Monday, 5 September 2016

Once more unto the breach, dear friends - Heidelberg United 1 South Melbourne 2

Olympic Village has one of the most elongated arrangements for players walking onto the ground from the change rooms - their social club being at the northern end of the ground, the players have to walk through the small terracing area there, past the running track, onto the back field and finally onto the ground itself.

Passionate celebrations after one of our two goals scored on Saturday night.
Photo: Kevin Juggins.
Maybe our players were still making their way to the southern end of the ground if not physically than at least mentally, which would go some way to explaining how we managed to cop a goal in the first 15 seconds. Naturally, copping a goal within the opening 15 seconds of a match is not the way you want to start. How Archie Thompson got so much time and space on the right to put his cross is troubling; even more disturbing is how no one picked up the runner at the back post.

Having said that, it's nominally better to fall behind 15 seconds into a game than 15 seconds from the end, because in theory at least in the former situation you have 90 minutes to claw the deficit back. The best thing is that we didn't lose our heads unlike the last time we played at that ground and copped five. So even if we weren't creating a lot of or even any clear cut chances, you could see that mentally at least we were on point pretty much straight after conceding. That didn't mean we couldn't have found ourselves 2-0 down regardless as Archie Thompson found himself one on one with Roganovic, but hit a weak shot within range of Nikola who pushed the shot wide.Thompson had been called offside by the linesman, but the referee allowed play to continue with our players standing around assuming the call would go our way. For the millionth time, play the damn whistle.

For his part Thompson wasn't as bad as he was made out to be by some - after all, he put the cross in for their goal, and had their best chance for the remainder of the game - but his lack of fitness played its part, seeing him benched. If anything, the lack of familiarity between Athiu and Thompson was a bigger stumbling block to the Bergers than Thompson's lack of match fitness. Thompson would repeatedly peel off a defender by straying into an offside position (a typical Archie trait), but Athiu and the Berger midfielders didn't seem to be able to use this tactic to his advantage. His being subbed wasn't a turning point as such, but it did force Kenny Athiu to shoulder more of the forward responsibility for the home side. And while Kenny's size and mobility did cause us problems, it was much easier to handle one threat than two, especially against ten men.

After getting the experienced Perry Mur to officiate in our match last week, this time we had the bloke who did (I think) our Victory and Hume home games, officiating performances which were considered poor by several observers at the time. This game, too, saw scuffles and melees from early on, and the chance to take control of the game before it got of out of hand was missed. This included the pantomime villain behaviour of Heidelberg coach George Katsakis, who spent a good deal of the first half especially complaining in a manner which in other games would probably have seen him dismissed from the touchline.

One insider I spoke to after the game suggested that the reason we get so many of these younger refs for our games is to give them a taste of the big match experience, and a bit of hostile/vocal atmosphere (or any atmosphere at all, I suppose) which is part and parcel of becoming an elite official. Regardless of the merits of this idea, rightly or wrongly it was clear players from both sides had little much confidence in or respect for the referee. Conduct thus deteriorated to the point where Heidelberg's Reuben Way, despite winning a free kick and having his South opponent get a yellow card, decided to lash out at his South opponent (Millar? Norton?) and get himself sent off.
It was such stupid behaviour that even most of the home team's supporters couldn't excuse it, and it went a long way to helping us win this match. That said, going in to halftime 1-0 down was disappointing - especially because Leigh Minopoulos had failed to take his chance with a back post header - and I must admit that even with the man advantage I wasn't confident that we could pull off the win. I had the feeling instead that it would be one of those game where we would somehow fail to put away the chances that would come our way in the second half, especially if the Bergers went all defensive.

Instead the Bergers, even though they mostly looked to counter attack, kept looking for the second goal as a priority instead of trying to hold us out. In that way, Katsakis is Taylor's ideological opposite, always looking to take a game on rather than shut up shop and play conservatively. Chris Irwin coming on for Tim Mala, and Matty Millar going to right backm, along with Minopoulos moving over the left helped emphasise our ascendancy in this match, as did Taylor's decision to go to something that resembled three at the back when attacking.

So, after many months of asking for more risk taking in situations which seem to require it from an otherwise cautious operator, it actually happened, and we were the better for it. That's not to say that there wasn't luck involved with our two goals - the first one bundled in perhaps off a deflection, the second from a long ball not controlled by old mate Luke Byles which fell to a wide open Milos Lujic - but sometimes it's a bit like cricket, in that it's not the good balls that get you a wicket, but the bad ones which are a result of all the pressure from the good deliveries. All of which lead to a massive case of WILD SCENES when we did score, especially when we took the lead.
There were multiple opportunities to finish them off after that, but our failure to take those chances made the closing minutes of this match much more nerve wracking than they should have been. Our set piece taking still fails to past muster for the most part, but Taylor's change a a more attacking setup at least gives us more of a chance to score from open play than had been the case during mid-season.

