Sydney FC coach Graham Arnold said he never feared his side would lose to bitter rivals Western Sydney Wanderers FC despite surrendering a 3-0 lead in a “crazy” derby on Saturday night.
The Sky Blues looked on course for a cricket score as they raced to a three-goal lead inside 25 minutes in front of almost 20,000 fans at Pirtek Stadium.
But the Wanderers roared back to level the scores early in the second half and it was only a 75th minute winner – and some fine late saves from Vedran Janjetovic – that ensured Sydney got a 4-3 win.
“That’s the benefit of having young Antonis and (Shane) Smeltz to come on (off the bench),” Arnold said when asked if he thought they’d blown it.
“I was always confident of winning the game. This team has continually showed great character.
“We’ve been behind before and came back. This team has some really top footballers and I thought we played some really good stuff tonight and it was just sloppiness which gave the goals away…we’ve got to tighten that up.
“We’ve got a real good team spirit, gutsy characters in the dressing room and some experienced players there that even if under pressure they don’t buckle.”
This was the ninth installment of the Sydney derby but easily the best, with seven goals, a red card for Sydney’s Mickael Tavares, six yellow cards and plenty of talking points.
After an Ante Covic own goal gifted the Sky Blues the lead, Marc Janko continued his hot streak with a brace before the Wanderers stormed back thanks to strikes from Iacopo La Rocca and debutant Kerem Bulut (two).
“What a crazy game,” Arnold said.
“We were 3-0 and had a great chance for 4-0 to have the game dead and buried. We gave away a goal on a set piece and brought them back to 3-1.
“You have to give full credit to the Wanderers, they showed what Tony Popovic is made of. The team is always similar to their coach and they fought extremely well.”
While ecstatic to escape with the three points, Arnold was critical of the Pirtek Stadium surface as well as the facilities at the venue, which is undergoing some upgrades.
“This is the first game of football I’ve ever won on a building site,” the Sky Blues boss quipped.
“The pitch was poor…it was only re-turfed a week ago. We talk about professionalism and high standards in the A-League but we’re sitting in demountables (for dressing rooms) sweating.
“Maybe there was a chance to move the game away from this little stadium but they didn’t do it. That’s the way it is.”
Sydney have now won four of their last five matches to surge into the top four and remain in touch with league-leaders Perth Glory.
But they will be without suspended duo Tavares and Alex Gersbach for next Friday’s trip to Newcastle through suspension.