With the Qantas Socceroos preparing for a FIFA World Cup qualifier, we kept a close eye on returning skipper Lucas Neill as he made his Hyundai A-League debut.
With the Qantas Socceroos preparing for a FIFA World Cup qualifier against Oman in just a few weeks, we kept a close eye on returning skipper Lucas Neill as he made his Australian club football debut.
It wasn-t an easy game to make his start; Sydney FC have been struggling for consistency for some weeks, Melbourne Heart have been terrific at home and the red-and-white were still hurting after Neill-s supposed “snub” to sign for the Sky Blues at the last minute.
Heart fans made their displeasure clear from the start - when was the last time a Qantas Socceroos skipper was booed by an Australian crowd? It wasn-t pretty and perhaps backed up some of the rumoured reticence Neill had to come back to Australia.
Performance-wise, there was actually little to comment on. Neill slotted in next to Tiago Calvano on the middle and looked assured, if understandably still coming to terms with his new teammates.
A number of times he looked to play the ball forward quite directly, often being picked up by Qantas Socceroos teammate Brett Emerton. If Sydney can speed up this transition from defence to attack, it could pay dividends - but they-ll have to turn it on pretty quick.
Neill played little part in any of the goals Sydney conceded - accept trying to call Jonaton Germano-s strike offside, which did have a question mark over it.
But it was Sydney-s laissez-faire attitude that let them down the most. With a place in the top six at stake you would have expected them to come out firing; instead, they looked underdone from the start.
It will be interesting to get Neill-s view on his first taste of Hyundai A-League football - Heart went at Sydney with width and pace, and got compact in defence whenever the visitors ventured forward.
Right now, Sydney need to show a lot more desire. Perhaps Neill-s leadership will come to the fore, and his experience and organisational skills should be invaluable as Sydney battle to claim a finals berth.
With three teams on equal points fighting for two places, every difference will count.
The Qantas Socceroos take on Oman in a FIFA World Cup Qualifier in Sydney on March 26. Click here to buy your tickets.