Look at my range! Chris Taylor's 'serial killer movie' actor headshot .
Photo: Kevin Juggins.
With no suspensions or serious injuries to consider, one expects that we would field an unchanged lineup for the grand final. This would mean that Tim Mala would keep his spot in the starting eleven, despite some less than stellar performances in recent times. The issue is however, that dropping Mala would mean Chris Irwin would have to play a full game - not that there's anything wrong with that - but it would give us one less game changing option off the bench. Whatever else he may or may not be, Tim Mala is not an impact player, and his being on the bench would be useful in the event of an injury only.

It was good to see a decent crowd at the Village, with plenty of people from both sides. It would have been nice if there were more of course, but the halcyon days are gone and mainstream promotion of this game was just about zero. The atmosphere on our side was decent, though the combination of winning and mad fence runs after scoring goes some way to making that happen. No trouble at at the ground, apart from someone on the Heidelberg side lighting a flare after their goal, and a couple of drunk Berger fans attempting to accost our cameraman.

Of course even a win that felt as good as this one did won't be worth much if we don't manage to win next week - such are the hard headed realities of soccer. But at least it makes the laborious public transport trips to and from the ground more bearable, makes food and drink taste better, and makes life worth living just that little bit more.

Goodness, I've gone all sentimental again.

Next week, including match and ticketing information
The grand final will see us take on Oakleigh Cannons, at Lakeside on Sunday evening, with kickoff at 5:30PM.

While tickets will be available at the gate, it's probably best to pre-purchase them to avoid potentially stupid queues at the gate close to kickoff. Ticketmaster is the online vendor for this event.

For those unable to make it to the game, or who don't wish to give FFV any money, or who have some sort of moral objection to Lakeside hosting the event, it appears that FFV will also be streaming the game on Facebook.

Since FFV are running the event, there is no news on whether the opposite stand will be opened. Last year the venue comfortably dealt with the grand final attendance, but if Oakleigh put in more effort than Bentleigh did last year in getting their juniors and parents to this game, than opening the opposite grandstand and even perhaps the other gate might be worthwhile.

Oakleigh have had a good season, and were able to dispatch a probably tiring Bentleigh Greens yesterday in what sounded at times on the radio like a pretty physical game. Oakleigh's strengths are well known, mostly centred on their firepower up front which is in great nick, and their good range of set piece takers. That said, it'd be unreasonable for us to claim rank underdog status for this match, not because of home ground advantage or even form, but because we did finish some ways ahead of the Cannons during the regular season.

There will be a curtain raiser at 2:00, in the form of the NPL 2 East champion Kingston City, and NPL 2 West champion St Albans, in a match more for lukewarm pride than anything else - both sides will have put much more stock in securing automatic promotion into NPL 1 for 2017 than the arbitrary honour of being declared outright NPL 2 champion.

Some musings on the matter of a neutral venue
As with 2006 and 2015, the decision to have the grand final at Lakeside when South is one of the competing teams has been brought up - and not without legitimate issue it must be said.

Now for mine, unless you're playing on
  • a synthetic pitch 
  • a field of very small dimensions
  • a potato patch
home ground advantage is overrated when it comes to the Victorian top flight.Be that as it may, since there is a perception out there that there is a such a thing as home ground advantage, what should be done about it? The obvious answer is to play the match somewhere else - but where? There really are only two other options though worth considering.

If only one stand at Lakeside gets used, Knights Stadium has a larger seating capacity compared to Lakeside Stadium, and despite being inconvenient for public transport types, it at least has most of the trappings of a proper stadium. AAMI Park would be the other choice, but it's too expensive, even with a half decent crowd.

Some of the other options are laughable though. Epping Stadium has a great surface, but little else to recommend it, being in the middle of nowhere and with poor spectator amenities. Kingston Heath, with poor sight lines across 3/4 of the ground? Olympic Village? Realistically, nowhere else in Victoria has enough seating and modern amenities.So while not ideal, FFV can probably be excused for going to the default option.

All of which brings up a another more legitimate matter...

Why do we have finals, and why do we have this finals system specifically?
The debate about whether soccer should have a finals series will rage forever in Australia. My point of view on the matter is that soccer isn't suited to finals series as a means of deciding a league champion. The closeness of results and the elevated chance of draws compared to other sports, means that an inferior team has a much better chance of winning a title based on luck or a convenient burst of late season form.

Nevertheless, for sometimes contrived reasons of 'tradition' or 'Australianess', or the more reasonably posited economics or ' it helps to maintain interest' lines, we're stuck with finals as the ultimate arbiter of a season's champion.

Where the problem comes in here though is that the finals system we are seemingly compelled to use puts such extreme stock in late season perfection that one loss means you're out. That's not such a big deal for teams finishing lower down the table, but for those who finished near the top there's such a diminished advantage it's barely an advantage at all.

