South meanwhile are now into the quarter finals of the Dockerty Cup, and just one win away from qualification for the FFA Cup. Including both league and cup matches, it was South's 13th consecutive win in 2014, a remarkable run in anyone's language.
South made a few changes from the line-up which took on Werribee City on Sunday in the league. Nick Epifano came back into the starting line up replacing Leigh Minopoulos, Michael Eagar slotted back into the side replacing James Musa who is on All Whites duty, and Slaven Vranesevic came in for the unavailable Matthew Theodore.
For their part, I believe Dandenong Thunder may have also had one or two out, but still managed to field a good young team with a few familiar ex-South faces - midfielder Alan Kearney, goalkeeper Zaim Zeneli and defender Ramazan Tavsancioglu - which has been providing real Jekyll and Hyde performances throughout 2014.
Unfortunately for us, we got the fired up Dandenong Thunder who, already off the league leaders' pace, had pretty much only this to play for for the rest of the season - never mind the return of several ex-Thunder personnel to George Andrews Reserves for the first time since they moved across to South last year.
Apart from an early series of five consecutive corners, and a Jamie Reed shot which was blasted high and wide from outside the box - and he had so much more time than he realised - it was pretty much all Dandenong in the first half.
They should have scored within the first minute or so when we coughed up the ball cheaply in defence, but Saldaris made the first of a series of three or four killer saves in this match - including one where he was bundled into the net, but thankfully awarded the foul, unlike Gavalas last year in the preliminary final against Northcote.
My obviously educated opinion is that we were also out-coached, or at the very least played into Dandy's hands. While George Andrews Reserve is a bigger ground than many in the NPL, quite why we sat so deep for almost the entire match baffled me.
So many of our goals this season have been scored from getting the opposition to cough up possession in midfield, and then playing the ball either to Reed or Milos Lujic up front. Yet Lujic was stranded up front by himself, as Reed was played closer to midfield, and the lack of pressure on the Thunder back four allowed them to play the ball of the back with ease. Thunder were thus able to repeatedly make their way up both wings without the threat of turning the ball over.
Meanwhile, when we did get the ball and the chance to go forward, we often resorted to bombing it long to Lujic, or steadfast refused to play the ball wide to a loose man - on at least a couple of occasions Iqi Jawadi, who otherwise toiled hard in midfield, refused to pass it to Vranesevic, preferring to take on the Thunder defence himself.
While we improved in the second half, it still took us a whole 80 minutes to get even a timid shot on target. Leigh Minopoulos certainly added some spark - and class - when he came on for Reed (and playing up front as opposed to out wide, probably for the first time since he started against the Georgies in the cup), taking advantage of the tiring Thunder.
Nevertheless, we couldn't manage to get the win in normal time, as even as we worked ourselves into better positions and started winning the ball in 50/50s in the middle of the park, our crossing and decision making were invariably poor.
Extra time at least brought the temporary relief that if we conceded early we would have time (compared to injury time after the regulation 90) of being able to pull a goal back, but it was us that started the brighter, with substitute Boaheme finding space inside the box. His shot at the near post was well saved by Zeneli, resulting in a corner - and from said corner, Thunder's inability to clear their lines presented Boaheme with the opportunity to make up for that chance when he managed to get the ball over the line.
South then had a good patch of play, its best of the match as it probably shaded the extra time period. However Thunder wouldn't go away, throwing everything at the South defence including keeper Zeneli from a corner, which almost paid dividends. In the end, Thunder's failure to score after having so many chances came back to haunt them - and as we all know, whatever stats you may have won on the night, there's only one that counts in the end.
It was the first time we had been held scoreless (in normal time) all season, and added to a recent series of underwhelming performances. While the defence is holding up, Saldaris' kicking is becoming a real worry. Reed's form also seems to have dropped off in the last few weeks, if not his endeavour, though I wish he would stop playing for free kicks so much.
