Sunday, 7 August 2011

The Great Escape - South Melbourne 3 Northcote City 3

Before we get to the dramatic senior match, it's only fitting that we talk a bit about the under 21s.

Despite the substantial turnover in personnel during the season, they managed to work their way to the top of the table. But they needed a win in today's final round to seal back to back titles. Despite being well out of title contention, Northcote weren't keen on giving us the points, and they fought and kicked their way throughout the contest.

We took the lead in the first half, after a great dummy run in an offside position opened up the space for the young man to dribble through and pass to his teammate to score. Northcote leveled early in the second half, but our boys weren't going to rely on the other results going their way.

Nick Niagoran belted home a spectacular goal, right into the top right corner, to make it 2-1 - and that was the score at the end of the game. It was something straight out of a Boys Own Annual. Congratulations to coach Gus Caminos and all the boys who pulled on a blue and white shirt this year, for a title well earned.

Congratulations to the under 21s on achieving back to back titles. Photo: Peter Psarros.

The main event
When watching the first of last year's AFL grand finals, my arms went numb during the last three minutes of the game. Today, at Port Melbourne, I started losing the feeling in my hands about halfway through the second half. It was that tense.

Not much room under the social club roof. Photo: Peter Psarros.
The game had been hyped up considerably. The so called sister club relationship. The fact that it had been moved from John Cain to SS Anderson Reserve. The minimum five goals scored in each of the past three meetings. The possibility of Gianni De Nittis coming on late and providing a dose of karma.

Somehow, this game lived up to every expectation. The rain held off, the crowd wasn't too bad, and they didn't have to wait long for a goal, with Jesse Krncevic beating the offside trap and managing to slot it home on a tight angle to make it 1-0 after just three minutes.

But Northcote are nothing if not proficient in front of goals, and within a minute they had leveled, breezing through our right hand side for an easy finish. Soon after, they were 2-1 up, when Steven Topalovic gave the ball away cheaply on the last line of defence, exposing Zaim Zeneli. Topalovic had a poor game it must be said, and if Rhodri Payne is fit for next week there'd be serious doubts over him getting a starting spot.

When Trent Rixon scored his second to make it 3-1 after 33 minutes, after being unmarked but brilliantly controlling a long pass, it looked like it was just about out of reach for us. Defensively we were all over the shop, and we were being punished mercilessly for it. And when Stephen Weir met Daniel Dragicevic's cross, only to stub the shot straight at Northcote's goalkeeper, Charles Treacey, from a mere six yards out, the hope that we might come back just sank a little further.

Celebrations as Krncevic's second goal floats in just under the crossbar.
Photo: Peter Psarros.
But then Jesse Krncevic scored one of the goals of the season, and somehow we were still in with a chance. A ball was played wide out to the right into space, and Treacey came way off his line to try, possibly in a moment of madness, cut off Krncevic's angle. But the striker had a different idea, lobbing the ball over Treacey's head, and just underneath the crossbar. It was a more spectacular effort than last week's attempt to chip Stuart Webster, but it came off and at 3-2 we were back in the game.

Practice makes perfect - Weir celebrates after scoring from a free kick.
Photo: Peter Psarros.
And then we got a free kick just outside the box, in the same territory that Stephen Weir has been attempting to score from since he crossed over from Hume City halfway through the season. Most of his efforts from similar situations thus far had hit the wall - including against his former side Hume just a couple of weeks agao, which saw Krncevic pounce on the crumb. This time, the shot was perfectly placed into the bottom corner, and somehow the team went into halftime at 3-3.

Surely there would be more goals in the second half? Somehow, all the scoring dried up, though not without some desperate defending and alert goalkeeping on both sides of the ground. Either side could have taken the win, but even with an injured Zeneli, and Gianni De Nittis coming towards the end of the game as Northcote desperately searched for the winning goal - only all three points being good enough to see them in the finals at our expense - neither side were able to break the deadlock.

Jesse Krncevic had the best chance of the closing minutes, but even he couldn't add to his two goals. Yianni Galanos, coming off the bench late in the game to make his official South debut after almost an entire season laid off with a pre-season injury, provided the inch perfect cross. Perhaps there was too much time for Jesse to think about it, as his angled header went wide, and the opportunity to finish third and grab a double chance was lost

But it would be harsh to put all the blame on our fourth placed finish on that moment. There were too many other times during the season where we shot ourselves in the foot, and now we will have to do it the hard way, needing to win through four consecutive rounds. It's not impossible, but the room for error is just about non-existent.

And first cab off the rank is Heidelberg, who threw away their chance at getting at least a double chance courtesy of a shock loss to Springvale White Eagles. For some reason Heidelberg Harismidis was at our game rather then his own team's - probably too hard to get to for him. Spying he claimed.

No point in looking beyond the coming week however. Real one week at a time stuff, until we take the title or we bow out. It's a hell of a hoodoo to have to overcome, but we'll see how we go.

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