Sydney FC see off Victory to close on Premier's Plate
ON the night it mattered most, with a trophy in the balance, Sydney FC stepped up to the plate in style.
A 1-0 victory over Melbourne Victory at Allianz Stadium left the Sky Blues sodden but exultant, and now so close to winning the Premier's Plate they can see it gleaming.
Bobo's second half winner extended Sydney's lead at the top to 11 points with just five games remaining, from which - thank to their crushing goal difference - they need just four points to secure their first trophy since 2010.
The pity was that the sheeting rain that drenched the game subdued the crowd, for a contest to befit first against second unfolded from the start. It was quick, direct, incisive football, the league's two most prolific attacks surging again and again. But by the end Graham Arnold's side fully deserved the win.
"In the second half I thought it was our best performance of the season, we totally dominated and there was no time for Melbourne on the ball," said Arnold. "We had some fantastic chances, and the only small negative is that we didn't finish them off.
"There's 15 points to go and we'll chase every single one of them."
There was one hugely contentious moment in just the 10th minute, one that infuriated Victory coach Kevin Muscat for it could have changed the course of the game. An overhit pass caught out Sydney's defence and Marco Rojas had the velocity to catch it, except his heel was tripped by that of Michael Zullo just short of the Sydney box.
Referee Peter Green's ruling was only a yellow card, when a red could easily have been shown. When James Troisi lofted the freekick into the stands, Victory's indignation just rose.
The visitors had other chances too, most notably when Rojas again slipped the ball in for Jai Ingam in the Sydney box, only for Danny Vukovic to beat away his shot. Moments later Troisi met Rojas's deep cross but only with a tame volley from point-blank range.
The two forward lines are a study in contrasts, Victory's high-octane game based on raw pace while Sydney's quickest weapon is the ball, used so intelligently by Milos Ninkovic and those around him. Ninkovic can see a pass like a sherpa in a snowstorm, but rarely has he been so aggressively shadowed as by Carl Valeri across the Allianz turf.
Still Sydney fashioned a series of chances, with Brandon O'Neill and Michael Zullo's crosses millimetres from being converted. Bobo played in Alex Brosque but the captain was forced wide and shot over, then Ninkovic supplied Brosque for a similar chance - this time Lawrence Thomas tipped the fierce drive over the bar.
The next time Sydney came, Thomas could do nothing, for it was a worthy move with which to open the scoring. Ninkovic began it, with a languid pass out from near his own box to Brillante. The midfielder's lofted pass to Brosque, running on goal, was half stopped but Holosko siezed on the loose ball and crossed to the far post where Bobo slid the ball home.
Quite how Besart Berisha failed to equalise just before the hour will be a mystery for the ages, after Rojas found space and squared the ball instantly. All alone on the penalty spot Berisha swept the ball over the gaping net, to howls of delight from the Sky Blue crowd.
Still the thrust of the game ebbed each way - Grant broke clear but was denied by Thomas, with Brosque screaming for a cutback. Berisha led the Victory line tirelessly but ran into the Sydney's offside trap all too often. Just when it seemed the ball would break his way, Ninkovic of all people steamed into his own box to dispossess Berisha.
With five minutes left Brosque was denied from point blank range by Thomas, but it mattered little. Sydney are almost Premiers.