Now I don't have much time for Bentleigh, but it's hard not to see the ridiculousness of them or any other team in an equivalent position. We ourselves were just minutes away in our semi-final against Pascoe Vale from going to the lottery of a penalty shoot-out which would have undone 30 weeks of action.

Last year at least one could make the argument that the grand final showcased Victoria's two leading teams, who finished on equal points, in a winner takes all battle; the appropriate finale, even if the system is not designed to make that outcome occur.


This year though the composition of the final makes it all look a bit like the schoolyard kickabout at lunchtime. You're playing a game, the music starts playing to tell you to go back to class, and someone invariably shouts 'last goal wins'. That's probably acceptable for judging the champions of lunchtime, but is it really ideal for a purported 'proper' league to use the same methodology?

Doubtless there are mathematicians out there who could come up with reasons why this or that system works best, but for me the top five system seems to me to be the best one, in that there is some higher reward or benefit for finishing up near the top of the table.

And don't tell me it's about scheduling the season to finish a week earlier so we can fit it in with the national NPL playoffs. If scheduling was a such a huge matter, Richmond wouldn't have to wait a month between games to play its playoff match against the third best NPL 2 team.

Women's team news
Congrats to the senior women's team who after claiming the State League 1 North-West league title last week, annihilated their south-east counterpart Boroondara Eagles 4-0. It's a third straight title for the senior women, albeit this one is second tier Victorian title instead of the back to back WVPL titles of 2014 and 2015.
For some reason this match was played out at Knox, which meant that I was unable to make it out there. More's the pity.

Final thought 
It looks like soon I'll have the final say on Australian soccer in print. What an age we live in.

21 comments:

  1. For those who couldn't attend, the MFootball call of the game was fantastic.

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    1. Bit annoyed personally that they haven't uploaded the post-match interviews with the coaches (yet).

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  2. Replies
    1. Some people were saying 2,000, others closer to 3,000. I reckon 2,500 even though it's a difficult ground to get an accurate figure using just guesswork.

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  3. One of the better games and atmosphere in recent times.

    Say what you like about that red card and Archie but that sub by Katsakis and the Byles cockup is what game South the game.

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  4. Will the women be playing NPL next year?

    Hopefully there's more double headers next year, would be nice to watch them before a game.

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    Replies
    1. The answer to that question is that depends on whether the club is successful in its bid for a WNPL expansion licence.

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  5. Was also impressed with the MFootball coverage.

    Certainly beats Futbol 365 updates when other side of the world.

    Fight til the end, South Melbourne fight til the end.

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  6. Speaking of referees, why don't any NPL referees act on Katsakis?
    He demonstrably disputes every decision, and refuses to stay in his technical area. Not just this week, it happens every week with that goose.
    I'd like to think he'd tone done his behavior if there were consequences.

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    Replies
    1. You'd like to think that, but he'll never change.

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  7. You're right Paul, it's amazing what a win away to the eternal enemy does for the soul.

    Food tastes better, the sun shines brighter, even work is a little more bearable when you come off a derby win.

    The atmosphere at OV was almost a throwback to the "good ol' days" ... That mad rush to the fence to celebrate with the players, especially after Millsy's goal, will be a treasured memory for a long while... These tired old bones havent moved with so much purpose for decades :o).

    A huge thank you to the boys from CC or whatever ... Some great little chants where brought out and the gem of the night "We are Blue, we are White, We are Fucking Dynamite" ... I joined in with gusto, wearing my Marathon Foods top .... Fuck me thats just solid gold ....

    Was great to see the players feeling the love and pride in the club, KK almost crowd surfed .... WE LOVE YOU HELLAS!!!!!!!!

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  8. This week just makes me appreciate the 5000 that rocked up to the elimination final we played against Knights... what the hell happened there? One of those reminders of both club's dormant supporter base.

    Regarding finals, I think they are fair in lopsided regular seasons. The AFL's regular season is a mess, the A-League has three cycles and I guess that extra home game might be reason enough. In the NPL unfortunately they do seem cruel. 2 full even cycles and a real home and away season.

    That said, clubs know the rules going into it. Bentleigh have been the best team all year, but they know the system rewards the team's ability to play under pressure as well as consistency.

    What better test to prove you're a champion than against a team with nothing to lose?

    Manny

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    Replies
    1. That game at Somers Street happened to coincide with Melbourne Knights hosting the the Australian-Croatian Soccer Tournament at the same time.

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  9. The VFL's Final Five system was the perfect system.

    The current system is the WORST system I have ever encountered in modern times.

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  10. Mav again a pleasure to have my tweets included in your report.

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    Replies
    1. I like to think of the blog as a collaborative affair between myself and the readership.

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  11. St Gerry's loukoumades will be at the game!

    http://www.stgerrys.com.au/event/npl-grand-final-south-melbourne-fc-v-oakleigh-cannons/

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