TWO penalties to Sydney FC’s Ali Abbas in extra time put a cap on a thrilling, history-making FFA Cup clash in Ballarat.
It took 120 minutes for Sydney to eventually trounce Melbourne City 3-1, with two late penalties to Abbas in an epic battle of the titans at Morshead Park.
History was created in a number of ways.
City played its first match under the rebrand from Melbourne Heart, Sydney officially playing under former Australian coach Graham Arnold for the first time, it was the first official (and professional) clash at the redeveloped Morshead Park, and fittingly, both clubs paid tribute to its importance by streaming it live from their respective websites.
More than 2800 turned out in temperatures that dipped below five degrees to watch a contest.
The City fans who lined the pitch five-deep would have liked what they saw in the opening minutes, as the home side pinned the ball inside its half and proceeded to throw everything at the visitors.
However, the dominance was short lived as Sydney’s Corey Gameiro outwitted and outclassed City keeper Andrew Redmayne to score the opener.
Redmayne was left in no man’s land and miscued his dive as Gameiro’s low strike rolled home from long range following a through-ball at the 22-minute mark.
Sydney, buoyed by an unlikely lead, changed the dynamics of play for the remainder of the half.
Gone was City’s zip, flare, creativity and sparkle.
Instead, Graham Arnold’s stringent defence and counter punch style of play began to shine through.
A late flurry by the desperate favourites wasn’t enough to break even, and the underdogs maintained their lead into the break.
Damien Duff showed plenty in his inaugural outing in the sky blue, setting up the first corner of the match but failing to convert a serious opportunity when played in by Mate Dugandzic in the 50th minute.
A number of cautions were handed out as the two sides returned with noticeably higher intensity in the closing stanza.
Duff would be subbed out for James Brown at the 62-minute mark as both clubs extinguished all their bench players before time ran out.
A brilliant Aaron Mooy free kick saw Nicholas Kalmar skim a header through 65 minutes in.
Kalmar’s goal provided the spark that City so desperately required, and from there, the win was either sides for the taking.
Again, Sydney took control of proceedings and should have put the game to rest several times inside the final 15 minutes.
Extra time was called for after 93 minutes of play, in which Sydney’s Chris Naumoff missed a golden opportunity to seal the win when played through by Bernie Ibini with just seconds remaining.
It took most of the extra 30 minutes for the visitors to break through. When they finally did, flood walls opened.
A red card to Jason Hoffman at the 110-mark was enough for Abbas to break the deadlock, but the latter was handed another cherry minutes later when Sydney’s Terry Antonis was fouled on the corner of the area.
Gameiro was comfortably the most dangerous player on the pitch in the first half, while City’s Mooy did everything bar find the back of the net in a dominant midfield display.
City manager John van ’t Schip was upbeat about his side’s performance, despite the dismal finish.
“For us it’s disappointing of course after having a good start,” he said post match.
“Coming back into the game, we dominated the first part of the second half.”