Sunday, 26 March 2017

Life During Wartime - Oakleigh Cannons 1 South Melbourne 0

It was a week that started off badly, and ended much, much worse. In between those things, there was a soccer match of a moderately pleasing quality, at least in the first half.

The whole of the ball? Impossible to tell. Oakleigh goalkeeper John Honos
 manages to scoop out Liam McCormack's effort on goal, to the satisfaction
of the official - which is the end, is all that matters. Photo: Cindy Nitsos.
Oakleigh came into the game with players the calibre of Goran Zoric, Dimi Hatzimouratis and Shayan Alinejad sitting on the bench. It also looked like Adrian Chiapetta and Steve Pantelidis had played in the 20s game beforehand. Meanwhile for South, there was no Brad Norton (injury), no Nick Epifano (still suspended), no Kristian Konstantinidis (suspended for six months), and no Leigh Minopoulos (work commitments). Added to that was Marcus Schroen coming back from injury, and not looking exactly right, and things looked grim from the outset.

And yet we almost pinched the lead, after an error by John Honos in goal for Oakleigh saw Liam McCormack's (necessarily rushed) shot from range hit the crossbar. From a distance it looked like it was going miles wide or over, only to fall at the last second - but not by enough. McCormack also had the misfortune of having his header near the goal line scooped off the line - or from behind the line - by Honos, denying him a goal and South the lead. It was rather reminiscent of McCormack's late effort against Avondale earlier this season, where he was denied dramatically by Chris Oldfield.

They were our best chances for the game. Not that we didn't get into dangerous areas - especially in the first half - but that killer cross or final ball let us down - which is as much a sign of poor confidence as it is skill. For their part, even though they hadn't won a league game up to that point, Oakleigh's confidence was very high, and they had shots rattle off the bar from range as well as shots cleared off the line. Overall, Nikola Roganovic had the more serious interventions to make of the two goalkeepers.

The South Melbourne women continued on their winning ways, defeating
Southern United 3-1 out at Langwarrin. Photo: Cindy Nitsos.
While several people have commented that the standard was poor, especially by us, I thought the first half was the most skillful and entertaining half of soccer I'd seen all season. It was open, end to end stuff, with daring play. We relied more on the counter, and looked good until the final ball, and sometimes the one before that - the absence of Norton and Minopoulos on the left being keenly felt.

The second half from our point of view was not as good. What were in the first half long balls sent into space and promising numerical situations, subsided into long balls because of no idea what else to do. Or so it seemed. And then Oakleigh's goal came, from Dean Piemonte in the most frustrating manner possible. Well known for his long range thunderbolts, Piemonte was lining up for such a shot, and with South hearts in mouths, a South defender rushed up to block. Unfortunately, because that defender slid down to make his tackle, Piemonte deftly evaded the challenge and chipped the ball over Roganovic and under the crossbar. It was an outrageous effort, and demonstrative of the difference between one team with four points and another team with four points up to that point.

Our chance to get back in the contest went badly wrong towards the end of the game, when a blocked long range shot inadvertently sent Oakleigh's Nate Foster into space, and threatening to go one on one with Roganovic. Luke Pavlou, playing in the left back role, did well to keep up with Foster, but got tangled up with the star striker, receiving a red card for his efforts. It seemed a very harsh decision on first glance, as if Foster had initiated the contact. The replays have not convinced me of Pavlou's guilt, and that at best it was an unfortunate tangle of legs that was no one's fault.

While giving up chances on the counter in our quest to go forward and try and snare an equaliser, it's not like we didn't have the Oakleigh defense scrambling, pressing right until the end. Last year something may have come off - this year, there's no way it would. It wasn't helped by sloppy attempts at play by substitutes Andy Kecojevic and Gavin De Niese - the latter's late attempt at goal was poor in both execution and decision making, being a very long way out and taken while being completely off balance.

In the current situation, with losses mounting up - especially considering our difficulty to put goals on the board - even well fought losses are little consolation. Suspensions and injuries haven't helped, but if that was all that was wrong with the team, you'd just ride out a difficult period and move on. Some have suggested that playing so many games away has hurt, and while it probably hasn't helped, most of those grounds have been in good nick as befits the early part of the season. I'm wanting to believe that there's a way out of this mess, and that it will come soon - but each week that passes, whether we put in the hard yards or not, sees us fall short, with the exceptions of the St Albans and Eastern Lions games.

My frustration is gradually becoming disconsolation.

The lowest common denominator
After the game, there was the usual hyper-negative banter being made by a small minority that the team 'should take their shirts off' and that they 'hadn't even tried'. Whatever one's thoughts on the usefulness of such commentary, on Friday night it was daft in its own right because the team had clearly busted a gut. It was half a team out there, with Schroen on one leg, down to ten men, fighting until the end. I get that people have different points of view on a game, but I can't for the life of me see how one could come to the conclusion that the team didn't put in a huge effort on Friday night.

Unfortunately, the situation moved on from mere banter to a brawl among our own fans. Despite being in the vicinity, I couldn't tell how it escalated so quickly and after that, who was doing what to whom. There has been discussion about what kicked things off properly and who did what in other places - but I am not going to speculate on that. All I will say on the matter is that apart from being disgusted and distraught watching the scene unfold, I give credit to those involved who tried to deescalate the situation, and those who tried to restrain those who were intent on violence.

