The effect of the Sydney derby’s Hyundai A-League record crowd on Saturday night could be felt for years to come, while Sydney FC have made a statement for this season.
The Sky Blues demolished Western Sydney Wanderers 4-0 at ANZ Stadium, with 61,880 spectators watching the first derby of the 2016-17 campaign.
In reality, the score was somewhat unfair on the Wanderers, with the home side looking good for a goal after falling 2-0 behind, only for Sydney to strike twice in the last five minutes after Western Sydney defender Aritz Borda was sent off.
On a night of records, Graham Arnold’s visitors secured the biggest win in the history of the Sydney derby, while they extended their unbeaten run against Western Sydney to eight Hyundai A-League matches.
From the moment the Red and Black Bloc (RBB) unveiled one of the best tifos in A-League history, this was clearly going to be a special night.
To see so many fans at such a cavernous venue as ANZ Stadium for an Australian domestic football match was something that few could have imagined when the A-League began in 2005.
The RBB and Sydney FC’s active supporters group – the Cove – maintained the type of atmosphere that wouldn’t have looked out of place at just about any derby around the world.
The record crowd couldn’t come at a better time for Football Federation Australia (FFA) as they negotiate for a much-improved broadcast rights deal for the A-League.
Yes, football in Australia isn’t perfect but Saturday night was a stark reminder of how much potential the sport has in this country.
It was also a sign – if we really needed another – of how big the Wanderers have become in just over four seasons.
The first rendition of “We sing for Wanderers” rocked ANZ Stadium, with at least two thirds of the crowd wearing red and black.
Up until this season, Western Sydney have played all their home games at the 20,741-capacity Pirtek Stadium, which has ensured the Wanderers have been unable to get all their fans into one stadium before.
The Wanderers will play another four games at the venue built for the 2000 Olympic Games this season, while their other eight home matches will be held at the 24,000-capacity Spotless Stadium.
Western Sydney are locked out of Wanderland until its expansion to 30,000 seats is completed.
But while the Wanderers clearly had an advantage in the stands, on the pitch it was another story.
Sydney started strongly, pressing their hosts all over the ground and creating numerous chances in the opening 20 minutes or so.
On the half-hour mark, a dangerous sliding tackle from Wanderers defender Robert Cornthwaite on Sydney marquee striker Bobo sparked a melee that had both teams heavily involved.
Western Sydney improved after the fracas but early in the second half, Sydney grabbed the lead that they deserved.
Former Besiktas pair Filip Holosko and Bobo linked up twice in the space of five minutes, as first one and then the other sent the ball past Western Sydney goalkeeper Andrew Redmayne.
The Wanderers came again – Japanese winger Jumpei was particularly sharp – but when Borda felled Alex Brosque to halt a Sky Blues counterattack in the 83rd minute, the hosts’ chances of a comeback were ended.
Borda was shown a straight red card and Brandon O’Neill expertly curled his free-kick over the wall and into the top corner, while Brosque added Sydney’s fourth goal in the 89th minute after a blunder from Redmayne.
In the best match of Round 1 so far, Western Sydney showed enough signs to indicate they will challenge again this season – Jumpei, Nicolas Martinez, Kerem Bulut and Mitch Nichols could be a very formidable front four.
But their rivals from Allianz Stadium look in ominous form.
Already into the Westfield FFA Cup semi-finals, Sydney are a well-drilled unit that look set to improve significantly on their seventh-place finish of last term.