Apart from anything else - our struggles, Bentleigh's good form, some sort of masonic conspiracy - it'd not been since Renco van Eeken's header early in 2013 that we'd beaten Bentleigh at Kingston Heath. That's seven games in league, FFA Cup and Community Shield. Think about it - it was that long ago that we had two less state titles under our belts, and Gus Tsolakis was coaching us. So no matter how much motivation there was at hand to beat Bentleigh, and even taking into account that the five year, seven game winless stretch also included quite a few draws, it hardly seemed like us winning was the most likely outcome. And I said that before the game, during the game when it was still level, during the game when we hit the lead, and even now that a priceless three points have been secured.
Speaking of motivation, much was made of a Facebook post by Bentleigh Greens about the then upcoming fixture, which noted that it was the "BATTLE OF THE CONTENDERS: NPL CHAMPIONSHIP VS NPL2". Now let me tell you, that got some people's backs up at South Melbourne, including people with influence - that is, the players - who were going to use it as "motivation" to win this game. Whatever works, right? I would've thought that, you know, Brad Norton's 200th game, our ongoing battle against relegation, even it just being a league game in its own right would've been enough motivation, but I'm just a Monday Morning Quarterback. Of course the post was taken down reasonably quickly, and replaced with something more benign but the damage, such as it was, was done.
As I've noted elsewhere, my main gripe was that it was taken down. Being simultaneously wary of and disinterested in "bants", especially when they come from official sources, my take is that if you're going to play these sorts of games, at least have the nerve to stick to your guns. I will grant that in this case, it seems to have been done without the express blessing of the Greens' hierarchy, and I guess that's enough of a reason to take it down, but still...
Of course South fans having a rather, er, "passionate" social media presence, a lot was going to be made of it, and people may be able to use it as proof of contribution towards something going right on the night, though I'm not quite sure what. I'd put more stock in Bentleigh's team missing some a couple of absolute sitters as being relevant.
Anyway, before all that there was a very long and tedious solo public transport trip to the ground, whose sole highlight was the 20 odd minutes of yacht rock that was on PBS while I was waiting at the bus stop in Cheltenham. Then at the ground, searching for the 20s game, and finding it was being played not the on the synthetic second pitch - which was getting relaid - but rather on another field farther back. Not that I was paying that much attention, almost copping a stray ball to head because of it.
Finally, time for the main game, in front of an ordinary crowd. With four other matches scheduled for the same night, including almost all the other Greek teams, it was pretty much the usual South travelling crowd and whatever Bentleigh normally rustles up on its own, which isn't much. If you were in any doubt, you could tell just from the pro-South noise coming from different parts of the ground who the majority of the crowd were here to support.
The second half was much the same, dragging on with Bentleigh again having the better of things, as I watched on nervously with Clarendon Corner from the opposite end of the ground, from where it was impossible of course to tell exactly how close Bentleigh were to scoring.
Then came the twist that few of us dared dream of.
What turned out to be the winning goal was pure 2018 Oliver Minatel Novelty Goal Madness. A South Melbourne free kick too far out for a direct shot. Minatel is called by the South bench to be subbed off, only for him to tell them to hold off a for a bit. The ball is put into the box, Ryan Scott comes out for it, but Minatel throws himself into the danger zone, and the ball hits enough of him in the right place in the right way as he collides with Scott so that the ball ends up in the back of the net. Cue wild celebrations from South fans and players alike, except for Minatel who's still on the ground, and from me because I'm waiting for the ref to call some foul against Minatel in the vein of those "goalkeepers are protected species" fouls.
I watched the replay on my phone several times, searching perhaps to see if there was a hand involved. Any other player I wouldn't have even thought about it, but there's history here... but after more than enough squinting, I'm giving the Oli the benefit of the doubt, seeing as how he got bulldozed by the oncoming keeper for his troubles. It's more than I've done for the club in a long time.
But just on Minatel's goals this season: as was noted by a few at the ground, they've almost all been important goals, which is at least partly due to him spreading them out over a number of games, rather than scoring them all in one-off downhill skiing extravaganzas. Earlier this season I said that Minatel was more than underwhelming, and I stand by that, but there's few who could argue that he has become the team's best player and its most important contributor - sans perhaps the returning Nikola Roganovic - in the side's gradual revival.
