There might not be too many economists within Sydney FC’s hierarchy but the club’s leadership knows a thing or too about ‘‘opportunity costs’’. In paying marquee wages for Kosta Barbarouses, Sydney FC purchased one of the league’s best forwards. Last night, they found the true value was in robbing their oldest rivals of one of their best assets.
The New Zealand international was true to his word and didn’t celebrate after scoring against his former club but in netting the winning goal in Sydney FC’s 2-1 win over Melbourne Victory, he may as well have.
He played down the occasion out of respect but it was a moment that made Victory’s feud with him irrevocable. In the first Big Blue to have never featured Kevin Muscat, there was chatter about how who would assume the title of the chief antagonist in this rivalry and for the immediate future, that may as well be the mild-mannered Barbarouses.
He perhaps may not have been the best on ground at Netstrata Jubilee Stadium but that mattered little, his role will be what both sects will talk about in the aftermath.
In the build-up, Victory supporters lambasted him as a ‘‘snake’’ for joining Sydney in the pre-season. When he left the field, his new faces gave him a standing ovation. Come this morning, a few dozen of those will no doubt be buying Sydney FC jersey with his surname on the back.
Melbourne Victory entered this match depleted, unfancied and were rated at six to one of beating their oldest rivals. Evidently, they too had read the form guide and set up a deep defence, happy to relinquish the middle of the field to Sydney FC.
The Sky Blues’ ball players were only too happy to take control of the match. Milos Nikovic glided across the park with his usual elegance. Luke Brattan controlled the tempo from deep while Alex Baumjohann rolled the dice with risky deliveries – though provided more moments of frustration than awe. However, it yielded few chances.
To onlookers, Sydney were operating in peak confidence. A minute before the break, it became perceived as arrogance. A wicked cross from Victory winger Josh Hope caught Sydney’s defence in a slumber and picked out the run of captain Ola Toivonen from deep. From point blank range, the Swedish striker made no mistake, heading past Andrew Redmayne at the near post to snatch a lead completely against the run of play.
The visitors emerged from their dressing rooms with their chests puffed and came within a centimetre of inflicting a hammer blow upon their rivals.
Ten minutes after the restart, Toivonen sent a nervous chill down the spines of the Sky Blues with a beautifully delivered free-kick from distance that brushed the outside of the post.
The fluency the Sky Blues began the match had broken down temporarily and so too their finishing. Striker Adam Le Fondre lead a counter-attack on the hour-mark only to come closer to striking the corner post than the net with a wayward shot.
Before his cheeks could blush red, Le Fondre made amends. When Sydney defender Ryan McGowan pounced on a corner, Sydney’s striker was there to turn it towards goal with a cheeky header to draw level in the 61st minute.
Seven minutes later, Sydney had their lead through none other than Barbarouses. Latching on to a cut-back from Rhyan Grant, the Kiwi striker struck the crossbar from close range before pouncing to knock the rebound into the net to shatter his former club and put his new employers into a 2-1 lead.
He so nearly had a second, coming close from distance late in the game before what should have been an assist in the dying moments but was bemoaning Brandon O’Neill’s wasteful finishing for letting a good chance go begging.
A Victory side already depleted simply became dejected. Not even a debut for Socceroo Robbie Kruse off the bench could spark much life into their attack.