Still, once again we got the chocolates, as we head into the next phase of a triumvirate of tough matches: we host Thunder on Sunday, followed by perhaps the most anticipated match of the season thus far, a trip to Oakleigh on Friday week. It's been an amazing run so far
Our next opponent in the cup has not been decided yet, with several Dockerty Cup games to be played next week, but among the winners from last night were Hume City (6-0 over Springvale White Eagles), Northcote (2-1 over Werribee City) and South Springvale (1-0 over Fawkner Blues).
Lastly, thanks to Johnny for giving me and Gains a lift home.
Around the grounds
NPL1 Match Review with Skip Fulton @Football_Vic
Sunshine George Cross vs Box Hill United
NPL1 Seniors, Saturday 24th May at Chaplin Reserve
The NPL1 Seniors ladder has Avondale Heights on top four points clear of Box Hill United with Sunshine George Cross a point behind. Therefore Chaplin Reserve played host to second versus third it what was expected to be a close match between two strong teams.
Box Hill were coming off a win over FC Bendigo last week whilst Sunshine had lost at Dandenong City. On paper Box Hill looked the stronger team having the better goal difference, scoring in every match this season and having four clean sheets from their eight games.
The encounter lived up to expectations of two top teams going at it. Box Hill had the upper hand with possession and scoring opportunities. Their ability to break along the right flank and get in behind exposed some weaknesses in the Sunshine defence. They weren’t able to convert their chances and the teams went in at half time with no goals.
The second half bought a resurgent Sunshine George Cross to the field. They held off a period of constant attack from Box Hill and had their own chances on the counter attack however a lack of speed resulted in them not being able to penetrate through the last line and get shots on target.
That changed in the eighty second minute however with a fast cross shooting in from the right flank coming just inside the six yard box. It sailed past an attacker, defender and keeper only to be picked up by an unmarked Sadik at the back post. A big celebration in front of the pavilion and home team supporters ensued with Sunshine hitting the front. An all-out and forceful defence from Sunshine meant Box Hill struggled to get it into the final third for the final ten minutes and they ran out the victors.
Sunshine George Cross climb into second place on the ladder and they travel to White Eagles Stadium on Saturday to take on Springvale. Box Hill United slip two places to fourth and remain on the road next week facing an invincible Avondale Heights on Saturday (Avondale Heights has not lost at home in three years).
Whittlesea Ranges vs North Geelong Warriors
NPL1 Seniors, Saturday 24th May at Epping Stadium
Whittlesea and North Geelong are both in the second half of the NPL1 ladder with two and three wins respectively. It has been a mixed season so far for both teams with no stand-out performances. Whittlesea are coming off a loss to Richmond last week and Geelong has had a bad run losing their last four straight before making the long drive out to Epping Stadium for tonight’s match.
The match started and it was Whittlesea who came out of the blocks firing. They controlled possession and showed good promise through the mid field with attacks delivered down both flanks. In the first ten minutes there were three scoring opportunities for the Ranges which couldn’t be converted. It was therefore a surprise when on the counter great team work and passing found Reardo Luka clear to put the ball into the back of the net giving the Warriors an early lead in the fourteenth minute. The game now swung in the favour of North Geelong who continued to put pressure on the Whittlesea goal. The defence were stretched and in the fortieth minute a free kick on the right side saw a great cross delivered. A mad scramble right on the line somehow found the ball in and Mark Paleka was credited with the goal.
Whittlesea had the majority of possession however North Geelong were strong on defence and dominant in the final third in a first half that went all their way. The action returned in a big way just five minutes into the second half. A challenge on the edge of the box near the byline gave North Geelong a controversial penalty. First half goal scorer Luka took the shot from the spot and didn’t fail.
Shortly after another refereeing decision bought the home team supporters to their feet. Matthew Iuliano was on the receiving end of a careless tackle during a promising run down the left flank however with no card being shown, it was instead his response that instead saw the referee present the yellow. Having received the same card just a few minutes prior he was soon heading for the locker room.
