Sydney see off Victory's Big Blue challenge

SYDNEY FC 3 (Bobo 60m, 78m pen, David Carney 84m)
d VICTORY 1 (Besart Berisha 58m pen)
Venue: AAMI Park. Crowd: 21,037.

Too good. Simply too good.

Melbourne Victory's long losing run against champions Sydney continues after Graham Arnold's men came from behind to win 3-1 in the Australia Day "Big Blue" in front of 21,037 fans at AAMI Park, all the goals coming in the second half, two from penalties.

Sydney move nine points clear of second-placed Newcastle and the Premiers Plate looks in their grasp. Victory remain in fourth position, four points behind Melbourne City and eight off the Jets.

Kevin Muscat's men began at a furious pace, with a high-intensity approach that would have seen most other A-League sides bend to their will.

But Sydney are not most other sides, as their tremendous record over the past two seasons illustrates.

Graham Arnold's men have the capacity to soak up punishment, take some heavy pressure but retain their defensive shape. Few have been better in the short history of this league at absorbing the blows and hitting hard on the counter.

They certainly had to handle some heavy pressure in the opening 20 minutes as Victory, mindful of the fact that they have not beaten the Sky Blues for two years (since an Australia Day win at AAMI Park in 2016) pushed and pressed all over the pitch in a bid to wear the visitors down.

Victory probed and punched, with Kosta Barbarouses, in hot form these past few weeks, looking to take on Sydney left-back Michael Zullo whenever he could.

Mark Milligan and Carl Valeri looked to force the early pace in midfield, and Besart Berisha was his normal combative and industrious self whenever the ball came into the forward third, either attacking the goal when Victory had possession or seeking to defend from the front when Sydney had the ball.

But Sydney have not earned their exalted reputation simply by playing rope-a-dope-football. They knew they would have to weather a ferocious storm, but after that opening Victory assault the men in Sky Blue began to impose themselves on the game.

Adrian Mierzejewski found Zullo twice in the space of a few minutes wide on the left as the full-back managed to get forward, both times his crosses just failing to find a target.

Mierzejewski then broke in on goal, his run only halted by a scything Rhys Williams challenge that earned the centre-half a yellow card.

The ebb and flow of the game was changing and the Pole almost gave the visitors the lead in the 38th minute with a beautifully struck shot hit with power and accuracy from the edge of the area. He was only denied by a tremendous diving save by Lawrence Thomas.

The goalkeeper then had to save smartly from the same player after Thomas Deng, Victory's left-back, failed to clear the ball from the danger area.

Mierzejewski, who was carded in the first half for dissent, was lucky not to get another and be sent off after he elbowed Williams in the head as the pair went up for an aerial duel shortly after the restart.

Victory got their noses in front just before the hour mark when Jai Ingham was upended in the penalty area by Josh Brillante after the wide man chased down Troisi's flicked pass.

Berisha, who has missed from the spot this year, showed his nerve was intact by stepping up to send Andrew Redmayne the wrong way and navy blue hopes rose that a sequence of five losses in a row, including a grand final defeat, would be ended.

The hosts joy was short-lived, however, as Sydney were back on terms within two minutes with a well-worked move in which Mierzejewski played a key role.

The Pole picked up the ball outside the Victory area and played a reverse pass to the overlapping Luke Wilkshire. The ex-Socceroo flighted over a delightful chip that Brazilian striker Bobo headed home for his 17th goal of the season.

The game turned into an arm wrestle, but it was the champions who were able to deliver the knockout blow 14 minutes from time when Bobo went down under a Jason Geria challenge.

Referee Jarred Gillett pointed to the spot and brandished a red card to dismiss the Victory defender while the Brazilian got up and fired past Thomas.

Substitute David Carney ensured the points went north - and that Victory's unenviable record continues - when he netted with seven minutes remaining after being played through by Mierzejewski.

This story Sydney see off Victory's Big Blue challenge first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.