Champions held to fourth draw in five games after goalless stalemate with Mariners

Central Coast Mariners v Sydney FC - Highlights | Liberty A-League 2023-24 | Round 11

Reigning Champions Sydney FC were held to a fourth draw in five games on their travels to Gosford, taking a share of the spoils in a 0-0 stalemate with Central Coast Mariners on Sunday afternoon.

Sydney keeper Jada Whyman kept Mariners midfielder Bianca Galic off the scoresheet with a superb first-half save; it proved the most promising attacking opportunity of the game for either side as the cagey affair ended goalless at Industree Group Stadium.

The Sky Blues have struggled to find the back of the net of late, scoring just four goals in their last six games – but will take solace from the fact that Sunday’s draw was their sixth game in succession without defeat.

The Mariners, meanwhile, bounced back from a 2-1 defeat to Perth Glory as Emily Husband’s side took a point from their clash with the Champions.

Watch this week’s episode of Dub Zone below


Central Coast searched for an early opener and it was Faye Bryson putting a long-range free-kick on target, but her attempt lacked power and Sydney keeper Jada Whyman read it well to make a comfortable save.

Repeat challenges on Bianca Galic in the middle of the park earned Sydney’s Shay Hollman an early caution as she went into the referee’s book inside seven minutes.

The Mariners dominated the first-half chances but genuine goalscoring opportunities were few and far between in Gosford. 

Sydney defender Kirsty Fenton headed a Mackenzie Hawkesby free-kick on goal, but Mariners keeper Casey Dumont was well positioned to gather the powerful attempt. – Sydney’s only shot on target in the opening stanza. 

Then came a late flurry of action for the hosts before the break. Galic was in the thick of it, firing on target from range before arriving completely unmarked in the box to meet a Wurigumula cross that resulted in Central Coast’s best opportunity of the game.

Wurigumula chopped past Sydney defender Tori Tumeth on the left wing and cut her delivery back toward Galic who struck first-time off her left foot; Whyman scurried across to make the save and prevent the Mariners taking the lead.

Princess Ibini looked to spark the Sky Blues into action early in the second half, breezing past Ashley Irwin down the left wing and striking into the gloves of Dumont.

Sydney FC had the ascendancy as the game ticked towards the 70-minute mark but Mariners forward Paige Hayward attempted to score against the run of play for the home side; her ambitious shot from outside the box looped toward goal but Whyman remained calm as she watched the ball sail off the mark.

As the Sky Blues chased a late winner, head coach Ante Juric repeated a positional switch first seen against Canberra United in midweek, as left-back Kirsty Fenton was thrown forward to lead the Sydney line.

Abbey Lemon dropped into defence as Fenton took up her attacking role – and the Young Matildas star almost found an opening chasing down a casual back-pass. Fenton was only just beaten to the ball by outrushing Mariners keeper Dumont in a 50-50 challenge.

Mariners captain Taren King had a late chance in stoppage time to steal all three points but headed her unmarked attempt over the crossbar, as the final whistle blew to bring an end to the 0-0 draw.

The talking point

With just four goals scored in six games, Sydney FC are struggling to find the back of the net with a number of important players currently stuck on the sidelines with injuries.

Strikers Shea Connors and Fiona Worts and winger Cortnee Vine were the major absentees on Sunday afternoon; Connors has a broken foot and is expected back in four-to-six weeks, Worts is set for three months on the sidelines after tearing a lateral collateral ligament in her knee and Vine, who missed a midweek clash with Canberra United with a minor calf strain, sat out once again for Sunday’s clash with the Mariners. Lucy Johnson also remains sidelined with ankle ligament damage.

Juric elected to swing left-back Kirsty Fenton up top against Canberra and followed suit late in his side’s draw with the Mariners on Sunday; the talented Young Matildas star has the attributes to lead the line but her presence in the final third points to Sydney’s shortage of attacking quality with Worts, Vine and Connors sidelined.

On this week’s episode of Dub Zone, host Niav Owens was joined by Teo Pellizzeri, Alicia Ferguson and Cath Cannuli to dissect the action of Round 11. The panel assessed Sydney’s recent injury run as an unlucky string of isolated incidents putting pressure on the likes of 23-year-old Mackenzie Hawkesby to show leadership in a young squad.

“There are a lot (of injuries) – and some really key players, and attacking players,” Ferguson said.

“From the nature of their injuries as well, they’re all pretty unlucky and pretty serious injuries. Sometimes you just have to put it down to being unlucky.

“It’s taken a huge toll on the team.”

“And they’re running out of adults,” replied Pellizzeri. “The players you mentioned there are all in their mid-to-late 20’s, senior players, leaders. And the fact they recruited Johnson, Worts and Connors was perhaps an acknowledgment that their team was getting a lot younger, and a lot less experienced.

“Now the pressure goes on to Princess Ibini as the new captain, Kirsty Fenton as the young defender and, crucially, Mackenzie Hawkesby who has come back mid-season.

“Even though she’s only 23, she basically steps into a leadership role out of necessity in this team, in addition to the amount of football work she has to get through.”

But there are positives to take from Sydney’s recent run of results; they may have just four goals in six games, but Sunday’s 0-0 draw made it six games unbeaten for the Sky Blues. The reigning Champions are fifth on the table, and despite being 10 points shy of league-leaders Melbourne City, are well placed to make a charge up the standings with greater output in the final third.

Recent signing Hawkesby, who returned to Sydney after a brief stint at English club Brighton & Hove Albion, spoke optimistically about what’s to come from the Sky Blues after the Mariners draw.

“We’re very, very positive,” Hawkesby said.

“We do have a very good squad, and we do have a lot of injuries. We played quite well – except for that first half. We’ve had three games in a week; it’s been a tough week for a couple of us playing 90 minutes, but I still think we’re doing well, considering our circumstances.

“We gave a lot of fight in the second half, so we should be really proud.

“It’s a long, long season. We just need to keep going. We have people coming back in the back end of the season, we just need to keep pushing.

“We’re in a pretty good position, to be honest. I think we’re sitting (fifth) now and we still have a game in hand, so there’s a lot of positives to take out of it. We have a really good culture and Ante is doing really well with all of us.”