It’s that weird time of year between Christmas and New Year’s where the traditional markers of time are out: some of us have finished work, some of us are on holidays, some of us have entire suburbs that have shut down and you can’t find good coffee to drink in your TLL reusable coffee cup anywhere (hello, Pyrmont?).
But, like a beacon shining through bushfire smoke and grey clouds, we’ve got the A-League. The third night of it in a row, which makes it a Sunday and time for the top of the table clash between Sydney FC and Melbourne City.
Where to begin?
The game starts with a bang, literally, as a Baumjohann free kick – two minutes in – from outside the box sees opposing right backs Rhyan Grant and Nathaniel Atkinson clash heads and go down. They stay down with the most handsome man in the league, Rhyan Grant, emerging with blood streaming from his face. They exit the field to re-enter minutes later.
It’s as competitive a first twenty minutes as we’ve seen in any game this season. Melbourne have Sydney on the back foot and Redmayne on the wrong foot, culminating in a headed goal from Conor Metcalfe off a corner in the 21st minute.
Then Rhyan Grant two foots Nathaniel Atkinson like he’s Archie Thompson taking out a child, the second of two aggressive tackles, and Kurt Ams calls a yellow card. VAR demands he rewatch the tackle at the side of the field and he upgrades it to a red – the first in Rhyan Grant’s A-League career. Not our good boy Rhyan Grant! Our golden child! Our Socceroo!
Is it a brain snap, a result of concussion like the Fox commentators conject, or has he finally angered the football gods, with 11 years of borderline tackles catching up with him?
Nothing galvanises a football team more than playing a man down. You have to play at 110%, minimum, just to make up for the shortfall – and then you have to stretch again. Corica reshapes his men into a 4-4-1. Alexander Baumjohann gets a dubious free kick awarded which he rockets toward goal. City Keeper Tom Glover shoots it down but not out, goes to ground, the ball ricochets off bodies until who else but Adam LeFondre shoots, and it deflects off Harrison Delbridge into the back of the net.
A man down, a goal up, and still fifteen minutes to go in the first half. Melbourne are starting to look a little subdued but the fight is still there. Harrison Delbridge is having a nightmare – Ninkovic runs into him in the box and goes down, winning Sydney a penalty. Alfie steps up, pummels it, and Glover stretches left with his arms, but keeps his legs right, and the ball rebounds off his right shin.
It. Is. A. Game. From 45 minutes and 6 extra in injury time, we’ve seen two goals, a missed penalty, and a red card on a golden boy.
The second half begins and everyone returns except Baumjohann, because when someone from his team gets sent off so does he. (Who can forget the Sydney Derby when Janjetovic got sent off and Babbel subbed Baumjohann?)
Baumjohann last year:
Baumjohann this year:
Image from @sockoh
Anthony Caceres comes on in his place.
City have quality but communication difficulties between between Javier Cabrera and Jamie McLaren, with Cabrera placing balls where he thinks McLaren should be, but isn’t. Noone is everywhere but his shots go wide or over. Things improve when Adrian Luna is subbed for Conor Metcalfe but his shots, too, just miss.
Sydney’s second goal comes from a free kick awarded against Rostyn Griffiths. It ends up easy like a Sunday evening sitting on a hill watching your favourite team dominate as Brattan passes to Caceres from halfway, who passes to Kosta Barbarouses who’s just right square of the box, and Lola Barbarouses must be in the house because Kosta easily places the ball inside the far left of goal.
Where to next for City? Coach Erick Mombaerts with his hat and tinted glasses looks like a film director whose stars aren’t doing what he wants them too, while a besuited Steve Corica looks like he’s invested in the correct assets and they’re on the rise. The Premier’s Plate has all but wrapped up and with it, 2019.
By Kelly Simpson
Featured image by @Jamcas50