Sydney FC’s frailties have been shockingly exposed by an old favourite, with Mark Rudan masterminding a stunning 3-1 upset victory for Wellington Phoenix at Jubilee Stadium on Saturday.
Rudan could not have asked for a better homecoming. In his first match against the Sky Blues since taking over as Phoenix coach, his side were three goals up before the end of the first half and finished the job in the second to seal a result that could kick-start Rudan’s revolution across the ditch.
It was simple, no-frills football from the unfancied Kiwis but Sydney simply couldn’t deal with it. It was a shambolic defensive display in terms of both positioning and composure and it should be setting off alarm bells inside the head of Rudan’s former teammate, Steve Corica, ahead of next weekend’s derby.
On this evidence, the Wanderers will more than fancy themselves. The Sky Blues, for once, look ripe for the picking.
Corica has already promised changes, blaming the defeat on a sheer lack of concentration from his players.
“They knew what to expect from Wellington – they’re very direct, they have pace up front. We showed them that, we explained that to them, but we got caught out way too many times,” he said.
“Defensively it wasn’t good enough, and in attack as well. We can’t afford to do that.”
For Rudan, it was a major triumph, with his tactical approach clearly catching Sydney by surprise.
“Maybe they underestimated us,” he said. “There was a lot of planning and preparation going into this game … we had a game plan, we wanted to press them high. We worked on the training pitch to open them up exactly the same way. That’s where I’m most pleased.”
Sydney’s Dutch centre-half Jop van der Linden, who gave away the clumsy penalty that won it for Melbourne Victory a fortnight ago at the same venue, was at fault in some way for all three goals.
The first came in the 21st minute, with the lively Sarpreet Singh looping through a delightful ball that took van der Linden and left-back Michael Zullo completely out of the equation and put Roy Krishna clear on goal.
The Fijian, who gained his New Zealand citizenship this week, kept his cool and finished the counter-attacking move.
Nine minutes later, it was 2-0. This time it was Mandi who delivered the pass which again picked out Krishna between van der Linden and Zullo. Again, he calmly slid it home.
Then just before the break, Wellington’s other young gun, Liberato Cacace, sent in an early, perhaps speculative cross into the box. Steven Taylor got his head on the end of it, jumping clear of a flat-heeled van der Linden to make it three.
The Sky Blues had a golden chance to go ahead before it all unfolded. Rhyan Grant played in Paulo Retre with a terrific through ball in the 14th minute, and in turn he crossed in from the byline.
Adam Le Fondre was on the spot but uncharacteristically fluffed his lines, blasting over the crossbar from point-blank range.
Retre was yanked at half-time and replaced with the fit-again Siem de Jong as Corica searched for a way to bring Sydney back into the contest.
They couldn’t find one, with their best attacking forays blunted by the resolute Phoenix back five – but they did grab a consolation in the 89th minute through Zullo, who pounced in the midst of a near-comical goalmouth scramble.