Sunday, 19 June 2016

Dead of Winter - South Melbourne 1 Bulleen Lions 0

After the abject horror of Tuesday, it would be foolish to expect miracles on Sunday. Indeed, were those miracles to occur, they would almost certainly manage to enrage the South Melbourne Hellas public far more than the wayward performance that was actually produced today. Had we come out all guns blazing and slaughtering an at best mediocre Bulleen, people would have wondered - and not without some justification - where that kind of competence was just days before. Instead, we got to see roughly where the team is located at this point in time - and not just within the context of this season, but in the context of the past three years since our revival under Chris Taylor.

It's worth noting that Taylor provided what we believed was needed at that time - an extreme back to basics approach, a team and style designed for the VPL as it was then, able to grind out results against all the other grinding, fighting, scrapping teams and the awful, potato patch fields they called their home grounds. But the old adage of 'be careful what you wish for, because you just might get it', reminds us that the peculiar mess we're in at the moment - still top of the table, but hardly feeling like we deserve it - is in part due to us, the fans. After so many incoherent and chaotic seasons following our 2006 championship, where we were occasionally brilliant but mostly just not good enough, the call went out for an experienced and no-nonsense coach, and a team that would play to win, and do whatever it took to do so - even if that 'sacred' South Melbourne Hellas trope of needing to win while also being entertaining got shown the door.

And to be fair, that approach has broadly been successful. The revival in the second half 2013 got us to within one game of a grand final. In 2014 we came storming out of the blocks and won the league with two games to spare. In 2015, despite struggles with injury, we managed to rally from behind to finish top of the table again, recovering well after the FFA Cup loss to Palm Beach to put together a stunning run that included the Dockerty Cup win. The grand final loss hurt, but the feeling was that perhaps Bentleigh deserved it. We'd had an amazing two and half season run, and we'd come back next year determined to redeem ourselves, especially after the catastrophic performance against Hobart Olympia.

But if that grand final loss, and the two losses against Bentleigh this year (and even our win) have shown us anything, is that the desirable attributes required now to succeed in this league have changed. No longer are the grinding, ugly teams, personified by the Green Gully sides of 1999-2011, the ones that do well. The game has changed. Irrespective of the relative competencies of the current leading teams (or at least those teams making up the top six at the moment), the emphasis has changed to teams trying to play better football.

And on that front, we have been found wanting. There are games where we have mauled teams this year, but there have also been games when we have been mauled, and rather than being considered an off day, those losses have mounted up - and we are now looking at something far more serious. And rather than see it as something which we can turnaround, the navel gazing mood at the present time is such that it's not just this year's losses, but all the 'big game' losses of the past three years, that have snowballed into an avalanche of despair.

In part due to suspensions, players traveling overseas, and apparently even some unverified sooking in the background, the team that took the field against Bulleen was not the one which played against Bentleigh. The bench even included a couple of under 20s players! But the set up was much the same, The inclusion of Andy Kecojevic showed a measure of attacking intent, as did the necessary inclusion of Amadu Koroma because Tim Mala was playing at centre-back, but the structure and ideology were the same.

Stand in captain Brad Norton competes for the ball against a Bulleen opponent,
with Andy Kecojevic in the background. Photo. Kevin Juggins.
In that regard we were fortunate to have two things in our favour: first, that our initial burst of 'we mean business after Tuesday's embarrassment' efforts saw us a score a goal, scrappy as it was. Second, Bulleen, either because they're in their own rut, or because they've lost important players, or because they weren't playing on their own synthetic turf, were poor. Getting that early goal made one hope, perhaps even expect, that we would run over the top of Bulleen. And it's not like we didn't have our chances to do so, and promising patches of play, but it just didn't happen. The longer that anticipated storming of Bulleen's barricades didn't happen, the more muddled and less inspiring things started to become. On several occasions today we arguably reached the point that no team wants to reach - the point in which one can identify players not wishing to take responsibility when they're in possession, preferring to pass it off to someone else.

As with Tuesday's performance, our players began playing balls without even looking where they may be kicking said balls. This is not entirely unreasonable - if you're a midfielder or a forward who's developed a rapport with your teammates of such a high level that a 'sight unseen' pass reaches its target in part due to cosmic understanding, great. When your defenders start pulling those moves, leading to turnovers in dangerous areas, not great. The whole experience eventually reached the stage where people were beginning to expect Bulleen to eventually equalise. This expected equaliser, had it actually happened, would have been scored by a team some in the crowd judged to be the least capable side we have played in the league this year.

Unlike some people, I think Chris Taylor is a good coach, one capable of reforming the team. But to do that he will also require a measure of self-reflection, and the acknowledgement that the task he was brought in to perform has been completed. He's got us back to being consistently competitive and among the leading pack. But the style and ethos that got us there needs to be, if not discarded, then adapted for a new reality - one where our nearest rivals have adapted, and begun to outperform us. This may mean the end of the line for some players. But the other problem is, because Taylor is a conservative and risk averse coach, whose recent success has been based on those attributes, it will be difficult to change those habits. Even today, it took until the 88th minute for Chris Irwin to get a run. Yes it's twice the game time he would have received had he come on during 91st minute, as has been the custom, but I'm not sure anyone's getting the best out of that situation.

The desire to witness within our team even the evidence of that intangible combination of the qualities of skill, ambition, desire, hunger, tenacity, was perhaps partly sated by the second half appearance of Manuel 'Manolo' Padilla Herero. While he was disappointingly placed in a wide position instead of closer to Milos Lujic - such is life at the moment - he did manage to show glimpses not only of his talent but also of (as one punter put it) testicular fortitude. Putting aside the PC abstractions inherent in that description, one wonders how one measures 'testicular fortitude', and how frighteningly literal such tests may be. Less literally, I can see where our punter was coming from, because even though Manolo has thus far played in less than ideal situations (one under 20s match, a lost cause, and a bit against Bulleen), there were signs that Manolo could be something worthwhile - provided that he can prove his worth against 'good' teams, and that his loan period lasts the entire rest of the season, instead of until whenever Leganes want him back.

