Thursday, March 01, 2007


Sydney FC, Version 3.0

Fans of this season’s drama queen club have now had two chances to see the new, Branko Culina-led Sydney FC in action. They have recently played two warm-up games in preparation for the Asian Champions’ League; last week Culina’s men drew 1-1 with the Sutherland Sharks, and yesterday evening they defeated state league powerhouse Blacktown 2-0.

And they have improved.

Against Sutherland, they struggled with the unfamiliar artificial surface, and didn’t quite get into a rhythm. Nevertheless, there were some good signs, particularly in the second half, when Alex Brosque was to be seen in an unfamiliar box-to-box midfield role, where he acquitted himself surprisingly well.

Last night, things really began to click. Ironically, Culina made use of the same 4-2-3-1 formation for which Terry Butcher has been roundly castigated, but this was a much more fluid version. There was slick interplay between the front four of Zdrilic, Carney, Brosque and Corica, and good overlapping on the left from young Nick Tsattalios, who looks a useful addition.

Carney again started (insert groans and lamentations here) on the right, and had a couple of his usual infield traffic jam excursions after surging down his nominal wing. Yet he moved around enough to be more of a nuisance to the Blacktown defence than might have been expected. It was he, too, who scored the opening goal, when Steve Corica – still a class act, despite the old legs – slid a sublime pass through to him, after he had taken up a position on the…left of the penalty area. His better peg did the rest.

There was rich significance, too, in the fact that he twice found himself similarly free in front of goal in the second half, but on the opposite flank. The loss of time incurred in bringing the ball onto his left foot saved Blacktown on both occasions.

There were a couple of shaky moments in defence, not least when Iain Fyfe tried to dribble around two attackers in order to pick a pass upfield, and predictably failed. But it was encouraging to see the defenders – Mark Rudan in particular – trusting themselves to play, rather than whack, the ball out from the back. There was a fair bit of kick and chase in the first half, but it came from Blacktown. Not that it was an entirely ineffective tactic, given that Tolgay Ozbey (now back at Blacktown after his unhappy spell at Newcastle) easily had the beating of both Rudan and Robbie Middleby, whom Culina has used at right-back, for pace.

So, what of the Asian Champions’ League? It will still be a stern test. Terry McFlynn is likely to miss the early games through injury, and his replacement in the engine room, Noel Spencer, has looked a weak link (although he did manage a fine long-range shot at goal last night, which required an excellent save). But Mark Milligan is still to return, and the side has certainly looked somewhat fitter in their two warm-up games, Ufuk Talay quite markedly so.

Bring on the ACL.

Mike, I've left a rather lengthy comment about Middleby in my wrap, but in relation to Spencer, I thought he looked rather short on confidence, a little afraid to try too much. Most of his distribution was simple sideways stuff, but I can see an argument that he and Talay might be too similar. But one can also argue that he's a better user of the ball than McFlynn.
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