As it happened
Two sides bereft of confidence and still unsure of where they fit into the grander scheme of the A-League season did not exactly bode well for the kind of contest these two sides have been famous for in recent years.
The stifling Queensland humidity – the kind that makes you sweat even when sedentary – was the winner. The heat acted like a catheter, draining the intensity of the occasion, and reducing the match to a walk by the end.
Perhaps it was reflective of this strange week, where nothing seems to happen at normal pace. Both sides seemed in holiday mode at Suncorp Stadium. It was if they were each still lying prostrate in one of those wonderful post-Christmas lunch food comas.
The scoreless draw at least stops the rot for Sydney FC, a recent run of defeats that has separated them from the top four and out of title contention – if their glut of injuries hadn’t already. For Brisbane, it was another missed opportunity in a season becoming defined by them.
The Asian Cup had further blunted both sides of their midfield maestros, Terry Antonis for Sydney and Matt McKay for Brisbane. They link the play of their respective teams so fluidly and their absence was obvious.
In defence, Sydney fielded two teenagers, Aaron Calver and Alex Gersbach filling the right and left-back roles. Gersbach is still only 17 but looms as a long-term option not just for the Sky Blues. Pleasingly, he is both mature and developing, and, unusually for an Australian, defensively sound.
Big calls are fraught with danger but here goes: he’ll play in Europe one day and eventually become the Socceroos’ first-choice left-back. Sooner than you might think, too. Besides, Jetro Willems was barely 18 when he played all three group matches for the Netherlands at Euro 2012.
The challenge on this occasion was more for Calver, normally a centre-half, to prove his capability. He didn’t do a lot wrong, and battled gamely against Henrique. The tricky Brazilian has been in great form this year.
The injured Thomas Broich would have been a bigger test, however. How Brisbane miss him. But he turns 34 next month and cannot go on forever. They have not replaced him, nor have they have replaced Besart Berisha.
Jean Carlos Solorzano, coming off a double, didn’t look half as good as he did on the weekend in Gosford. Mensur Kurtishi wasn’t even on the bench. And sans McKay, Brisbane looked creatively bereft and hardly energetic.
Smartly, Graham Arnold changed his system for this clash. His two main strikers, Shane Smeltz and Marc Janko, are just too similar. They don’t press enough. They don’t aid the midfield enough. Adelaide had exposed their lack of mobility and a dugout response was required.
Janko was apparently hampered by injury, which could account for his lack of movement, but it was sensible swap that saw Smeltz left alone, although they were changed with 30 minutes to play.
Strategically, that meant a number 10 was introduced into the system. The 4-2-3-1 will eventually suit everyone a little better – especially Alex Brosque and Bernie Ibini – and forced Arnold to play a genuine playmaker.
Milos Dimitrijevic didn’t have a major impact but still looms a possible solution given his technical ability. A pair of gnome-sized grafters, Peter Triantis and Rhyan Grant, sat in front of the back four. Dependable, solid, unspectacular. Grant was relieved after an hour for Chris Naumoff. Triantis was given an extra 20 minutes before Hagi Gligor replaced him.
As the minutes ticked by, Brisbane sensed the urgency. It was such a stodgy game, no more than a goal would be needed to settle it. But this was a match that didn’t have that inevitable goal about it. They’d have to conjure it from nothing.
It didn’t happen. It was never going to. Perspiration, not inspiration, would be the order of the occasion.