Back to the future. The thing I was most afraid of – 2012-style defending – has reared its head once more.

In truth, the Sydney Derby wasn’t a great game for the neutral, unless he or she preferred watching the stands rather than the on-field action. If so, the spectacle was magnificent, rival fans’ colour and noise creating a pulsating atmosphere throughout the packed stadium.

But first to a display of dignity and humility by a Socceroo great. Upon hearing his former Manchester United boss Sir Alex Ferguson describe him as often being overweight and unprofessional in his eating habits (unlike your humble scribe who has never ordered late night pizza and Chinese), Mark Bosnich responded with “he is right”. He admitted his errors and praised the gaffer for being one of the greatest managers of all time.

It was unfortunate to see Bozza's career go off the rails a decade ago. But no one epitomises dignity in redemption and candour in the face of legitimate criticism better than the goalkeeper I rate as the greatest Australia has ever produced. 

And speaking of dignity, back to Allianz and Pascal Bosschaart struggled to keep it all together in his pre-match good-byes to the Sydney faithful. It was an emotional farewell and he will be remembered as a wonderful, technically gifted Sky Blue defender whose bad luck with injuries was unfortunate for him and the club. No one wins in his departure but perhaps his replacement import can offer much to the struggling side. Thank you Pascal, you are a gentleman and will always have a place in Sky Blue hearts.

Much has been said about the derby. The visitors were tough and uncompromising, often resorting to brutal tackles to stop the hosts in their tracks. How Jerome Polenz stayed on the park after his studs up over-the-ball challenge on Richard Garcia is beyond me. How he finished the game on the park is of equal surprise. It concerns me that the January return fixture will turn into a bloodbath as Sydney may decide to retaliate first.

Nonetheless, it is silly to write off the Wanderers as thugs. “No pasaran” was the order of the day but they are the only A-League side that knows how to play Catenaccio and plays it well. Coached to sit deep and play on the break, no one transitions to attack better than they do and they play out from the back magnificently. In seconds three passes would bring them deep into our half, causing havoc amongst our once again shaky defence time and again. And Ono is magnificent.

When turning over possession, their transition back to defence was equally impressive. And their hunger and desperation was there for all to see.

Back to Sydney and I have heard various viewpoints about our inadequacies:

  • Poor defending
  • No Del Piero
  • Lack of passion
  • Misalignment of the footballing philosophies of Farina and Vidosic
  • Injuries

The injuries were a factor – Pedj Bojic would have done so much better at rightback than the floundering Seb Ryall. Meanwhile, the absence of a midfield enforcer was keenly felt, especially so in a game against the bruising visitors. Terry McFlynn may not be everyone’s cup of tea but I’d pick him to fight fire with fire any day.

We missed Del Piero’s guile and trickery up front. Those who criticise our over-reliance on his brilliance miss the point. It is players like him who lift sides and allow them to reach new levels of attacking excellence. Are the Wanderers the same without Shinji Ono? Exactly.

Of course, the two goals came from defending that can be variously described as tentative, lackadaisical and simply appalling. I am ticking “all of the above”.

The cringeworthy sight of Seb Ryall being outmuscled for the first goal was only matched by that of Ryall and Tiago’s dithering on the edge of the box for the Wanderers’. 

Of equal concern is the lack of flow to our game and the players appearing  to be making things up as they went along. A few set plays were used, mainly involving two or three passes and then a switch left for Garcia or right for Chianese but that’s where it seemed to end.

The rest of the time Abbas and Carle attempted to run the show with only moderate success and there was little understanding and link-up play between the Sky Blue players in the attacking third, the place where good moves of attacking promise came to die. And some of our crossing had to be seen to be believed.

I mentioned transition and that’s where we repeatedly shot ourselves in the foot. When losing possession, the time taken by the Sydney players to recover was just too long and that’s a fixable problem to be addressed ASAP. Our transition from defence to attack was a little better and we released the wide players well enough, though all without end product.

That we had only taken a handful of shots on goal tells its own story. In truth, so did the visitors but their defence is a house built of bricks while ours had the distinctive look of that fairy tale one made of straw. While we handed them two goals on a platter, they kept it tight and gave our attacking players no chance.

Richard Garcia was Sydney's best attacking player, his pace and movement troubling the visitors all night. He has the scars to prove it. Nicola Petkovic also deserves praise for stepping up and producing a defensive display that put his backline colleagues to shame. Unbeaten in the air and on the ground, his pace, power and presence need to become the cornerstone of a rebuilt Sydney FC defence.  

Chianese had some decent moments out wide and Carle became a threat the longer the match went but both need to do better if we are to improve as a unit. And Janjetovic was solid once again, blameless for the two goals.

In good news, our NYL side beat the Wanderers 1-0 at Cromer Park, Chris Naumoff scoring the winner in stoppage time. We have quality in our youth side and there is definitely light at the end of the tunnel.

I suspect Del Piero won’t be risked for the long flight to Perth while Rhyan Grant’s season-ending knee injury comes at a most inopportune time and we all wish him a speedy recovery.

Perhaps it is time to plump for youth.

I would like to see Carle revert to his previously deeper role and a chance at a midfield spot given to tyros Hagi Gligor and Josh McDonald. Blake Powell is another capable of playing deeper while young Alec Urosevski had a sensational tournament in Vietnam and he or Naumoff could merit an attacking spot, on the bench at least, in place of the quick but limited Mitch Mallia.

Perth Glory will see a chance at all three points against an out-of-sorts, injury-riddled Sydney FC side while the visiting Sky Blues will look to play themselves into form against an outfit that has impressed only in patches.

So much work to do and not all by the players. The coaching staff need to find a formula that works and manufacture results even with an injury-riddled squad. Whether through possession football or a direct style that gets the ball to strikers’ feet more quickly, the Sky Blues will need at least a point away from home to keep the wolves from Farina’s door and give the fans and players something to believe and hang their hats on.

As things stand, that belief is waning and questions are being asked. The time to right perceptions is now.