Monday, January 29, 2007
Setting it Up
Sydney FC produced perhaps their best performance of the season in the first half at Aussie Stadium, Terry McFlynn man-marking Nick Carle out of the game cleanly and cleverly, and Alex Brosque and Steve Corica providing the enterprise and invention in attack.
The second half from Butcher's side was predictably disappointing, as the home team ran out of puff towards the close for the umpteenth time this season. McFlynn's departure with a groin strain was significant: Mark Milligan, as Nick Carle hinted afterwards, did not quite have the Newcastle playmaker's measure. Still, it needed a tremendous individual goal from Milton Rodriguez to put the visitors on the scoresheet, and keep them in the reckoning.
So who's the favourite now? Probably Sydney, by a whisker. Newcastle have failed to keep a clean sheet against the champions so far this season, and if Sydney can find the net again on Friday, Newcastle will have their work cut out. Having said that, extra time is surely a very strong possibility.
Difficult, too, to pick a favourite in the other semi-final. Ernie Merrick would probably be happy to have left Hindmarsh with a draw (and his team selection indicated that he harboured few genuine attacking ambitions in the match), but Melbourne's record at Telstra Dome of late has not been good. An early away goal for Adelaide, and they will probably get through, in my opinion.
Adelaide suffered from a lack of penetration down the left at Hindmarsh, with Bobby Petta succumbing to injury and Jason Spagnuolo not quite match-fit. With an extra week to recover, Spagnuolo may still play a key role in the return leg. Travis Dodd, on the opposite flank, had a superb game; it was a pity that some of his lead-up play was not rewarded with finishing of similar quality.
Time to put my head on the block.
Every time I've picked against Sydney they have proved me wrong, so in the interests of a Sydney FC win, I'll pick Newcastle in the minor semi. And I'll stick to my guns and predict a grand final at Hindmarsh, probably after a score draw in Melbourne.