Because of the seriousness of some of the allegations, I will not be allowing any comments on this post, nor any further comments on this issue in any other comment section of any post. This is especially so because most people choose to post here anonymously, and I have no way of verifying who is who. If you did witness the events and wish to make your view of it known, the best thing for you to do is contact the club directly and provide a statement.

Next game
After being drawn at home in the FFA Cup against Monbulk Rangers, some of our supporters were looking forward to both a relatively easy passage to the next round, and the chance to see a home game with the newly finished social club as an added attraction.

Then the club decided to reverse the fixture, which will be now hosted by Monbulk on Tuesday at their recently redeveloped ground. That did not go down well with South fans, including the self-appointed nomarch of the South Melbourne Hellas Public Transport Faction.

But once one calmed down one could, even if only begrudgingly, see why the club had done this. My guesses are:
  1. Avoid mucking up carefully laid social club launch plans. 
  2. Get the game out of the way.
  3. Get the Peoples Champ's five game spitting suspension over quicker.
  4. Have one day where the team don't have to look for a training venue.
  5. Goodwill gesture to lower league club.
It's not an ideal situation for our supporters, but if this is the worst thing that happens this year, we'll be counting ourselves lucky.

This week's annoyances - wobbly kickoff times
The Oakleigh game started twenty minutes late. I do not know why it started twenty minutes late. What is the point of having a scheduled kickoff time if it is going to be wantonly disregarded? This is of course especially bad for people like me who depend on public transport to get to most matches, and for whom a delay of such magnitude can lead to cascading delays in getting home. it's also not the first time this has happened this year, with me personally experiencing significant delays at five games already this season. Twice at South games (Heidelberg and Oakleigh), twice at Chaplin Reserve, and once yesterday at Castley Reserve. I don't understand what's made this most basic of requirements an issue all of a sudden in 2017.

This week's annoyances - the passive offside rule
Just get rid of it completely and go back to the hard and fast offside rule. This newest interpretation of passive offside is a nightmare for everyone involved.

The dialectics of terrace banter
Former South championship player Iqi Jawadi was playing for Oakleigh, which created debate among some as to whether he should be booed or not, including whether he was worth it. The situation was resolved by people booing him and then shouting 'worthy!', which seemed to be the best solution.

'Bumgate' - Konstantinidis banned for six months
Kristian Konstantinidis has been banned for six months for sticking his finger up a St Albans player's arse. That means his season is effectively over. I don't know if the length of the punishment is warranted - how do you even make a judgment on something like this? - but comparing it to a bad tackle or a fight or any one of the many other things that may happen during a match doesn't help clarify things.

Apart from losing one of our most important players due to a completely unnecessary act - one which I think most would struggle to justify - I have been disappointed by another aspect of the fallout, and that has been the targeting by some of our fans of Dion Fountas, the photographer who captured the moment. The justifications for targeting Fountas have been bizarre. A match photographer takes a photo of something that happens during a match, a match being played in front of hundreds of people - and somehow he's been targeted under some nonsense idea of censorship, and even been threatened with being banned from Lakeside.

Mind you, many of those same people targeting him now were happy to make use of Fountas' photos from the Victory game last year, praising him for taking and uploading his photos. Those same fans were happy to send videos to the commercial networks of the Victory hooligans. The same thing has happened in regards to radio broadcasts of games. When MFootball narrated the Victory incident, and made it abundantly clear to the audience that it was Victory fans at fault, our fans were stoked. But if the shoe is on the other foot, will some of us take umbrage of coverage of our own bouts of misbehaviour? Is it the act that is the problem, or merely the perpetrator? If it's the latter, it becomes hard to legitimately take the moral high ground on anything afterwards - you've effectively made it an issue of self-interest or self-preservation.

Aside from all of that, the idea that it was a brain fade by Konstantinidis doesn't seem right to me - this doesn't seem to be the kind of thing you do on a whim. If it was, he was horribly unlucky to be caught in the act in the only time he had ever attempted the maneuver. Of course, when the story was published by some major media outlets, the comments went through the roof. Probably not the kind of metrics the club was looking for though.

Social club news
Put it in your diary: 2017 SMFC Jersey Night, April 7th, 7:00PM. Venue...


Contact the club directly if you wish to go. If you can't make it or choose not to, there'll be a family day the day after.

Around the grounds
An orange ticket for the man with the orange hair.
Westgate's pavilion is being torn down and replaced with a new one, so in 2017 they're playing their home games at Castley Reserve, which probably hasn't senior soccer for a very long time. Nevertheless, it's good for me, because it's within two minutes walking distance of my place. Yaraville took a 3-0 lead into the break, and looked to be cruising past a borderline inept Westgate. The second half saw Yarraville take its sweet time finishing the game, waiting until Westgate had pulled two goals back before making sure of it with a 4-2 win. I didn't win the raffle.

Final thought
This was one of those weeks where I regret having part of my self-esteem attached to the fortunes of this club.