Just one spot off the bottom of the Isuzu UTE A-League table after four rounds, a thinly-stretched Sydney FC outfit look bereft of answers to a poor run of form to start the season.
A 2-0 loss to Central Coast Mariners on Sunday afternoon was essentially decided in favour of the Gosford outfit just 16 minutes after kick-off thanks to a two-goal blitz in a first half which Sky Blues captain Alex Wilkinson could only describe as “so poor” after full-time.
Sydney head coach Steve Corica wheeled out a tried and tested formation reliant on two strikers, two attacking midfielders in wider areas and two holding midfielders in front of a back four, with veteran striker Bobô’s return only increasing the predictability of the starting XI.
The Mariners went on to put their visitors to the sword. Marco Ureña got the scoreboard ticking in the 13th minute, and just three minutes later an Anthony Caceres own goal doubled the advantage.
A lead uncommonly held after a quarter of an hour of play was not undeserved in this instance; the Mariners were banging down the door in the minutes prior to Ureña’s opener, warning the Sky Blues of what was to come.
Speaking post-match, Channel 10/Paramount+ football analyst Georgia Yeoman-Dale questioned whether Sydney’s predictable approach – which has garnered tremendous success for the club in recent seasons – was not only becoming easy for opposing sides to predict, but tedious for Corica’s players to continue adhering to.
“There’s one thing about playing a certain style for many years, it’s predictable in the way other teams learn how to come up against you,” Yeoman-Dale said.
“But as a player it becomes boring. You don’t go out with the same kind of urgency because you’re doing the same role you’ve been (playing) for many years.
I think that’s what Sydney FC looked like tonight. They looked bored, because there was no urgency for them.”
MATCH REPORT: Mariners extend Sky Blues’ winless start
As the start of the 2021/22 Isuzu UTE A-League season drew closer, Sydney FC’s lean off-season recruitment drive came into question. Corica returned with a squad not dissimilar to what was at his disposal the season prior, with Max Burgess, Elvis Kamsoba and James Donachie the notable inclusions and Ryan McGowan and Alex Baumjohann the notable departures.
The difference could not have been more stark on Sunday evening as a revamped Mariners squad took to the field under new head coach Nick Montgomery, with off-season signing Moresche and a brigade of young Mariners academy products changing the face of a team looking to keep the pace after a third-place finish last season.
The Sky Blues looked livelier in the second half after Corica rang the changes, bringing three substitutes off the bench at half-time. New personnel made a difference, but Wilkinson says the damage was already done after an uninspired first 45 from the visiting side.
“The first half was so poor from us, so poor,” Wilkinson said. “Just no urgency to press, couldn’t keep the ball, and the warning signs were there early with the number of chances we managed to stave off.
“We didn’t learn. You can’t give a team a two-goal head start.
“The second half was much better; we showed a lot more urgency, a lot more commitment to press and kept the ball much better, and spent most of the game in their half.
“Although the final ball and decision making wasn’t quite there, but that’s how we need to start games. As I said, a really poor first half (cost us).”
Former Mariners striker and Paramount+ analyst Daniel McBreen added: “Wilkinson was pretty honest right there and then, when he said they just weren’t good enough.
“There was no urgency in that first 20/25 minutes. They did start to get themselves into the game but when you’re 2-0 down it’s too late; you need to get that from the start.
“The Mariners came out like a bullet out of a gun and took the ascendancy.”