Sydney FC and a 10-man Brisbane Roar had shared the spoils on Friday night at Allianz Stadium with a 1-1 draw.
Sydney FC entered their clash against the Brisbane Roar off the back of a remarkable 3-1 derby victory over cross-town rival the Western Sydney Wanderers.
In contrast, the Roar had beaten their most significant title contender, Adelaide United, 2-1 at Suncorp Stadium last Sunday.
Both sides had some form heading into the opening fixture of Round 23.
Nevertheless, whilst this match produced a draw and only Sydney FC’s second draw of the season, it showed the neutral just how much of a gulf there is between these two clubs.
The both sides opened the match in frenetic fashion, with the Roar uncharacteristically poor in their passing completion in the initial stanza. On the flip side, the Sky Blues were persistent in their pressure from the front with the likes of Corey Gameiro personifying that attitude.
This attitude and relentless nature was filtered right through Gameiro’s teammates as Seb Ryall pressed hard on Roar goalkeeper Michael Theo in the opening ten minutes charging down a clearance that nearly ended up in the back of the net.
Yet, the Roar saw off that pressure and application from the Sky Blues and began to re-enter the contest in typical Brisbane Roar fashion.
Their slick ball movement, the triangles and space they were known for, for so much of the season was coming back ever so naturally.
The Roar would soon be rewarded as they pushed forward down the left hand side of the pitch.
German attacking midfielder Tommy Broich cut in, in line with the 18-yard area, whipping a cross in that Albanian striker Besart Berisha took the pace off as he exquisitely guided the ball over the advancing Sydney goalkeeper Vedran Janjetovic.
Sydney never gave in despite the league leaders and two-time champions taking the lead. They were persistent in their attempts to get the equaliser and were rewarded ten minutes before half time.
The Sky Blues had received a corner after Seb Ryall’s attempted cross was blocked. Centre-half Nikola Petkovic then swung the presiding corner into the area which Ryall met his head with sending into the roof of the net, as well as the Cove into raptures.
With the game locked at one a piece and only minutes from the break, a moment of madness from the Roar’s Albanian striker turned the game on its head.
With goalscorer Ryall advancing forward with the ball from right back, Besart Berisha flew in with a two-footed challenge which narrowly missed its mark but aggravated Seb Ryall to which he retaliated.
The resulting challenge saw Ryall booked and Berisha sent off as the match began to turn fiery. With his sending off, many would have thought that the game would swing heavily into the favour of the home side.
Nevertheless, the Roar defied that logic as they entered the second half out to prove exactly why they are atop the summit of the A-League.
When it would have been assumed that Sydney would press, utilise the space and extra man that they possess and try to take advantage of their numerical one, it was in fact the Roar who looked to be in Sydney’s predicament.
The Roar were the ones pressing Sydney’s defence time after time and putting shots on target in an attempt to find a way beyond Janjetovic in the Sky Blue goal.
It was Sydney who began to fatigue with several players dropping to the ground with injuries or cramp, whilst the Roar stood tall and showed their incredible fitness levels and the fitness required to play the style of game they play.
The Roar looked the more likely to score; the side with the greater willingness to find the goal that would break the deadlock.
It was if the roles were reversed and it were Sydney playing with 10 men as they sat back in attempt to nullify the Roar’s persistence to claim all three points.
In the end both sides held on for a point as the Roar edged closer to the Premier’s Plate, whilst Sydney earned a point that would come in handy as they look to secure their place in the A-League finals.
The moral of this story though on a Friday night in the middle of March was this: There is a clear gulf in this league between the competition’s elite and those sides in mid-table.
The Roar are fitter, mentally stronger and more positive despite the hardships they are reduced to when they are confronted with them on the pitch.
Teams like Sydney who sit in the middle of this competition lack the fitness to compete with the Roar’s style of play. They don’t possess the confidence to beat sides like the Roar and it showed that they would rather play for what they already have which is the solitary point.