Sydney FC hit stride at season Finnish
Sydney FC's new Finnish weapon Juho Makela is helping the defending champions make a late charge to the A-League finals, but barring a small miracle, it seems too little too late.
The 1-1 draw with Melbourne Victory on Saturday night leaves Sydney in ninth spot, six points adrift of the top six with five games left in the regular season.
Sydney FC are in the midst of a three-game unbeaten streak - including wins over Gold Coast and Newcastle - which is their best run so far this season after a horror start to their title defence when they went winless after 10 matches.
Makela, who scored the injury-time equaliser in reply to Daniel Allsopp's goal for the Victory, has been key in all three matches.
"We are happy that he is here," Sydney coach Vitezslav Lavicka said.
"He's a natural striker, he can be on the park just a few minutes and create chances.
"He has played just three games and he created a chance against Newcastle, he scored a goal against the Gold Coast and he scored a goal tonight."
Makela, nicknamed `The Surgeon', was the Finnish league's top scorer last season with HJK Helsinki, and has come on as a second-half substitute in the last three matches while he settles into the side.
"He's a good player," Sydney skipper Terry McFlynn said.
"But it takes time to adjust and it was difficult for him to come into a team that wasn't winning.
"I think it was a bit of a culture shock for him as well. I think it was minus 30 degrees when he left Helsinki and his first day of training was 40 degrees.
"So it's going to take a bit of time for his body to adjust.
"But at the end of the day we've got him here to score goals and he's scoring goals, so we're happy.
With marquee man Nicky Carle back from injury and at his playmaking best and youngster Dimitri Petratos impressing up front with Brazilian import Bruno Cazarine, Sydney finally look like they may just be hitting stride.
And the fans, disaffected with the team earlier in the season, seem to be noticing the difference, turning out in numbers and giving The Sky Blues a rare standing ovation at both half and full-time in Saturday night's clash at the Sydney Football Stadium.
But despite this late surge, Sydney's dismal start to the season seems too much to overcome.
"We went through a difficult period earlier in the season and we knew hard work, effort and determination would get us out of it and we stayed strong as a group within that," McFlynn said.
"The finals have probably slipped away from us now but the fans are back right behind us.
"I don't like to look back, I think what happened has happened, you can't change it.
"But certainly if you don't pick up any wins in the first ten games, you're always playing catch-up.
"Now in the later stages we've been turning performances into results.
And while Lavicka is trying to remain optimistic at his team's slim chance he too feels the finals have slipped away.
"Yes it's very difficult to make the finals, I agree.
"My feelings are mixed now."