In the end it was one step too far. Having dragged ourselves off the metaphorical canvas after the FFA Cup loss to win the minor premiership, and then beat Pascoe Vale deep in extra time after trailing, it was probably too much to expect that we could muster the ten straight wins it would take to win both the NPL Victoria grand final and the national NPL playoffs. Maybe we won't win the latter either, but it would have been a Herculean task to win both.
Bentleigh were the superior team from almost beginning to end. Only their woeful finishing - apart from the screamer to give them the lead during regular time - kept us in the game for as long as we did. Granted, many of those shots came from range, as we stepped off and let them have space up the field, but they still looked the most likely team to score. Our chances came at random rather than at regular intervals, and while we had some glorious chances - especially that early chance in extra time which would have given us the lead - it would have been one of the more brazen heists even by our standards.
Would we have had more success if we stepped up and tried to pressure Bentleigh, as opposed to playing a sort of rope-a-dope kind of game? Who knows. What that approach did do however was allow Bentleigh time on the ball, with no one near enough to provide pressure when they slipped up. It meant Milos Lujic was isolated up front, as we pitched long ball after long ball at him in the vain hope he could create something out of nothing.
We were also beaten physically. While we tried to give as good as we got, Bentleigh took advantage of the lax refereeing in a way that we could not. Their attacks on our goalkeepers went unpunished, and in that regard their approach reminded me a lot of our semi final loss to Oakleigh in 2011. Losing Roganovic to injury made things harder for us not because he had making several great saves (he'd hardly had to make any), nor because Fraser McLaren was poor (he was as good as could be expected having not played for ages, and was not at fault for any of the goals), but because it robbed us of the chance to make our full quota of outfield substitutions. Iqi Jawadi's red card in regular time more or less sealed the deal. With no subs left to make and one player down on a warm day, and already being outplayed, it was Bentleigh's game to win.
Afterwards at the Limerick Arms, among the players, coaches, board members, families and those supporters who could muster up the time and courage to not go home straight away, the mood was relaxed but sombre. The feeling seemed to be that while an opportunity had been missed, on the day we had been beaten by the better team, a team that perhaps had been better than us all season. Indeed, they were the only Victorian team we had failed to beat all season.
You can point to the table which saw us finish top on goal difference, all while remembering that Johnny A pointed to the head to head record. Ideally, neither goal difference nor head to head should count, and there should be no finals. If two teams finish equal on points, have a playoff match, ideally at a neutral venue to decide the champion. In the end, we found ourselves close enough to those circumstances, and on the day were found wanting. We can complain about refereeing and injuries and such, but on the day, we were the inferior team, and we lost. Maybe if we played under Sheffield Shield rules, and finished at 1-1 after a regulation 90 minutes, things could have been different, but we didn't, so here we are.
For the high standards many South fans have of their team, this loss means that the season in a sense is almost a bust. The FFA Cup run was botched, we failed to rise up to the challenge of Bentleigh in the final, and the Dockerty Cup is little consolation to many. A winning end to the season with regards to the NPL national playoffs will probably rescue the season in that respect, especially for those whose self-esteem is (somewhat understandably) wedded to the FFA Cup and national limelight.
On the other hand, it's worth remembering where we are now compared to where we were. Two and a half years ago, we were at our absolutely rudderless worst. In mid 2013, we not only hadn't won anything since 2006, we had scarcely looked like doing so. Within half a season, we were one game away from a grand final appearance; the next season we won the title; and this season in the state we collected almost every trophy at our disposal, despite injuries, player departures and the ongoing problem of what to do with Nick Epifano.
That's not me trying to find a way of saying losing the grand final is acceptable, but a reminder that not so very long ago, on the field things were a lot worse than this. I'd much rather be hurting over losing a grand final than sitting at home during the finals because we were stuck in mid table mediocrity. While the end result is the same - no title - I'd rather be in there with a shot.
The promotion, coverage and presentation of the grand final was often poor. Bentleigh has limited resources on that front and realistically limited support despite their FFA Cup bandwagon from last year. South tried to promote the event as much as it could, and was rewarded with an excellent turnout from its supporters.
The FFV however dropped the ball. There was little vigour or feeling in their promotion of the game. I did not see any attempt to offer prizes of free tickets to the game, as many organisations would do for similar events to drum up interest. The fact that the contest also clashed with scores of junior games - both NPL junior and community league junior finals - was a disgrace, and would have been a disgrace no matter which two teams were playing in the final. The $20 entry fee for adults (plus $4 Ticketmaster fee) was also absurd. The equivalent game in New South Wales was only $15 for adults.
Having everyone in the one stand may have looked good for the cameras, but to a certain extent it compromised spectator comfort. Instead of using the whole stadium (which would have provided more shaded areas for spectators, on what was a very warm day), everyone was forced to use the amenities available only on one side of the ground, where there was only one food outlet.
The live stream, too, was in many ways a bust. While understanding that FFV had a sponsorship arrangement which compelled them to use a particular video streaming service instead of Youtube, the lack of complete instructions as to how get access to the stream of the grand final saw at least some viewers wait until almost halftime to get their service working. Who knows how many just stopped bothering after a couple of futile attempts?
