Etihad Stadium might be a cauldron of vitriol for Sydney FC on Friday night but for defender Sebastian Ryall, the venue only hosts a stream of happy memories.
Ryall is part of a very select group to have won the A-League title with two different clubs, but both of his – firstly with Melbourne in 2008-09 and with Sydney in 2009-10 – occurred at Docklands.
And if there were any doubts about Ryall’s love affair with the stadium, he scored the goal of his career against Melbourne Victory here earlier this season, a brilliant, jinking run before finishing superbly.
Before stepping out for the Sky Blues’ only familiarisation session on Thursday night, Ryall said he felt very much at home.
“Obviously it’s my former club and it’s good to play against them. I’ve got some good memories here obviously, winning two grand finals, so I’m looking forward to tomorrow,” he said. “[That goal] was one to remember. I think no one saw it coming and I took advantage of the space I was given. If I can get another one, I’ll be happy. But I’m just focussing on a team effort tomorrow night.”
Sydney’s record against the Victory this season is almost perfect, winning 3-2 with 10 men at home before the 5-0 trouncing – which Ryall scored in – and then finishing with a 1-1 draw at AAMI Park a few weeks ago.
The defender believes those results bode well for a surprise in the first final of the playoff series.
“The games we’ve had this year have gone in our favour and we’ll take confidence from that,” he said. “But it’s going to be a tough match and we’ve got respect for Melbourne Victory. They’re a good side and in a finals’ match, anything can happen, so we’ll be right up for the match tomorrow.”
Asked why Sydney’s record against Melbourne was better than everyone else’s, Ryall said their attacking style perhaps suited the Sky Blues more than others.
“I think a lot of teams come and play against us and sit back but Melbourne like to press and I think that helps us in a way,” he said. “I can imagine they’re going to come at us tomorrow and really make it hard for us to play. In saying that, they’re a very good side and we were at our best on the day [in the 5-0 win] and we need to be at our best if we want to win.”
In response to former teammate and now-Victory coach Kevin Muscat, who said his side would “go for the jugular” against the visitors, Ryall was circumspect – and wanted to remind his old friend of Sydney’s own attacking weapon.
“We’ll see what happens,” he said. “Obviously our key is Alessandro [Del Piero] and it helps us when teams do come at us. Whether they do that or not tomorrow is yet to be seen but we know what to expect from them. We know how good they can be on their day.”
While few are giving Sydney much chance of winning in Melbourne and even fewer rate them a title chance, Ryall says there’s ample self-belief in the squad.
“We’ve been working this whole year for matches like this and we feel as though we’re coming together quite nicely,” he said. “We’ve won two matches in a row and we’ve had some good matches against Melbourne this year. It’ll be an interesting match.”
Serbian Ranko Despotovic will be the big inclusion for the Sky Blues having missed the past month with a knee injury and is an outside chance to start.
“He scores goals and from day one he came off the bench [against Wellington] and scored a goal,” Ryall said. “If he can play a part in the game it would be good for us. He’s trained all week and to have him back is a big bonus.”
Ryall himself was under injury cloud after coming off early last week but the right-back said there was no cause for alarm.
“I wanted to keep playing on the weekend but they took me off just as a precaution,” he said. “It’s feeling good and I’ll be right for the match. I think the pitch is a lot better than it has been in Sydney, which is going to help.”