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Sunday, February 24, 2013
Heart spoil Neill's A-League debut

Sam Lienert

A great week off-field for Sydney FC has fallen flat on the pitch as Socceroos skipper Lucas Neill's A-League debut resulted in a feeble 3-1 loss to Melbourne Heart.

The defeat sent Sydney tumbling out of the top six on goal difference while the Heart replaced them in fifth spot.

Neill had said pre-game he was happy to play the part of a "pantomime villain" and it turned out that way, as he was repeatedly booed by Heart fans for backtracking on an indication he would join their club to instead sign with the Sky Blues.

One fan held up a sign labelling him a rat.

But the AAMI Park crowd quickly found plenty to cheer about as the 34-year-old debutant and his fellow defenders proved unable to stop the Heart's attack running rampant.

Nick Kalmar capitalised after the Sydney defence failed to clear a Richard Garcia cross in the 31st minute.

Jonathan Germano gave `keeper Vedran Janjetovic no chance five minutes later after a slick one-touch pass by Eli Babalj put him clear one-on-one.

The game was effectively over 10 minutes into the second half when David Williams converted a penalty to create a three-goal lead after Sydney's Seb Ryall was sent off for dragging him down in the box.

Joel Griffiths gave the visitors a faint flicker of hope when he received the ball in congestion, turned cleverly and fired truly from the top of the box three minutes later.

But a bad day turned worse for Sydney when Griffiths was subbed off with a hamstring injury soon after.

While Neill had a quiet first half, he showed some of his class with a fine lunging challenge to strip the ball from Matt Thompson in the penalty area in the second.

The match drew 13,752 fans, the Heart's biggest non-derby crowd ever, attracted no doubt by the presence of Neill and Alessandro Del Piero, who announced during the week he would continue with Sydney next season.

It was the Heart's fifth straight home win.

They'll now have to focus on fixing a dreadful record elsewhere - having lost their past six away - when they play in Wellington next Sunday.

Sydney play in Perth on Saturday night.




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