Ten minutes later and with only ten men, Whittlesea conceded their fourth goal. Once again it was Reardo Luka on the end of cross to seal the deal for North Geelong.
Whittlesea can look back and reflect on a solid first half where they had most of the possession but couldn’t capitalise. The first fifteen minutes of the second half then saw an arguably controversial penalty and a send off all but rule out a come back. The final whistle sounded with North Geelong winning by four.
North Geelong really did put on a very good display especially in the final third. The Warriors delivered in this match: Luka with a hat-trick, the first clean sheet of the season, a high score of four goals for the season and a positive goal difference.
It’s optimistic to say this match will be a turning point for North Geelong however next Saturday they are at home to Moreland Zebras and they have a chance to consolidate their season. A win would put them five and five and potentially push them up into the top half of the ladder.
Whittlesea will lament a challenging game. Their next opportunity comes next week on the road to Dandenong City
Kingston City vs FC Bulleen Lions
NPL1 Seniors, Monday 26th May at Grange Reserve
Grange Reserve in South Clayton played host to the last match of Round 9 for NPL1. The U20 curtain raiser was a good game and FC Bulleen extended their two nil lead from half time to run out winners three one. The main game would prove to be the tight battle the preview predicted. The Kingston City website had a good introduction highlighting FC Bulleen would come hunting for goals especially with Joseph Katebian scoring seven goals in four matches and being named player of the month by FFV.
Kick off under lights and it was only five minutes before Paul Harvey scored for FC Bulleen. A cross from the left flank came along the six yard line and whilst he was closely marked, he chested it down to himself, one step and then a quick tap in past the keeper. The possession remained with FC Bulleen throughout the next period of play with the next major opportunity coming at the thirty minute mark for the highly regarded Joseph Katebian when his header hit the cross bar and was quickly cleared by the defence.
Kingston City looked to go close in the forty first minute when a free kick found an open man in the box and the resulting header cleared the defence only to be denied by the upright. Not to give up, Kingston continued the assault and right on the stroke of half time an amazing strike by George Stavridis on the edge of the area gave them the equaliser going into the break.
I wont say Kingston came out in the second half as a different team but they certainly turned up the intensity big time. Kicking towards the pavilion and some vocal supporters, they had multiple opportunities they were unable to put away. That changed in the seventy second minute when a run from the left flank made it past two defenders into the area only to be taken down by an obvious challenge. The players in red didn’t even have time to appeal as the referee had no hesitation in blowing the whistle and pointing to the spot. In one of the quickest penalties I’ve seen, less than twenty seconds had passed when Velibor Mitrovic slid it into the bottom right corner; the keeper moving early to the other side.
A fired up crowd on the hill were quickly silenced three minutes later as FC Bulleen found the net and the scores were once again equal at two two. FC Bulleen had made a solid run down the left flank all the way to the corner. A move in along the by-line and the ball was squared up to a waiting Matt Dimech who was unmarked outside the top of the box. From twenty yards his right foot strike curled away from the keepers outstretched hand into the bottom left corner of the net.
In the eighty fifth minute the Lions had a free kick which was delivered very well to the back post where it was slotted across the line. The whistle blew but with an unexpected outcome being the keeper deemed to have been fouled in the process. Even some of the home supporters were surprised at the decision but were regardless relieved to still be in game.
That relief turned to heart break in the eighty eighth minute when a blistering counter attack took FC Bulleen down the right side. The scrambling defence didn’t have the pace to match some of the attacking passes and suddenly two yellow jerseys only had the keeper to beat. They drew him out and then a square cross through the area left sub Joshua Sabidussi with an open net to put the Lions in front.
FC Bulleen ran out winners three two and will retain their ladder position in fourth albeit it now equal on points and goal difference with third place St Albans Saints. Kingston City will look back at a match where they had the majority of possession and scoring shots but weren’t able to put it away.
Ian Syson really needs to download the Futbol24 app.