Next game
Richmond at home on Friday night.

Censorship on SMFCBoard, again
Some of my more anally retentive readers will recall that I commented last year on the increasingly arbitrary censorship that was occurring on our beloved SMFCBoard. That comment lead in part to a more relaxed and tolerant approach to letting people post what they felt, and what I perceived to be a less secretive and arbitrary approach to forum moderation.

Well I'm sad to say that that period of gentler moderation has once again lapsed, and is unfortunately now worse than what had occurred before. I won't trawl over my own reasoning again for a more lax approach to moderation and censorship - anyone who visits this blog regularly enough knows where I stand. But I will say this - when one deletes an entire thread because one does not like the comments of a few within that thread, you take away not only that person's right to have their say, but also the right of others to read those comments, to engage with them, and to approve of, disregard, ignore, argue against, or even just plain old skim over those comments. The same goes for banning people because their view of the club doesn't fit your own ideas of what that should be - and I say that as someone who often disagrees with what the poster known an Buffalo Cup has to say.

It's not the only form of censorship on SMFCBoard - the lack of open registrations is one such other example - but as it is another step towards turning the forum into an echo chamber, I'm boycotting the forum until the people in charge of moderation as a whole come back to their senses.

Though it's possible I'll cave in before then.

Victory tribunal decision pending - coming soon?
Over the past two entries, I'd forgotten to mention the ongoing saga of this particular situation. Victory's tribunal session was held a little while back, with the details of the adjudication held back for 10 to 30 days, depending on which source you believe. If it is ten days, then tomorrow we should get news of what Victory's punishment is. Meanwhile, we also wait to see what the FFV tribunal have to say on our part in the affair.

Brandon Sanderson's Elantris, in case you were wondering
Around the Grounds
After Tuesday's calamitous performance, I had no real desire to watch any non-South soccer. Still, a friend's son - a goalkeeper - had been called up from the youth ranks at Clifton Hill to play in the reserves. and having known the young man for a number of years I felt it was my duty to go and watch. Also, something about vitamin D. Sadly, the young man was first relegated to the bench, and then to not even being on the team sheet, but we stayed on and watched anyway, as a swift and clever Clifton Hill edged an older Mornington 2-1. Not bothering to stay to watch the seniors, the young goalkeeper was dropped off home, and then his father and I went to see what was on offer around the burbs. Ending up at an open park with a pitch black cricket square somewhere in Flemington, with a deep slope towards one end adjacent to the establishment bowls club, we saw a green team playing a maroon and orange team. The greens were quickly identified as being Maribyrnong Greens of State League 4 West, with their opponents being Newmarket Phoenix. But after watching about five minutes, I dropped any pretense at interest in the proceedings, and we left.

Final thought
Lest we forget that today the fourth official finally became useful for something other than holding up a blackboard and playing babysitter to the competing coaches.


  1. Shocking game today, and quite correctly, many of us were indeed waiting for the equaliser that thankfully never materialised.

    Its a been weird season so far. We're on top of the ladder, but it feels like it's only a matter of time before Bentleigh catches us.

  2. Agree, CT is a capable coach. Issue is the calibre of the football operations people around him. Those people are probably more suited to a State League club rather than a club like Smfc. What's even harder to swallow is that these nut jobs go on radio claiming they're too good for this league.
    No amount of budget can buy brains sunshine

  3. The most exciting part of this game was watching the linesman substituted with injury.

  4. "We finally scored from a corner...."

    Greens still have to play the Bergers and Knights away. I still think we`ll finish top.


    1. I noted during that chant that we also scored from a corner last week against Port. It seems so long ago already.

  5. Kimon Trimboli20 June 2016 at 11:03

    What if moment of the match:

    Manolo's jinking little run, beating a couple of defenders outside the box only to play his last touch a tad too heavy ......

    Would have jumped out of my seat for that one :o)

    1. Would have been a very nice goal.

      Still, it wasn't all bad - even ramshackle efforts like Mala's bizarre forward foray in the second half showed that there is a hunger to do better.

  6. Kimon Trimboli20 June 2016 at 16:45

    Hunger in the team..... or a realization that the South faithful will NOT accept half-arsed performances like other outfits do?

    I agree, will take enthusiasm over apathy any day, although Schroen's clanger of a shot made me smile... the more chances we create the more goals will be scored ...

    All, we need now is someone who can lob crosses/corners into, arguably, the leagues greatest #9

  7. A little off topic but what Is Milos' next milestone in regards to the clubs all time scorer?

    Is it too early to chant, there's only 1 Milos Ljuic?

    If he doesn't go to an A-league club I really hope he stays and finishes his career with us and I hope he moves up the list, whether he gets to first is another issue but it's exciting watching a little bit of history unfold.

    1. I'm not sure if this list is right up to date, but it does have him in the top ten, and just over halfway in terms of the 'league goals' record itself.

  8. Did you guys know that after the port melbourne match at lakeside, security was called into the south room to bust up an episode between the ex-dandy boys and the rest of the squad ?

    1. Would be surprised if this was the case. Can we have a source?

    2. Are you sure they did not call in the Justice League to separate the protagonists? Batman and Superman would have had their hands full !

    3. Maybe they did. Who knows. But the cliquè must be shown the door. Starting with Taylor.


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