Central Coast 4 - Sydney 5
The trip up the F3 to Gosford yielded one of the most emotional roller-coaster of footballs matches I have ever witnessed. First there were feelings of frustration as I struggled to find a car park spot and a spare speck of ground to stand on and then the match... well...
For one thing, Sydney FC won 5-4. Nine goals. Most ever scored in an A-League game. Heck, FC's four matches in November created just three goals total. Last night players scored on rebounds, headers, penalty kicks, corner kicks, redirects, breakaways, turnarounds, just about everything short of telekinesis.
Sydney began the match missing four critical players, including their starting goalkeeper. Midway through the first half, when FC already trailed 2-0, you could have easily described the stricken club as 1) undermanned; 2) passive; 3) hoping to survive the gifts of their back-up goalie and 4) pretty much out of hope.
But by 7:30 last night, almost all of those descriptors had been proven wrong. When Mariners keeper Danny Vukovic touched the ball while out of the goal area, he drew a red card, exited the game and forced the withdrawal of a teammate. After that moment, the landscape shifted.
Momentum swung. Left became right, up became down, and a Sydney team performing its best roadkill impression sprung to life.
And, when they drew level at 2-2 just after halftime, you could have described Sydney as 1) holding a man-advantage; 2) aggressive; 3) hoping to exploit a back-up goalie and 4) very much alive.
How 'bout the game's ending? I don't even know how to describe it. In the fifth minute of extra time, two more than fans were told to expect, a last-ditch FC scrum almost squeaked the ball into the net. A few players thought that happened, and jumped around in celebration. The block of FC fans in one stadium corner thought the same. Instead, the ref pulled out a red card directed at Central Coast's Adam Kwasnik. A penalty kick. Sydney's Ufuk Talay took three quick strides and buried the ball. Seven-eighths of the stadium fell silent. They listened to the scream of a vocal blue minority.
For the A-League, the final highlight moment only iced the cake. This game provided the perfect soccer advertisement at the perfect time. Here, you had the biggest crowd ever at Bluetongue. You had all eyes on this match, because it was the only one of the weekend. You had two teams, both in contention, who train one hour away from one another.
For once, the A-League's motto, 90 minutes, 90 emotions didn't qualify as hyperbole. This match had comebacks, counter-comebacks and counter-counter comebacks. It had five yellow cards and two red cards. One player left the field on a stretcher. The ref left the field showered with boos. FC left having squeaked into a top-four spot.
The club's emotions, from start to finish, swung from hopelessness to bliss. We don't have time to list the other 88.
And a Merry Christmas to you too Mr Mandela