Schoolmates relishing partnership in Sydney defence

A-League Men Rd 17 - Sydney FC v Adelaide United
Hayden Matthews (right) has enjoyed his on-field partnership with Jake Girdwood-Reich. Picture: Cameron Spencer/Getty Images

Sydney FC’s young central defensive pairing of Jake Girdwood-Reich and Hayden Matthews will relish the challenge of nullifying Melbourne City’s Socceroos-laden attacking arsenal on Saturday.

Expected to again start in the heart of the Sky Blues’ defence, the 19-year-old former Endeavour Sports High schoolmates will have the task of containing the likes of Jamie Maclaren, Mathew Leckie, Marco Tilio and Andrew Nabbout, who have all worn the Socceroos jersey in recent years.

“You want to play against the best in the league, and their front three or four have got great quality, but we’ll back ourselves,” Girdwood-Reich said.

“We’ve been pretty good defensively in the past couple of games, so we’re looking forward to the challenge.”

Matthews agreed, and was hopeful he and Girdwood-Reich could keep City’s attack, which has failed to fire in recent weeks, in check at Allianz Stadium.

“It’ll be a great game. They’re a great team with a lot of quality players,” Matthews said.

“They might not be performing at the moment but they have it in their locker, and if they get it right on the day, it won’t be easy.”

A-League Men Rd 16 - Central Coast Mariners v Sydney FC
Jake Girdwood-Reich (8) has been performing well for Sydney FC. Picture: Mark Kolbe/Getty Images

Matthews is the lesser experienced of the pair, having made just four A-League appearances, compared to Girdwood-Reich’s 31.

“I’ve definitely had a word with Hayden in terms of his first start (this season) but I back him all the way,” Girdwood-Reich said.

“We know how we play together and that’s shown on the pitch.”

However, both will need to maintain form, with experienced defensive pair Jack Rodwell and Gabriel Lacerda lurking in the background.

“As long as we keep performing, there’s always going to be competition for spots, regardless of age and experience,” Matthews said.

The Sky Blues, who are unbeaten in their past five matches, are aiming for a third successive win this weekend.

In contrast, City have won just one of their past six games in a disappointing run that has included four defeats.

However, City coach Aurelio Vidmar took some positives from the clean sheet his side kept in last weekend’s scoreless draw against Melbourne Victory after conceding nine goals in their previous two matches.

“Last week was a really good foundation and we just need to continue to do that, continue to do it better, and have everyone working hard to put themselves in good positions when we don’t have the ball,” Vidmar said.

He said changing personnel in recent weeks had made it tough for City.

“It’s clear when a team has the regular players playing all the time, there’s a lot more cohesion and it works better,” Vidmar said.