While I did not expect any mainstream media coverage, because we've been over and over that disappointment before, I was still disappointed that the only coverage we seemed to be able to get was digital coverage (preview and match report) in the Herald Sun (please let us know if anything got into print). In The Age, nothing. The World Game? It seems their interests in Aussie soccer shuts down between A-League seasons. Not enough interest said one of their writers. He meant readers, but I think the lack of interest could easily be his own, which he has projected onto the supposed audience. There were enough angles to pursue in this fixture in terms of the ambitions of the two clubs and many and varied stories of the players and coaches involved, but in the end sheer laziness has reared its head for most of our soccer media.
On the other hand, credit must go to the Corner Flag people, who provided both informed and irreverent commentary on the fixture. Still, if it all falls down to them and other low level soccer media, as well as complete minnows like myself and SMFCMike to promote the game, to the point where we're recognised as doing far more than the organisation which stood to benefit the most from a bigger crowd, then we're in bigger trouble than I thought.
|Hobart Olympia, 2015 NPL Tasmania champions. Former South Melbourne|
defender Jake Vandermey is the third from left in the back row. 2016 South
recruit Luke Eyles is the furthest right in the front row. Photo: Walter Pless
At home against on Saturday afternoon against Hobart Olympia in the NPL national playoffs. Should we win this game, we'll play the winner of the West Adelaide - Bayswater match.
Because this is an FFA, not FFV event your South membership will not get you access to this game.
This will no doubt upset those who recall that the 2015 South membership originally included these games as part of the membership package, and the club should be castigated for making a promise that it has failed to deliver upon. Nevertheless, you can pre-purchase tickets at this link.
There is some talk that Iqi Jawadi's red card in the grand final will see him suspended for this game. I'm not sure about that, but if Jawadi is suspended, it will be interesting to see with whom he'd be replaced as I believe (and I'm willing to be corrected) he has played every game this season. Would Dane Milovanovic, who has been playing some games in the under 20s as he works his way back to full fitness, be risked in this game? There's also of course the question of whether Nikola Roganovic will be able to recover from his injury last Sunday. Fraser McLaren seemed to play the game out well enough despite copping his own knock.
After many years of under achievement, Hobart Olympia (or Olympia Warriors as they are also known) won their first senior title since 1996, back when the Tassie league was split into northern and southern competitions. Despite stumbling late in the season with losses against South Hobart and Hobart Zebras, Olympia was able to take advantage of an unexpected South Hobart loss to win the league title. They also put the doubters to rest - especially from their biggest rivals, the Zebras - by also winning the end of season finals series, which unlike our arrangement did not count as the senior title. Olympia's league win ended seven years of South Hobart domination.
While we will be expected to win, and probably to win comfortably, we must be wary of being complacent. While we have played Tasmanian opposition, including Olympia, on several occasion over the past fives years and never lost, this is of course not a friendly fixture but a ridgy didge game. We only have to go back to last year's game against South Hobart to know that a flat performance from our end can give the opposition. Still, we have the cattle on the field and the home ground advantage to be considered overwhelming favourites. However with nothing to lose, and the wide open spaces of Lakeside to play on, Olympia may just come into the game with a the mentality that they have nothing to lose.
|Hobart Zebras' Dwayne Walsh about to launch himself into a tackle on |
Olympia's Luke Eyles. Photo: Walter Pless.
|A South player evades a tackle. |
Photo credit: unknown/South Melbourne Women FC.
Oblivion delayed for at least one more week
On Saturday I decided to break my habit of having nothing to do with the South Melbourne Women's team, and I attended their semi final fixture against Heidelberg United at Lakeside. My absences from SMWFC fixtures had nothing to do with antipathy towards women's sport, or women's soccer, but rather the fact that since they decided (as was their right) to no longer have anything to do with us, that my time could be spent more productively, by watching mediocre men's state league football instead, or worse, NPL juniors. I was drawn back to seeing SMWFC by two things - one, needing to fill in some time before Sunday's game and two, being there perhaps on the occasion of SMWFC's final top flight match for at least the immediate future; South Women having had their WNPL bid rejected, and thus seeing them banished to we're not quite sure what kind of league yet. Entry to Lakeside was free, but strangely the venue operators had decided that the entire grandstand to the left of and including the players' race was to be out of bounds to spectators. I couldn't really see the point of the decision, but it was made the two small supporter groups ended up sitting in two adjacent bays; the Bergers with flags and and a drum, the South folk with the odd pompom. Also George Katsakis, Bill Papastergiadis and Leo Athanasakis were there. The game wasn't great, but South dominated the first half creating several chances, ands finally took the lead right on half time. The Bergers controlled the second half, but couldn't create any clearcut chances until they found space to lob the ball over the keeper. I was dreading extra time as I wanted to be able to get home for dinner, so it was a good thing that South ended up pinching the win at the end; a long range shot hit the crossbar, and rebounded off the diving keeper into the back of the net. So, the Bergers were out, though they'll be back in the equivalent competition next year; South survived another week, though think of it a stay of execution more than anything else. A pity that their next game is scheduled for Saturday at Kingston Heath.
Despite the loss, that flare aside I did enjoy the colourful displays of the South Melbourne faithful, including these efforts from outside the usual crew.
More of it I say.Couple of new home made banners from non Clarendon Corner folk. #ps4nplvic @smfc pic.twitter.com/BRNKc4AW7V— Paul Mavroudis (@PaulMavroudis) September 13, 2015