What. A. Season!
After seven long years, the drought is over.
Sydney FC is once again at the top of the mountain.
Premier. Champions. Undisputed.
A lot has happened in seven, long years. Alessandro Del Piero came and went, as did Frank Farina. We wanted Scott Barlow and David Traktovenko gone. Terry McFlynn retired. The club finally established an academy and entered Football NSW’s NPL.
Two years ago, we got close to the summit. Close to the Premiers Plate. Close to the Championship. In hindsight, we were still behind. Look at 2015/16, it was dismal.
But important lessons were learned.
In 2016/17, Graham Arnold made sure the season started with a massive statement.
With a Sydney Derby to start the season, the Sky Blues opened up a big, fat can of whoop-arse on Western Sydney. A 0:4 win away from home being the perfect way to start the season. Brandon O’Neill provided the game’s golden moment with his delicious free kick. Matt Simon, aka the Wizard of Woy Woy, provided the LOLs by outpacing Dimas late in the game. A 0:4 win away from home being the perfect way to start the season.
Top of the table in round one. And we never looked back.
Sydney backed up in round two with another four goals and a second clean sheet. In fact, the Sky Blues would go on to win their opening five games and concede once. That goal conceded came in round five against Melbourne Victory.
The points continued to pile up. Victories away from home against Perth (1:4, round 11) and Adelaide (0:4, round 12) were the fourth and fifth time Sydney notched up four goals in a game this season. Additionally, those two victories was the second time the club went two consecutive games scoring four goals in a game.
The defence was stingy. Twice, Sydney went on a four-game run without conceding (round 1 – 4 and round 22 -25). Danny Vukovic continuously racked up save after save, some even worthy of the highlight reel. Only Central Coast, who finished eighth, scored twice in one game against Sydney.
There was the first ever Bluewash. Sydney FC became the first team in A-League history to sweep the Big Blue clashes.
Brisbane Roar picked up two points in three games against Sydney, the second-highest out of any team. Perth conceded eleven goals in three games, two of which were 1:4 at nib Stadium. Newcastle and Adelaide actually failed to score against Sydney all season.
The Sky Blues were unbeaten at home all season. One loss in 14 on the road. All of that accumulated to a 66-point season (from an available 81 points). That points haul is a record, eclipsing Brisbane Roar’s Roarcelona who previously held the record at 65 points (in a 12-team A-League), making Sydney’s effort all the more impressive.
First from start to finish. Daylight between us and the rest.
Sydney FC. Premiers. First job done.
With the Premiers Plate now in the rear-view mirror, it was all about collecting the Championship.
Perth Glory earned the right to play Sydney for a spot in the Grand Final. Given Perth’s late season form, many thought the game would be competitive and even gave Perth a chance. It was never even a contest. Perth’s best player, Diego Castro, disappeared for much of the match. In truth, it was men against boys.
A comfortable 3:0 win to the Sky Blues ensured a home Grand Final for the first time in 11 years. A game down, one win away from the double.
What should’ve been a tactical spectacle of a Grand Final between first and second was never to be. Melbourne Victory turned the game into a dogfight. It was clear to see that Kevin Muscat’s instructions were to double team Miloš Ninković when he had the ball. When Melbourne had the ball, they kicked it long to Marco Rojas.
We should’ve seen it coming but we didn’t. Melbourne bullied Sydney and the game and deservedly took the lead.
Melbourne’s pressing and bullying threw our boys off. But by half time Melbourne were running out of steam. Arnold, appalled at the way his team were goaded into fighting, made sure every one of his players went straight into the dressing rooms. No crappy half time interviews with Fox Sports.
There was, for the first time all season, a pessimistic thought that the unthinkable could happen.
But whatever Arnie said at half time, it worked.
Melbourne came out a much different team. Gone was the pressing, allowing the Sky Blues to play. The shackles were slowly loosened. Ninković was slowly beginning to orchestrate the symphony. The pressure started coming from Sydney FC.
And then, David Carney turned players inside out. His shot with his right, which in itself was amazing as he struck it well. It was saved off the line but that boy with shit hair who doesn’t care, Rhyan Grant, was quickest to follow up and made sure the ball went in.
It was from here that Sydney went into overdrive. Full of confidence, Sydney dictated play. I was confident of a second goal inside 90 minutes but for all our dominance, extra time it was.
Extra time was no different. Sydney probed and prodded, tried to thread the needle. For all of their effort, and now domination of the game, they were unable to find the winning goal.
And then, the hearts of the Sky Blue faithful stopped.
Deep into extra time, James Troisi struck a shot which left Vuka stranded. For the first time all season, Vuka he had no answer. The collective anxiety that engulfed the stadium was deafening as the ball travelled toward the goal. It hit the post and several heart attacks beckoned as the ball travelled across the goal…
…but it didn’t go in.
Give Melbourne credit. They faded early but hung on like a desperate, aging boxer looking for one more win before retirement. They absolutely lasted longer than they should have. But here we were, a penalty shootout would decide the game and the Champions for 2016/17.
Brosque and Troisi converted their attempts. Alex Wilkinson missed his, while Leigh Broxham scored his to put us on the back foot.
Carney converted his penalty while Carl Valeri, who displayed the utmost disrespect throughout the game provided the Sky Blue faithful with CLANK 2.0. We were back in it.
Young Brandon O’Neill, so underrated, duly converted his penalty. Marco Rojas, who had previously only taken one penalty in the A-League, buckled. Vuka palmed his effort away and Sydney FC were in the box seat.
Miloš Ninković stepped up to take the decisive penalty. And there was never any doubt.
A glorious season, in which its context was defined by just how far ahead of the league Sydney was, ended with the Championship victory.
But never rest of your laurels. Time to #DefendSydney.
This article first appeared for FC Baller.