Graham Arnold believes Sydney FC is gaining a mental edge over Western Sydney Wanderers after the Sky Blues pinched a late 2-1 win in a pulsating derby on Saturday night.
Shane Smeltz proved ‘super-sub’ with his powerful, last-minute volley pinching all three points at Pirtek Stadium, increasing Sydney FC’s unbeaten derby record to six matches.
And Arnold couldn’t help but take a slight dig at the Sky Blues’ fierce rivals, suggesting the long wait for a derby win is playing on Wanderers player’s minds.
“I don’t think that way, I always believe when you have a derby, it’s always a different game, but maybe it’s playing on their [Wanderers] minds,” Arnold said post-match.
“I saw a few comments during the week from some of their players that ‘it’s been a long while since they have won a derby’.
“A couple of them don’t even know what it’s like to win a derby. [Nikolai] Topor-Stanley is the longest-serving player here along with Mark Bridge and they remember what its like and the rest don’t.
“So maybe it’s playing on their minds a bit but not on ours.”
Arnold was proud of his playing group and had every right to be after they saw out his game-plan to a tee in front of almost 20,000 fans at Wanderland.
The Sky Blues were content to sit deep and hit the home side on the counter-attack, taking a first-half lead through Jacques Faty’s header.
Dario Vidosic equalised for the Wanderers just before the hour mark and a draw looked the most likely result before Smeltz pounced at the death.
“I thought when they got back to 1-1 they really threw open their game plan and there was a lot more space,” Arnold said.
“We started to get a lot more control of the ball and control of the game. On the counter we were quite dangerous.
“We came here to make us hard to beat, to nullify the spaces. Their danger-men of [Mitch] Nichols, [Mark] Bridge and [Romeo] Castelen, I thought we kept them very quiet tonight. If you do that you’re halfway to getting the job done.
The result sees the Sky Blues draw level on 27 points with the second-placed Wanderers, just one point behind leaders Brisbane Roar with 12 games of the regular season remaining.
“Our form has been written about that we’re not travelling too well but we’re one point off the top of the competition,” Arnold said.
“What I’m very proud of with the boys is that they stuck to the game plan tonight.
“The Wanderers were very good…you have to give them credit but we showed a huge amount of resilience and that’s what I haven’t seen at Sydney FC since I’ve been at the club is that fight, that resilience, that steel. If we can continue that and get better, I’ll be very happy.”