The first of two games in consecutive days at Lambert Park featured a Sydney Derby in the National Youth League, with the Sky Blues looking to avenge their 3-0 defeat at the hands of Western Sydney Wanderers back in November. Unfortunately, the NYL has lost some prestige in recent years with the reduction in season length from 18 to 8 games, but it is still a great chance to see the some of the best young footballers in the country.
SFC and WSW chose to line up in a 4-3-3 formation, as has become the norm for both teams. However, the two teams took a different approach with their midfield trios. Sydney FC deployed Andrea Agamemnos as the sole holding midfielder, with George Blackwood and Chris Zuvela further forward. Meanwhile WSW chose to do the opposite, playing Cameron Devlin and Charlie Abou behind Tariq Maia. While both midfields contributed plenty in attack, a lack of organisation from both outfits meant that they were exposed to counter attacks as soon as the ball was lost.
There was plenty of talent on show up front and on the flanks of both teams. Charles Lokoli Ngoy was the undoubted star of the show for Sydney FC, and he was ably assisted by William Mutch and Juan Zapata. For WSW, Abraham Majok was a constant threat with his runs in behind the Sydney FC defence, with Mario Shabow and Ramy Najjarine also making telling contributions. As a result, both sides looked dangerous on the counter, with the pace of Abraham Majok and Charles Lokoli Ngoy proving especially difficult to handle.
(Side note: Why does Matt Simon continue to make the matchday squad for Sydney FC when they have Charles Lokoli Ngoy in their NYL team?)
While the counter attacking from both sides was entertaining to watch, the frequency of counter attacks and the speed at which these were carried out meant there often wasn’t enough time for either set of fullbacks to make overlapping runs (normally a feature of the attacking play of both teams).
Despite conceding seven goals between them the goalkeepers actually played quite well, with both Thomas Manos and Nicholas Suman making a number of crucial saves. Nick Suman in particular was one of the better players for WSW, and WSW were able to preserve their lead in the final half-hour thanks to a string of crucial saves from Suman, as well as a goal-line clearance following a set piece.
Sydney FC showed their intent to attack from the opening whistle, and it wasn’t long before the deadlock was broken. A pinpoint right wing cross from William Mutch found George Blackwood unmarked, and his precise header into the bottom corner left Nick Suman with no chance. However, WSW had also started brightly, and after a quarter of an hour they were level. Abdelrahman Kuku was allowed to control a corner at the back post, and the tall centre-back set up his defensive partner Henry Davies for the equaliser.
Sydney FC did well not to let their heads drop, and a few minutes later they re-took the lead. Once again William Mutch was involved in the buildup, and when his shot was blocked Charles Lokoli Ngoy was on hand to tap it in and make it 2-1 to Sydney FC.
The frenetic opening to the game continued as both defences struggled to contain the opposition attackers. After WSW won a penalty when Maia was fouled in the box by George Timotheou, Shabow stepped up to take the spot kick. Despite guessing the right way Manos was unable to save Shabow’s precise spot-kick into the bottom corner, and WSW equalised for a second time.
The goals kept coming as neither side seemed to make any tactical adjustments to deal with the opposition’s attack. From a WSW counter attack, Abraham Majok burst down the left flank and crossed for Ramy Najjarine. The diminutive winger was brought down in the box by Riley Woodcock as he was about to pull the trigger, with the left back receiving a booking for his troubles. Again Shabow stepped up, this time shooting to the keeper’s left and sending Manos the wrong way to put WSW in front for the first time. However, Sydney FC would not be deterred. A few minutes from the end of the first half Lokoli Ngoy collected the ball on the left flank and burst into the box, beating a defender and managing to shoot past Suman from an acute angle.
The second half continued in the same vein as the first half, fast paced and very physical. After bookings for Kuku and Jackson Bandiera, Tariq Maia scored the goal of the game. Maia found space 25 yards out from goal, and when the ball was pulled back to him his first-time curling shot left Thomas Manos with no chance.
That was the end of the scoring, but there was still plenty of action to come. Lokoli Ngoy had two chances to equalise in quick succession, first shooting over from a decent position, then forcing a smart save from Suman after getting in behind the WSW defence.
A few minutes later Suman made an excellent 1-on-1 save from Mutch. From the resulting corner, the post came to WSW’s rescue with Suman beaten. A frantic two minute period ended with a goal-line clearance from a Patrick Flottmann header, with claims from the Sky Blues that the ball had actually crossed the line.
After that it was WSW’s turn to be in the ascendancy, with both Majok and Devlin forcing saves from Manos. Predictably, the game got very heated in the final few minutes, with Nicola Kuleski in particular complaining about physical treatment from Majok. Sydney FC had one last chance to equalise, but Cristian Gonzalez sent a long free kick straight into the arms of Suman, and the game was over.
This was a huge result for WSW in their quest to reach the NYL Grand Final for the first time, and they are now top of Conference B (couldn’t FFA have come up with better names?). There is still a lot of work to do however, as they are separated from Newcastle Jets by goal difference only, with Central Coast Mariners (WSW’s next opponents) one point further back. Goal difference could work in WSW’s favour, as they have a six goal advantage (or more) in terms of goal difference over their nearest opponents, as well as one more game against FFA Centre of Excellence (who WSW beat 8-0 in December).
Sydney FC will be very disappointed that they led twice but couldn’t even take their lead into the half-time break. They have a game in hand on the teams above them, but still it looks like they will need to win each of their remaining three games to have a chance of making the Grand Final. Next for the Sky Blues is an away trip to bottom side FFA Centre of Excellence, before they finish the “season” with games against Jets and CCM.
Sydney FC 3 (Blackwood 8’, Lokoli Ngoy 19’ 42’)
Western Sydney Wanderers 4 (Davies 15’, Shabow 26’ pen, 31’ pen, Maia 58’)
Sydney FC (4-1-2-3)
20 Thomas Manos, 3 Patrick Flottmann, 4 George Timotheou, 6 Nicola Kuleski, 5 Riley Woodcock (14 Cristian Gonzalez 45’), 21 Andrea Agamemnos, 17 Christopher Zuvela (capt.), 19 George Blackwood, 16 William Mutch (7 Daniel Maskin 70’), 12 Charles Lokoli Ngoy (9 Bai Antoniou 76’), 8 Juan Zapata
Unused sub: 1 Mitchell Evans
Yellow cards: Blackwood 29’, Woodcock 30’, Manos 31’, Timotheou 87’
Western Sydney Wanderers (4-2-1-3)
1 Nicholas Suman, 4 Abdelrahman Kuku, 3 Henry Davies, 2 Lachlan Campbell, 12 Jackson Bandiera, 8 Charlie Abou Serhal, 6 Cameron Devlin (capt.), 10 Tariq Maia (17 Emilio Martinez 93’), 9 Ramy Najjarine, 7 Abraham Majok, 11 Mario Shabow (15 Moudi Najjar 45’)
Unused subs: 16 Mackenzie Syron, 13 Noah Pagden
Yellow cards: Kuku 53’, Bandiera 55’, Devlin 87’