Sydney extend lead with win over Mariners
The champions' relentless march continues, with Sydney FC moving eight points clear at the top of the A-League ladder thanks to a 1-0 defeat of the Mariners at Jubilee Stadium.
A long way from their fluent best this season, Sydney had to be content with a first-half goal from Kosta Barbarouses - scant reward for their dominance before the break.
Rarely threatened by the visitors, Sydney might have expected another massacre after putting five past Brisbane a week ago, but the Sky Blue mojo seemed to be left in the dressing room at the break.
There were even - oddly - a handful of boos near the end, after a rather pedestrian second half. Sydney fans clearly have eye-wateringly high standards.
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Had it not been for a fine save at the death by Andrew Redmayne, palming away Giancarlo Gallifuoco's diving header in the 90th minute, Sydney might even have squandered the three points. But even at Christmas, they weren't quite that charitable.
GAP IS GLARING
Seventeen points separates these two teams on the ladder, and the distance between them as clubs keeps expanding.
The truism that you gets what you pays for is increasingly clear in the gap between the top clubs and the bottom, even within a salary-capped environment.
Consider the fact that the Mariners have beaten Sydney once in the past five years - and also the fact that the last three times they have played away in Sydney they have led at halftime but gone on to lose.
In the end, quality tells, especially in the key moments. Jair, on his debut for the Mariners, put a presentable header wide in the first half. Jack Clisby, on his 31st appearance for the Mariners, was caught napping by a quick freekick and Barbarouses turned in Rhyan Grant's low cross. Quality tells.
Yes, it was against the team coming last, but this was one of Alex Baumjohann's most influential games for the Sky Blues. Largely overshadowed so far this season by the enduring brilliance of Milos Ninkovic, the German has flickered without always flaring since crossing town from the Wanderers.
But there's another side to his game that Sydney value. Last year in the derby, wearing Western Sydney's colours, he was the player sacrificed by Markus Babbel when Vedran Janjetovic was sent off, on the basis he added little to the defensive structure.
By contrast Baumjohann here was covering and tracking back - and then running the show going forward, his passing the most incisive on the pitch.
Though Melbourne City can cut Sydney's lead back to five points on Sunday, when they travel to Newcastle, their visit to Sydney on December 29 has a pivotal air about it already.
So far no one has been able to trouble Sydney in any depth, and City loom as their likeliest challengers after their own excellent start to the season.
Sydney will play better than this. For the sake of the competition, City had better match them.
SYDNEY FC 1 (Kosta Barbarouses 5m) CENTRAL COAST MARINERS 0 at Netstrata Jubilee Stadium. Crowd: 10,256. Referee: Jonathon Barreiro