SYDNEY FC have lost their way at the worst time of the season, and their domination of the A-League is looking under threat.
A 2-1 won loss at home to Brisbane Roar was Sydney’s first defeat at “Fortress Allianz” in 715 days and the Sky Blues seem to have a serious case of vertigo, just as the summit is within reach.
All the questions over Graham Arnold’s side raised by their faltering performances of recent weeks were simply amplified and the Sydney boss has to move quickly to prevent this dip becoming a slump. Though Sydney still have a five-point buffer with four rounds to go, there might even be nerves about retaining the Premier’s Plate.
The home fans seem spooked by a run of one draw and three losses in the last four games, so used have they become to their team brushing aside all comers.
That might have explained the flatness of the atmosphere, and the same diffidence infected the team, curiously lacking the usual invention and dynamism.
Brisbane were hardly free-flowing either, and the fact that barely a chance had been created in open play by halftime summed it up.
There had been goals though, two for Brisbane and one disallowed from Sydney, all from setpieces. That will gall Arnold the most for these were preventable concessions.
Eric Bautheac, Brisbane’s French winger, set up both his side’s goals – the first a corner met by the head of Matt McKay to score at the near post. The fact that McKay, all 170cm of him, was allowed to loiter unmarked on the corner of the six-yard box beggared belief.
Not that Sydney seemed to learn. After David Carney gave away a crass freekick out on the wing, Bauteac’s centre was headed back across goal by Ivan Franjic. Jacob Pepper, similarly alone, sidefooted home the second goal.
Sydney needed a quick riposte and thought they had one when Adrian Mierzejewski’s well-flighted freekick was headed in by Alex Wilkinson. The celebrations had finished, by the time the VAR intervened to rule that Wilkinson was marginally offside.
Arnold tried to shake things up: Carney was withdrawn at halftime, then Mierzejewski on 54 minutes. But again it took a setpiece to have an impact, after Jack Hinger’s wild foul on Ben Worland. This time Jordy Buijs’s powerful delivery was headed in by Milos Ninkovic.
Still the minutes ticked away, the crowd’s angst rising with each of them. Nor were they alone, with Arnold yellow-carded for berating referee Kurt Ams.
Bobo engineered space but shot straight at goalkeeper Jamie Young, then Matt Simon blasted against the post in the final minutes, and the equalizer just would not come.
BRISBANE ROAR 2 (Matt McKay 9m, Jacob Pepper 18m) SYDNEY FC 1 (Milos Ninkovic 59m) at Allianz Stadium. Crowd: 10,890. Referee: Kurt Ams.