Sydney star shoots Roar down
HE arrived with minimal fanfare, but already Sydney FC's No 9 Adam Le Fondre promises to provide the goals to fire a Sky Blue title challenge.
A brace for the diminutive striker earned a 2-1 victory over Brisbane Roar on Saturday night that lifted Sydney to second place, at least until New Year's Day, and off the top only on goal difference.
Le Fondre's goals took him to nine for the season, three more than Brazilian predecessor Bobo had at the same stage last season when he went on to break the scoring record for an A-League season.
Ultimately the win was deserved, Sydney producing extended periods of smart football but were never quite able to brush off a spirited Brisbane side.
Roar keeper Jamie Young was one of the reasons why, producing several high-class saves to turn aside headers from Siem de Jong and Alex Brosque, as well as a free kick from Brandon O'Neill that was arcing towards the top corner.
Even Young, though, had no chance with Sydney's opening goal, brilliantly simple yet perfectly executed.
It was an amalgam of timing and movement, as Le Fondre swerved a run between the Brisbane centrebacks and was picked out by a first-time cross from Micheal Zullo that dropped perfectly to a point near the penalty spot. Le Fondre's flicked header lobbed nicely over Young to open the scoring in the 16th minute.
That sparked a period of pressure from the home side, but defensively the fragilities of recent weeks were never far from the surface.
Adam Taggart forced a diving save from Andrew Redmayne after a horrible misunderstanding in the centre of Sydney's defence, Dane Ingham was also denied by the Sky Blues keeper and finally, on 37 minutes, Matt McKay chested the ball home from close range after Ingham had been cleverly found at the far post by Eric Bautheac.
For a side thrown into chaos by the resignation of their coach two days before, Brisbane deserved credit for an enterprising display and were dangerous on the counter.
But on 56 minutes they were undone by a beautifully constructed goal to give Sydney the lead. It was a triumph of patience, recycling the ball from one attack back to their own half and then advancing with menace.
Milos Ninkovic carried the ball forward and slipped it into the path of de Jong, whose lateral run had made the space. With two touches the Dutchman freed Brandon O'Neill down the left wing, and his careful low cross was expertly steered home by Le Fondre.
Sydney could have had more but thought they had thrown the game away with nine minutes left when Aaron Calver was adjudged to have tripped Taggart in the box.
The contact was minimal but a lengthy VAR review couldn't define it as a clear error by the referee, the excellent Alex King. No matter for Sydney though, as Redmayne dived to repel Taggart's spotkick and secure the points.