rudan had lined up against the club where he made his legend, and his Phoenix side wasted no time in making their presence felt in a first half that may give Rudan’s former teammate Steve Corica nightmares.
Where did Phoenix’s first win in six games come from?
Although the Nix had not registered a victory since their opening round 2-1 triumph against Newcastle Jets, Rudan’s side delivered a well-organised display to hold ladder leaders Perth Glory to a 1-1 draw last week.
It was a result which many believe should have earned them three points, had it not been for a late red card to Ryan Lowry, after they turned an almost equal share of possession (49%) into 14 shots to Glory’s 9.
That defensive discipline shone through again against Sydney FC but, this time, a ruthless performance in the opponent’s half, and in front of goal, created a wave of momentum in their favour.
With the heart of their defence marshalled by veterans Steven Taylor and Andrew Durante, Phoenix blocked six of Sydney’s 15 shots (10 of which were inside the area). That left stand-in keeper Oliver Sail only needing to make five saves.
Usually the Sky Blues most dangerous goal threat, Adam Le Fondre, had four shots from inside the box but was unable to score – although he did waste his side's best opportunity by blazing over on 13 minutes.
Struggling for ideas, Sydney often resorted to longer passing. But Wellington bossed the game in the air – winning 58% of their duels to Sydney’s 42%. Battling midfielder Michal Kopczynski won a game high 13 duels to disrupt the home side’s attack. No other player clocked double figures. Behind him, Taylor made a game high 10 clearances and Durante led the Nix in interceptions (four).
The disciplined nature of Rudan’s experienced core prevented Sydney FC from exposing any rawness in back-up goalkeeper Sail and provided a platform which allowed their midfielders to launch attacks from deep.
Making their chances count
Phoenix had only scored seven in their previous six games, but they added another three strikes in a lethal 17-minute spell which made the difference and rocked Jubilee Oval.
In a game where the visitors controlled 53% of first-half possession, they made their dominance count by completing a pass accuracy of 66% in their opponent’s half, a record that was 10% more superior than their opponents.
Sydney’s high defensive line was exploited twice on the first two goals, both through balls from close to the half-way line from Sarpreet Singh and Mandi, which split the space in the Sky Blues’ left channel between Jop van der Linden and Michael Zullo.
However, the big difference in the final score-line was Roy Krishna hitting red-hot form. Of his four total shots, the two from outside the box were on target, the two from inside the box were goals.
It certainly helps to have a lethal striker in that sort of form. But the foundations which allow those chances to count came from a well-executed Mark Rudan game plan.