Corica believes in-form Sydney FC ready to “respond” to Wanderers in elimination final Sydney Derby

Never before has a Sydney Derby been played in the A-League Men finals, one of the fiercest and most deeply-felt rivalries in the history of Australian football given the added dimension that the side that emerges will do so at the expense of the other’s season. That, however, will change in 2022-23, when Western Sydney Wanderers host Sydney FC in an elimination final at Parramatta Stadium in the first week of the finals, and Sky Blues’ coach Steve Corica believes that his side is hitting their straps at just the right time for it. 

The Harbousiders ended their regular season by easing to a 2-0 win over the Newcastle Jets on Saturday, Adam Le Fondre capitalising on a Jack Duncan error to open the scoring in the 29th minute before Patrick Wood capped off a fine team goal in the 63rd to seal it.

The result means that Corica’s side will enter the end-of-season playoffs unbeaten in their last five games, riding a three-game winning run and having kept clean sheets in their previous two contests. 

For those of a Sky Blue persuasion, it paints a picture of a side putting together some decent form ahead of the resumption of the league’s best rivalry. Those more inclined to view things, though, might point out that said five-game run only commenced after the Wanderers walked into the Sydney Football Stadium and delivered a 4-0 pantsing on their rival’s home turf back in March. 

“Looking forward to it,” Corica said post-Jets win. “It’s coming along nicely at the right time of the season. The derby next week is a special game and to have it in a final for the first time, it’s going to be exciting and hopefully a very good match.

“It’s going to be a tough game away from home. We’ve been really good away from home, which is a positive. They’re a good team, defensively very strong. They’re playing some good football and in attack as well they’ve got some dangerous players we need to deal with.

“It’s a final, so there’s always pressure in a derby to win it. The fans are passionate about it, and everyone looks forward to the derby. It’s the first time we’ve met in the finals. That’s pretty exciting, I think.”

And Corica isn’t ignoring the elephant in the room that this result is, or the war of words that have frequently marked his and Wanderers’ boss Marko Rudan’s build-up to Derby meetings, either, adding that “there’s the reminder of the last game as well, what they did to us, so we have to respond to that” and “”[Rudan and he] haven’t really [based things out]. I haven’t really spoken to him. I’m looking forward to seeing him next Saturday”.

The Sydney boss indicated that Jack Rodwell and Robert Mak would return to the side for next Saturday’s trip to Wanderland, although Mak’s fellow winger Joe Lolley would have scans on his hamstring on Sunday after limping off late on against the Jets. 

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Jaiden Kucharski, meanwhile, will be suspended and miss next week after picking up two yellow cards within ten minutes of being introduced as a late substitute, the 20-year-old cutting a distraught figure as he left the field following the second of his cautions. 

Nonetheless, despite some reshuffling looming, Corica believes his side is well-placed heading into the playoffs having stabilised after a topsy-turvy run throughout the campaign.

In January, the rumour mill had effectively sacked and replaced him with Dwight Yorke within moments of the former Manchester United star leaving Macarthur. A cohort of Sydney fans, meanwhile, has been agitating for the club to move on from the 50-year-old for multiple seasons, believing the side to have peaked under his approach. 

Yet despite those challenges and questions hovering over long-term trajectory, Corica’s side has ultimately finished the season just three points back of the fourth-placed Wanderers and won the same number of games as both them and third-placed Adelaide United. 

“It’s been interesting, hasn’t it?” mused Corica. “Our defence was a little bit leaky towards the start of the season and there’s always reasons for that. We had our skipper out [Alex Wilkinson], which has played a big part since he’s been back. Jack Rodwell has also played a big part since coming back. 

“Le Fondre has been out, so at times we’ve missed a real out-and-out goalscorer. These are the things, but I think most teams have problems and injuries. It’s the way it worked out early in the season, we were slow, we were up and down, we couldn’t get any real consistency with results. But we’ve finished strongly. 

“We would have liked to finish higher, we had the team to finish higher. But we’re coming right at the right time, I think. This is the most important time of the season. We need to continue. 

“I never wavered [in belief] at all. I’ve got great belief in the players that we’ve brought in. We’ve brought in some really talented foreign players but also some younger boys from the NPL side. So, it’s taken them time, but I’ve always had belief in these boys and so far they’re doing well.”

Of course, while Corica and his side are heading to Parramatta next week, indications are that the club’s active supporter group, The Cove, will not be joining them in making the trip out west. 

Protesting league administrators the Australian Professional Leagues’ sale of grand final hosting rights to Destination NSW for the next three seasons and claiming that it failed to follow up on commitments made to supporter groups – something figures at the APL contest – the collective has announced its intention to boycott the end-of-season playoffs. 

Ahead of the win over the Jets, members of the group distributed leaflets imploring their fellow fans to either join them in a boycott of the ALM finals or, at a minimum, leave empty the active zone in which they would normally congregate. 

“It’s the first I’ve heard of it,” Corica said when informed of the leaflets. “But that’s obviously disappointing if they are doing that. It’s a massive game for the club and you want your fans there to support the team, because that’s what they should be doing in good times and bad.

“We’ll see what happens next week but obviously we want them to be there, supporting our boys. They’ve worked hard to get into this position to play against Wanderers and we want a massive crowd there to play in front of. We hope they come. 

“The decisions that the APL have made, we’ve just got to go with it. There are reasons why they made it. We want to grow the game and we want to get the fans there as much as possible.”

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Header Image: Sydney FC

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