Defensive thinking steers Sydney FC to silverware

The shiny, illusive dinner plate has finally arrived at the table for Sydney FC. 

Setting the tempo early, I feared reading an article a couple weeks ago that talked as if the title was already won before the points said so, would send a hoodoo to end our chances. But thankfully on a weekday night match played on artificial turf, beamed to us at home on a dodgy camera, Sydney FC pulled through to be crowned Premiers.

Seasons are won as a result of a raft of reasons. Some minor, some major. Exasperated in the W-League by a season where not everyone plays each other twice. 

A saying I hinge my bets on each season is that the best defence wins the table and premiers. 

I remember stingy Canberra United defences winning a few, plus the ever defensively minded Roar score a number of premierships in this fashion. For my Sydney FC loving heart, a tendency to value attacking football, meant defences have been a little leaky and premierships illusive.

This season it changed. Just. Thanks to Ellie Brush plus a decision to act to acquire Tash Prior as an injury replacement.

Not to take away from the consistency and talent of Nat Tobin, Charlotte McLean and the ever buzzing fullbacks in Sky Blue. 

There were indeed valiant defensive performances without either Brush or Prior on the field. However, much like a scone with jam is better with cream, Sydney’s defence looked better with one of these two on the park. 

There’s little doubt since Brush pulled on the Sky Blue jersey for the first time last season, she was the missing element Sydney needed to play alongside Alanna Kennedy. With Kennedy enjoying forays forward, Brush was able to use experience to position the line either deep or high to act as a brick wall against counter attacks.

Those qualities continued through to this season, this time paired with Tobin. With Brush’s dominance in the area not just important for a source of goals, but also to stop them.

Cast your mind to Brisbane’s thrashing of a Brush-less Sydney FC. I could only suffer through half a match, but the takeaway point was Sydney looked incredibly vulnerable from crosses, aerial situations and counter attacks.  

To deal with aerial situations either the goalkeeper needs to be confident with reading the ball and catching it over head, qualities that aren’t Jada Whyman’s natural strengths; or there’s a centre back who commands the box and whose head acts like a magnet to any highball. That’s where Ellie Brush was the key cog.

A season ending injury to Brush almost derailed Sydney’s chance at the plate. The early season reliance on tight defence, suddenly looked wobbly. 

The stroke of genius that steered the ship back on course? The signing of a W-League experienced and commanding Tash Prior (as we’ve touched on already).

But in all seriousness, two games in and two games the ex-Jet stood tall in the Sydney FC backline. 

Of course there could be an argument that Canberra and Melbourne Victory both look to other areas of the park for goals. But Victory secured a close win against the Wanderers through the aerial route, while Heyman has scored more than enough chances with her head in her W-League goal scoring record-breaking tally.

For any chance of silverware, Sydney FC had to sure up its defence. An injured Brush left big shoes to fill, but Prior has proven that she is the woman to fill them. 

It has the difference between securing a goalless draw against Canberra, and conceding a consolation late against Victory. Now can it be the difference to hand Sydney FC the double, to add a Cup to the plate already at the table?

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