29/05/2024

Sydney FC advance to the Australia Cup Round of 32. (Photo: Izhar Khan)

The Australia Cup Round of 32 match in Sydney was an instant classic. The Central Coast Mariners travelled down to Leichardt Oval in Sydney to take on 2019 Australia Cup premiers Sydney FC in front of a crowd of 3,061.

After a rocky 20 minutes in the first half, the Sky Blues controlled possession for most of the game. Defiant to stay in it, the Mariners threw everything at them, even when they were down to 10 men.

With the last chance in regular time, a header by forward Jason Cummings sent the game to extra-time.

“I couldn’t be prouder, they were amazing to be able to come back 3-1 down with ten men against Sydney FC is a big feat,” Mariners captain Max Ballard said.

“You could see it on the field we were ten men, still fighting, still playing, making good chances. We’ve only been back two weeks so it an amazing result.

“The boys put on an amazing shift, we got cramps everywhere, kept fighting to the very end. You saw we scored with the last head of the game and an amazing result at the end of full time.”

The opening ten minutes were end to end, with both teams getting to the other side of the field with ease. Neither team could convert the chances when given.

The Mariners pacey forward line improved their chances of getting past the veteran Sydney defenders. Former Ligue 2 player, Beni Nilkolo put the first nail in into Sydney’s coffin with an excellent goal in the 13th minute mark.

Brushing past one defender, he played the ball into the bottom left hand corner away from Redmayne’s reach.

Continually putting the pressure on Sydney, Paul Ayongo had a chance to increase the lead to two goals. Given a clear volley opportunity, he was unable to strike the ball cleanly.

At the other end, a through pass from youngster Adrian Segecic found Anthony Caceres in the box. Caceres ran over the ball, missing it entirely.

As the game felt like it was slipping from Sydney’s hands, the Mariners counter-attacking game style ended up costing them in the 29th minute. Giving up the ball, Sydney’s midfield was quick to pounce on the opportunity, setting Max Burgess up with a through ball and no defenders in sight.

Unfortunately, the Mariners centre-back got back just in time to deny him a goal, but his aggressive defending gave away a penalty.

Sydney veteran Adam Le Fondre had no pressure equalising the game. He calmly plotted the ball into the bottom right hand corner of the net. Le Fondre, who signed a two and half year extension last year, is looking to rekindle his form.

Only scoring seven goals last season, he is known for having the fourth best career minutes-per goal ratio in the English Premier League.

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The momentum had seemingly switched toward Sydney’s way.

In the 43rd minute, a long crossing through ball by Burgess through to Segecic provided him with another opportunity.

Using his skill and creative flair, Segecic nutmegged the opposing defence and found Caceres. This time Caceres took full advantage, smashing the ball past Yaren Sozer’s gloves.

The Sky Blues went into the break with a 2-0 lead and the momentum heading into the second-half.

Segecic was once again in the action, claiming the left side of the field as his own. Running down the wing, he delivered a sensational cross into the middle of the box. Missing both Sozer and the Mariners defenders, Burgess was able to get a light touch to the ball and claim the goal.

Less than five minutes later, the Mariners returned with their own goal. Ayongo’s shot attempt across the body was saved by Andrew Redmayne. Getting his fingertips to the ball, the Australian hero couldn’t cleanly save it. This provided debutante Michael Ruhs to score in an open net.

The Sky Blues got another chance to increase the score. Paulo Rentre’s cross got past the goalkeeper but no players were able to get a touch on the ball. As the ball flew past the players there was a loud roar from the Sydney fans. They couldn’t believe there was no one to take advantage.

In the 66th minute Daniel Hall made a deplorable mistake. Already on a yellow card, he shoved Le Fondre to the ground picking up his second yellow. With the Mariners already behind by goal, being down to 10 men made it harder for them to comeback into the game.

Until injury time, Sydney FC kept possession between their defenders and midfielders, and it seemed like the game was over. The Sky Blues thought they had done enough but a corner cross into the box found substitute Jason Cummings‘ head, as the ball trickled into the goal net.

With the scores locked at 3-3 the match headed into extra-time with a winner needed to advance. There were no real chances in the next 30 minutes with both teams struggling to gain any real momentum. As the clock ticked down, both teams were eager to take the game into penalty shootouts.

It was the hero of the Australia World Cup Qualifiers Andrew Redmayne versus the inexperienced Yaren Sozer. Playing only one game last season, Sozer will have a big role in the upcoming season. This is due to first-choice keeper Mark Birighitti transferring to Dundee United.

“You could see he was out there, he was calm on the ball. Made some great passes, great saves,” Mariners captain Max Ballard said about Sozer after the game.

The penalty shootout got off to a rocky start with neither teams scoring their first attempt. The Mariners struggled with all their attempts, however the experience of the Sky Blues got them the win. Veteran Rhyan Grant, Jaiden Kuchaski and Connor O’Toole made all their attempts on goal.

The miracle was not to be for the Central Coast Mariners, and Redmayne walked away the hero yet again. Sydney FC will advance to the Round of 16 in the Australia Cup with their next opponent yet to be announced.

They will be hoping to cement the game unlike on Saturday, where they were 3-1 up.

“I thought we were really good the first half, moved the ball really well, shifted the ball from side to side and scored two goals,” Sky Blues captain Alex Wilkinson said.

“Then I thought the first 20-25 minutes of the second half we played really well but after that we turned the ball over, played really sloppy and fell into that trap of them having 10 men and us having 11 and just seeing it out.

“If you get sloppy you get punished and that’s what happened to us.”

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