Sydney ease to derby win to show why their title defence is up and running

Sydney FC v Western Sydney Wanderers - Highlights | Liberty A-League 2023-24 | Round 1

Sydney FC’s title defence is up and running, on a history-making night at Allianz Stadium where the Sky Blues put Western Sydney in their place with a very comfortable 2-0 victory.

In front of a crowd of 11,471, a record for the Liberty A-League, the only jarring note for Ante Juric’s side was a concerning injury sustained by captain Nat Tobin who had to be carried off in the second half with a suspected torn meniscus.

But goals from Kirsty Fenton and Fiona Worts hardly reflected the Sky Blues’ domination against a Wanderers side whose coach Robbie Hooker was only appointed days before the season started.

LIVE: Saturday night in the Liberty A-League: How to follow all 3 games as Round 1 kicks off in style

With a clutch of new faces on both sides, the team which found a rhythm quicker was always likely to dominate – and Sydney found their groove from the beginning.

By the time Kirstie Fenton lashed the home side ahead in the 11th minute, the Sky Blues had already probed at the Wanderers defence more than once – and when a corner was half cleared, Fenton met the ball with a thunderous half volley from the edge of the box which found the top corner via the fingertips of goalkeeper Kaylie Collins.

If there was a suspicion that the US keeper, making just her third professional appearance, might have done better, she proved her worth with a series of saves as Sydney dominated proceedings – the highlights a leap to tip over Cortnee Vine’s rasping drive, and a save low down to keep out the same player’s freekick.

Finally Western Sydney were able to record a shot, albeit not on target, as Sophie Harding tried her luck from long range .

But when Princess Ibini lofted a simple ball over the top for Fiona Worts to run clear, the experienced striker lobbed Collins with comfort from the edge of the box to double the home side’s advantage.

Sydney’s comfortable evening was soured early in the second half when captain Natalie Tobin went down under challenge from Harding and was immediately in some distress, seeming to hold her leg. Harding had initially appealed for a penalty but was quickly more concerned with Tobin’s welfare as the Sydney defender was carried off on a stretcher.

The injury seemed to suck some of the drive out of Sydney and Western Sydney managed to find a foothold in the contest. Substitute Melissa Cacares drew two fine saves from Whyman, giving new Wanderers coach Robbie Hooker some moments of promise to work on having been appointed so soon before the start of the season.

The talking point

The winds of change had blown through the halls of Sydney FC in the wake of last season’s double triumph, with a host of influential players departing – including Sarah Hunter, Mackenzie Hawksby, Rachel Lowe and Madison Haley.

Sydney coach Ante Juric has been through many squad overhauls before, but it was still a point of contention as to how convincingly his side could defend their title with a bunch of new faces.

For the Sky Blues the early signs are encouraging – Cortnee Vine looks determined to be a leading light, and Worts showed why she has previously won the Golden Boot in the Liberty A-League with one very assured finish.

The Star

Who else but the scorer of that penalty? The fact that Cortnee Vine didn’t get on the scoresheet here was only down to the reflexes of Wanderers keeper Kaylie Collins, but she was an influential figure throughout, right from the point where she was given a guard of honour with which to enter the pitch in recognition of her exploits at the World Cup.

Time and again Sydney sought to use her pace down the right, with the Wanderers doubling and occasionally trebling up on her to defuse the threat.

Vine knows she will be a marked woman this season, but the first 90 minutes of the new campaign suggested she is very much in the right frame of mind to thrive on the expectation as well as the physicality coming her way.

What they said

Sydney FC coach Ante Juric: “We’ll need to do scans (on captain Natalie Tobin) but the doctors are saying it could be her meniscus, which would be a positive rather than an ACL, but they don’t know yet for sure.

“So they’re going to do scans but at the moment they’re leaning towards a meniscus (tear) or something like that. She was crying after it when I first saw her but she seemed a little bit happier when she told me what the diagnosis could be.”

Western Sydney coach Robbie Hooker: “We just focused this week to try and work on our defensive structure so that we’re competitive and we’ll probably keep doing that for the next week or so.

“It’s not that we’re not going to try and score goals, we will eventually get around to improving those areas as well. But my priority is to make sure that we’re competitive and that ee stay in games as long as we can.

“What you saw there in the second half is what I’m going to expect from the start of games.”

What it all means

Sydney coach Ante Juric admitted he had been a little nervous as to how some of his new faces would adapt to the system he plays, but the early evidence is that his worries are premature. Though Nat Tobin’s ability to start attacks as well as marshal the Sydney rearguard will be missed, the attacing prowess of Fiona Worts and Cortnee Vine will worry every team in the competition this season, starting with Brisbane away next weekend.

For Robbie Hooker, there aren’t enough minutes in the day to try to give his team a crash course in structure and patterns of play, having replaced Kat Smith just days before the start of the season. Thugh his side rallied well in the second half, they have pick up points in the next few games and find a sense of self-belief. A home game with Wellington next Sunday would be a very good place to start.