Kennedy steps in to stop Del Piero on home debut

BEN Kennedy faces the daunting assignment of keeping Italian maestro Alessandro Del Piero at bay in the Italian’s home debut for Sydney FC after the Jets decided yesterday not to appeal against the red card handed to Mark Birighitti.

Birighitti was sent off in the second half of the Jets’ 2-0 loss to Adelaide at Hunter Stadium on Sunday after he raced out of his area and was struck on the underside of his left arm as he leapt to block a shot by Dario Vidosic.

Although Birighitti was clearly outside the box and had his arms outstretched, the Jets considered applying to have the red card expunged on the basis the handball was not deliberate.

“After some independent advice we decided to accept the red card,” Birighitti said in a statement on the club’s website. 

“You need all three on the match review panel to deem it a wrong call, and we felt the ruling is a grey area and the risk of missing an extra game not worth it. I am disappointed to be sitting out Saturday’s game against Sydney FC but can’t wait to get back for the Central Coast game.”

Birighitti’s ban, which was ratified by the Football Federation Australia match review panel yesterday, opens the door for Kennedy.

The 25-year-old was the Jets’ player of the year and players’ player last season, but was hindered by a minor knee injury during the pre-season and lost his spot to Birighitti, who joined from Adelaide.

Introduced in the 58th minute on Sunday, Kennedy was called on almost instantly to make a reflex save.

Iain Ramsay struck two minutes later, but there was little the home-grown gloveman could do to prevent the tap-in after Vidosic threaded a ball in to the far post.

Del Piero made a solid if not spectacular debut for Sydney. He tried hard to spark a flat Sky Blues outfit, but was kept scoreless in the 2-0 defeat in Wellington.

A crowd of 40,000 is expected to greet the former Juventus star for his first game at Allianz Stadium on Saturday night.

Sydney FC coach Ian Crook was disappointed with his side’s performance against the Phoenix.

His $2million marquee man showed glimpses of class but lacked the delivery to show his full array of skills. 

‘‘All good players need good service, too, especially players in the front third,’’ Crook said.

He said it was not about Del Piero just plonking himself in front of goal and expecting his teammates to deliver the ball on a platter.

‘‘He’s never really played just in the box,’’ the coach said. ‘‘We feel that we need to have some rotation in there. If he comes short, somebody else goes long and that type of thing.’’

The 37-year-old did not train with the squad yesterday, but Crook was adamant he would be good to go against the Jets.

Meanwhile, former Jets marquee Jason Culina is set to start formal talks with Sydney FC next week.

 Culina signed a three-year, $2.65million contract with the Jets in February last year but broke down in the pre-season after aggravating his surgically repaired knee. 

The Jets moved to have his contract put aside, sparking a drawn-out legal process which was settled in June. Now recovered, the 32-year-old Socceroo has been training with the Sky Blues for the past two months.

 “The first club I’ll be talking to is Sydney FC at this stage,” Culina’s manager, Leo Karis, told Four Four Two website.

‘‘We have deliberately decided not to talk with other clubs formally. I’ve had approaches from a number of clubs inquiring about Jason’s progress, and I’ll be in a position from next week to address Jason’s playing future.”

●  A record 93,800 fans filled the five stadiums during the opening week of the new A-League season to beat the single-round record of 87,000 achieved in round three last season.

 The domestic television audience  increased by 53per cent on last season’s average of 65,000 viewers per game to more than 100,000.

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