Anyway, the goal stood, and we then had 20 minutes of normal time to ride out. Some subs were made, and they did well enough, playing the game on its merits - that is still looking for a goal when there was a chance for one, but also wasting as much time as was possible. Still, I didn't think we'd make it all the way to the end without conceding. Against a team that likes to play wide, we defended quite narrowly, all part of the plan to stay compact I suppose. As much as it helped us by compelling us to keep a certain shape, it did allow Bentleigh a lot of space. Fortunately, their crossing was atrocious. as bad as much of ours has been this season.
|Brad Norton chaired on the shoulders of Leigh Minopoulos|
and Kristian Konstantinidis all the way to the supporters at
the car park end of the ground at the end of the game.
Photo: Unknown/South Melbourne FC.
Amid the joy of the three points and what turned out to be a half-step away from the relegation zone, the occasion was joyous of course for being a proper commemoration of skipper Brad Norton's 200th game for the club. I think back to when "Braddles" started with the club in 2012, and how certain folk never took a shine to him. And then through the 2013 player purge - both immediately before and after Chris Taylor's tenure started - and how no one's position was really safe. And then the following season where despite us doing so well in the league, Taylor brought in Shaun Timmins, either to ultimately replace Norton or (less likely in my opinion) to motivate him to do better. Well, six years later, the proof is there for all to see, 200 games, as well as a couple of championships and a Dockerty Cup for one of the most popular players at the club; one who as captain, has always been ready to front up to the supporters at a game or through the club's media channels when things have gone badly, and who always takes the time to say hello when he makes eye contact with the fans.
And South of the Border hopes that there's many more games to come, hopefully in NPL rather than in NPL2, of course.
On Sunday at home against Hume City.
Relegation/survival prognostication, an ongoing concern
So what's changed over the course of a weekend? Well, despite our efforts, not much. Hume won 2-0 at Bulleen, which is bad for Bulleen (and merely "OK" for us), but very good for Hume (and not great for us). As if to prove how competitive the bottom sides are in 2018, Northcote picked up a win at an admittedly out of form Green Gully. Even Kingston managed a point away to Pascoe Vale, and were perhaps a touch unlucky not to get the win.
Last week we were two points clear of 12th place (Kingston), and now we're four points clear of 12th place (Northcote). So, happy as we all are that we got this unexpected win, it wasn't quite the relegation-near-busting result that it could've been. Next week is huge on the relegation front, not just for our game, but also Kingston at home to Northcote.
There's even those who are looking to the possibility of finals. That's just nonsense talk at this stage as far as I'm concerned, even as we are getting close to touching distance there. More importantly as relates to the teams immediately above us, is that they could be dragged into the relegation scrap, but the onus remains on us doing our bit to save ourselves first, and leave high concept ideas like finals appearances well enough alone.
After all, what good's a win against Bentleigh if we fail to pick up points against our fellow strugglers?
South women roll on
Headed out to Lakeside on Saturday arvo for our NPLW game against the struggling Box Hill United. The first half was surprisingly close. Box Hill looked up for the fight, and also looked to have a bit of quality on field as well. Melina Ayers in particular was well marked, playing out on the left hand side of attack being matched up against a very pacey fullback; I think there needed to be some adjustment in that part of the game plan, but it wasn't coming. Indeed Box Hill took the lead, and while you didn't necessarily have any fear that the game was lost - it was only the first half - it did show that perhaps we weren't at our best, though we managed to go into halftime level. The second half was a rout, with South winning 6-1, as Box Hill faded away into ineffectiveness. There's a lot of uncompetitive and half-competitive teams in the NPLW this season, which must be concerning to FFV. That's not a slight on Box Hill, who've pushed us this season in I think all our games, but more of a general observation about the progress of women's football in this state.
South Melbourne A-League bid information night
The club will be hosting an information night for members and season ticket holders regarding the club's A-League bid, at 6:30PM on Thursday July 26th, in the social club. Could be fun.
Good news, in a very minor way
Google has finally solved the issue of forwarding on comments for moderation to my email account. That should mean a return to former days of much quicker approval for publication of comments.
I was over the Simpsons World Cup memes almost before they even started, but this is so beautiful.