This article was written in March 2016 and appeared on a short-lived website I had.

Sydney FC played their first ever National Premier Leagues NSW 2 match on Sunday night. It was a historic, but negative moment as their opponents, stole their limelight by grabbing the victory on the opening day of the season.

The Game
Coach Robbie Stanton has had his squad for a long time now. The Sydney FC NPL2 competed in the National Youth League (NYL), which they won. They came into this game with enough skill and development in their ranks to ensure the game would be a contest against their more experienced NPL2 campaigners in Mounties Wanderers.

The kick-off to the game was historic for the Sky Blues, signalling their first ever game in the Football NSW NPLNSW2. For the unaware, the National Premier Leagues (NPL) was created by Football Federation Australia as a link/pathway for players in the state league competitions to the A-League. NPLNSW2 is the second tier of NPL in NSW and third tier nationally.

Sydney FC started the game off well. They moved the ball around smoothly, keeping and dominating possession. The wide midfielders interchanged with their central midfield counterparts in an effort to create space between the lines, as well as to create gaps in the Mounties defence.

Tactically, Sydney FC were tactically more astute than their more experienced opponents. However their downfall came when it was time to create goal-scoring opportunities. Much like their A-League counterparts, the Sky Blues attempted to walk the ball into the goal. At this level in the football pyramid, it is less about being fancy and more about taking the opportunity when it presents itself.

As a result Mounties were able to keep their defence in tact and for large parts of the match, were untroubled by the young side. The structured and disciplined tactics from Robbie Stanton proved to be their undoing, despite it being in place to create a football identity for the Harbour City club as a whole.

Mounties hit Sydney FC right where it hurts: the counter attack. The visitors had set themselves up defensively, wanting to absorb Sydney’s movement and attack on the counter where possible. This happened twice in the first half.

The first time, Mounties scored on the counter attack after a poorly worked Sydney FC short corner routine. Mounties cleared the ball and sped away, with Reid Taylor delightfully lobbing Sydney FC goalkeeper Duro Dragicevic.

The second time it happened was a result of a defensive error. The Sydney centre backs were passing the ball and Neftali Gonzalez caught them unawares, tackling Nicola Kuleski and speeding away unchallenged. Gonzalez lobbed the ball over Dragicevic in the same fashion as Taylor’s opener and the game went into half time with Mounties 2:0 up.

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In the second half, Mounties sat deeper in defence. This stifled Sydney’s rhythm even further and as the game went on, it felt as though the Sky Blues’ centre backs were getting the most touches on the ball.

Challenges in the second half got more tasty, with both sides turning up the intensity. In the end, it was Mounties who maintained the clean sheet and picked up three points for the win.

Sydney FC 0:2 Mounties Wanderers

Venue: Lambert Park

Sydney FC Starting XI:  Dragicevic; Kuleski; Flottman; Timotheou; C. Gonzalez; Spyrakis; Araujo; Zuvela; Antoniou; Lokolingoy; Burgess.

Subs: Evans; Slater; Curtis; Avery; M. Gonzalez.

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Flares
Midway through the first half, some outsiders threw flares and firecrackers into the stadium. I landed on the pitch, the synthetic pitch, narrowly missing the Mounties assistant coach who was warming up the substitutes.

It’s a moronic act when flares are used at the A-League level. There are no words to describe the idiocy when it’s done at the second tier of state league football (third tier nationally). Whoever the culprit(s) is will find no love at this level.

Looking Ahead
While the young Sky Blues played well throughout, they were sucker-punched twice on the counter. The Sydney FC play was quite predictable by the end of the game and Mounties were set up defensively well from the outset.

It’s a long season, which means there’s time for Robbie Stanton’s squad to get used to the rigours of NPLNSW2 and how the teams in this league play. It also allows Stanton to tweak the team’s tactics also, thus allowing some creativity to happen amongst the players.

Photos via FC Baller and Sydney FC.