There are good teams in this league, who can play good football, and in general the style has improved from the dark days of 2011 when Ian Dobson's brutish Green Gully side were the benchmark; when two thirds of the grounds were minefields, sand-pits or mud-heaps by round three instead of round fourteen.
In this game, played on a decent surface, with a non-bothersome breeze, we had two worthy combatants. One team was the reigning champion. The other team was the only one left with a chance of having a perfect record after three games. And yet what they dished up was utter, irredeemable garbage.
Now I know that South Melbourne has problems, and we'll get to those. But first things first - that was putrid. The first half especially was so unwatchable you couldn't even enjoy it on an ironic 'so bad it was good' level. It was just bad.
During the game I pitied those who had to pay to get in, until I remembered that the reason I didn't pay to get in was because I've invested so much into this project. One could almost pity the players, were they not getting paid very, very well to be very, very bad. Some had been A-League players. Many had spent a good decade in this league. Some had aspirations of breaking out and upwards.
Almost all of them utterly, utterly hopeless.
[I could've throw some more 'utterlys' in there for emphasis, but I need to save those up to torment Ian Syson in a future thesis chapter draft. That's a little poisoned in-joke you don't need to concern yourselves with.]
To refer to some of the abysmal sequences of play as pinball would be an insult to those who have mastered the realm of the silver ball. To note that, at times, the fact that 20 players were bunched together chasing the ball like it was an under 10s game, would be an insult to children everywhere - the kids would at least have better touch.
It was a half in which Avondale, not for lack of talented players, could barely muster any meaningful possession in their attacking half. Meanwhile, South's rare moments of attacking half competence were undone if not by poor passing, then by players in their prime not understanding the basics of the offside rule.
In the second half, things were a bit better, but like last week our domination of possession amounted to nothing. Another maddening goal conceded, which brings to mind, apropos of nothing, some interesting questions, such as:
If we can't take proper set pieces, how do our defenders learn to defend set pieces at training?and
If we can't defend set pieces, how do we know those attacking set pieces we try out in training are working?Even when Leigh Minopoulos came off the bench, his best chance to do something was scuppered by Milos Lujic passing inside instead of out. There were some bad offside calls, too, but were they the difference between us winning and losing? Not in any meaningful sense.
After Avondale scored, the game opened up as we committed numbers forward and the nominal home side had another couple of chances to seal the deal. In the end, they didn't need those - they only needed goalkeeper Chris Oldfield to pluck out our one (very late) effort on target from almost underneath the crossbar and tip it over the bar for a corner.
There are those who say that all this - our one dimensionality, our inability to mount meaningful attacks from set pieces, our inability to properly deal with set-pieces - was all there last year, and that when push came to shove in 2016, we managed to hit form, ride our luck and change things enough to get by and win what is still called a championship in these confusing times.
If that's the case, how have we gone about strengthening and improving over the off-season? So far, it has been, with the exception of Luke McCormack, to only use our new players out of necessity, and not it seems out of desire - maybe they're not ready yet? If that's the case, that's a concern for a pre-season that started sometime in November.
Defensive issues aside, set piece issues aside, one man up front issue aside, tactics and matters of personnel issues aside, we don't even look like scoring from every mediocre team's best friend - the counterattack. The only positives that people seem to be clinging onto from this game was Jesse Daley, who came on as a sub, managed to hit two decent corners late in the game. You've got to start from somewhere I suppose.
From the 'what was that all about?' files
There was an unusual post-script to this game. After the match finished, Avondale goalkeeper Chris Oldfield decided to get smart with those South fans situated behind his goal - albeit from a considerable distance away.
It was unusual in that, apart from one or two misplaced smart-arse comments about Oldfield's short lived tenure in the A-League - misplaced because, duh, it's not like South's actually made it to the A-League - there seemed to be much less hostility directed towards him than one might have expected.
Much more hostility was being directed towards the team and the officials. I'm not sure what set him off.
The time spent marveling at the genius of how humankind launched hundreds of tons of steel and fibreglass into the air, and what's more, did it with some measure of grace
On a lighter note, it has been reasonably enjoyable watching the under 20s so far this season. They played their game on the weekend on the outside pitch at Somers Street. Because of this, no fewer than five different people asked me upon their own arrival whether we were playing on that ground, confusion added to the fact that Avondale were running the gate the car park entrance rather than the usual stadium entrance. The South 20s butchered a lot of chances during the time I was there, but managed to get a deserved 2-1 win. Of note was the relatively close proximity of Avondale parents to South parents, and the impassioned support for both teams - most notably from a couple of women still dressed in their work clothes, which happened to be air stewardess costumes. People did momentarily wonder whether there was some sort of sponsor gimmick going on, but the banal reality is that they had parachuted down to Knights Stadium which makes sense because, as far as public transport goes, incoming flights to Tullamarine are probably your best option when traveling to Somers Street.
That melee after we pulled a goal back in the Community Shield loss at Kingston Heath a few weeks ago? There had been allegations made that Nick Epifano had spat at someone, and it looks like the matter is coming to a head at the tribunal this week. One suspects that if he's found guilty, he'll be out for a while.
Social club update
Always nice to get an update without twisting someone's arm.
There were some (though not many) more photos on the club's Facebook page.We're entering the final phase of construction of our exclusive areas at Lakeside Stadium. Check out the progress so far. pic.twitter.com/l8fEXWbiBK— South Melbourne FC (@smfc) February 21, 2017
Meanwhile, at the Festival Formerly Known as Antipodes, South Melbourne has been circulating an A-League advocacy t-shirt, which for reasons of social propriety, we at South of the Border will not reproduce here. Suffice to say, for some of us still actually attending South matches 13 years after our last national league stint, this kind of nonsense is slightly irksome to the senses. Even more reassuring are reports that South's A-League bid team leader Bill Papastergiadis told the audience at the Festival Formerly Known as Antipodes that the FFA Cup is the only thing that really matters for us at this time (not that any of that matters).
Around the grounds
Hours after seeing this game, or maybe even the next day, I remembered that I had wanted to see this fixture two years ago, and was foiled by the weather. Oh, how times have changed. Having never seen The Cult edition of Nunawading City play before, this was all sorts of the wrong time to do it for the first time. For starters, they have (out of necessity) deviated from the Master Plan, because relegation is now a very real possibility. Thus they have put in big cash for hired guns, flights and accommodation - though one of those hired guns, Jason Trifiro, was not in attendance on Friday night, possibly due to injury, maybe due to not being able to get a flight of Sydney on time, who knows? Papa Ange was there, or at least some bloke who looked a lot like him. Probably looking for the next Socceroo bolter. While Nuna's team looked young, their opponents and hosts, Richmond, didn't look much older. Mind you, there was a kid out there during wearing number 10 who myself, Mark Boric, and two former Richmond presidents all assumed was the Nunawading child mascot for the day. Turned it was Nuna's captain. Nuna raced out to a two goal lead, but Richmond pulled it back to 2-2, and looked the likelier to go on to win. Not so, however! Nuna's heavily front-loaded team scorched Richmond's brittle defense, and showed that, whatever other weakness they have - and they have plenty down back - that against defensively suspect weak opposition like Richmond they have the firepower to put teams away. Those hoping that Nuna will go down this season may be in for year of disappointment,
A good thing this wasn't streamed to the multitudes at Lonsdale Street like some people wanted to.