Sydney FC steamroller hits bump in Adelaide
SUDDENLY Sydney FC's progress towards a second successive Premier's Plate isn't quite as steamrollering as it has been for so long.
The Sky Blues were held to a goalless draw in Adelaide, their second draw in three games and only the second time this season they have failed to score.
An arm wrestle of a contest was absorbing and occasionally bad-tempered, with the home side refusing to take a backward step despite the injuries and international call-ups that had decimated their squad.
If Sydney's attacking prowess scarcely flickered, Adelaide could take huge comfort from a display that suggests they will make life difficult for opponents into the finals.
There might have been an assumption that Sydney would sweep aside their chronically undermanned opponents, especially given the gap of 17 points between the teams at the start.
What unfolded, though, was a bruising, rugged encounter that showed Adelaide's remarkable spirit.
If they escaped a couple of times, especially after nervy errors by 20-year-old goalkeeper Daniel Margush, United also caused the champions a series of uncomfortable moments and could have had reward on the scoreboard.
In the very first minute, 16-year-old winger Lachlan Brook escaped to fire in a low cross, which Daniel Adlung struck goalwards only to be denied by Andrew Redmayne's save.
Ryan Strain went even closer on 17 minutes, striking the bar with a long-distance effort, and Strain volleyed over in injury time from inside the box.
Sydney had their opportunities too, notably a pair that fell to Adrian Mierzejewski in the first half from miskicks by Margush. To the goalkeeper's credit, though, he deflected the Pole's shot wide the first time, and watched the second roll narrowly wide.
The fact those chances came from errors was emblematic of a Sydney performance long on endeavour but short, especially by their exalted standards, of real flair.
By some distance their best player was defender Jordy Buijs, commanding in defence and offering excellent distribution.
From one such pass the Dutchman enabled Alex Brosque to turn the United defence, only to guide his shot wide of the far post under pressure from Margush.
Buijs lamented Sydney's inability to land the killer blow.
"We are disappointed to lose two points today," Buijs said. "Sometimes you don't have the luck to score goals and today was one of them."
The ability to sustain pressure like a tourniquet is usually such a feature of this Sydney team, but this was a night when the ball wouldn't stick and the slick understanding of Graham Arnold's front four seemed to have been left behind in Sydney.
Credit to Adelaide, though, especially as coach Marco Kurz was forced to send a series of young debutants into the fray from his bench as the second half unfolded. Their energy, tenacity and drive were all unflagging and the point they earnt well deserved.
For Sydney, their lead at the top is "only" six points, with the Jets refusing to concede ground. Such has been the Sky Blues' domination, the assumption is still that they will be top come the end of the regular season - but they will be pushed all the way.