Granted, a lot of that is due to the fact that we won this game. And while I would have liked to have read some more online saltiness from our erstwhile opponents, the win was sufficient unto itself for pure entertainment and joy.
Besides which, Knights fans would be quick to tell you of their belief that they lose to us so often in this manner that it perhaps gets wearisome to harp on about it.
For the first forty minutes, give or take the odd foray down the wings which ended up with a bad cross by one of our players, we were pretty bad. That's not going as far as to say that the Knights were good - because just about every team I've seen in this year's NPL has been ordinary at best - but they were clearly the better team, and should have been 3-4 goals up. Only profligate finishing - Jason Hicks in particular doing his best to not make us rue letting him go - and our man in goals Nikola Roganovic kept the scoreline level.
And then the game was turned on its head by the most unexpected of goals. Having been played off the park up as a team up until that point, Nick Epifano spun out of trouble in midfield, launched a long pass to Milos Lujic who was being marked tightly well outside the area, with the striker deciding to attempt to lob Knights keeper Fraser Chalmers with what could only have been considered the most rank of speculative efforts.Except of course that it went over Chalmers and underneath the crossbar for Lujic's first goal from open play in the league this season.
That this happened after Knights had prematurely celebrated a goal which ended up bobbling on a grass-less bit of dirt near the goal line made it all the more poignant in the context of the game up to that point.#PS4NPLVIC @MilosLujic saved his first goal from open play for the @FlipTVAustralia cameras as @smfc won the Original Melbourne Derby 2-0 💣😱 pic.twitter.com/ZAL3x1NSCg— PS4 NPL Victoria (@nplvictoria) April 17, 2017
Knights soon had a free kick in a dangerous position, which resulted in a spectacular double save from Roganovic; the counter attack which followed from us should have resulted in a goal, but a poor touch from the Peoples' Champ screwed that up. Somehow we ended up getting a free kick from that sequence of play (though calling it 'contentious', as did one rival media outlet, is a bit of a stretch), which Marcus Schroen scored to make it 2-0 on half time, bringing on a joyous nervousness. Joy for the lead, nervousness for wondering if we could possibly hold on.
The free kick was unusual for several reasons. First, that we scored from one at all. Second, that Schroen, a left footer, took the shot when a right footer would probably have been the more obvious choice. Third, that he was able to score with what was more or less a direct shot, as the Knights wall, already poorly set up, crumpled in on itself at the edge for no good reason.
After the break we dominated play and should have put the result beyond doubt, but didn't. That meant that Knights were never out of the game, and kept coming, but their finishing remained poor, our defensive efforts remained wholehearted, and we held on for our third league win of the season - all against the competition's Croatian teams - and something resembling form if you're inclined to interpret it that way. I'm not.
Exciting as the game was, it was marred by some ordinary play by both teams, which went beyond the usual kinds of mistakes you expect to happen. For reasons which remain unknown to me, the amount of times players tripped over the ball was eminently noticeable. Only some of that can be put down to the real and implied pressure of the game.
The win, and the manner in which it was earned, can't mask the continuing issues that we have, which go beyond the league's promotional motto of 'if they were any good, they wouldn't be playing here' (© Paul Mavroudis). Our forward forays are still erratic in quality and too reliant on long balls; our defensive efforts more down to last ditch desperation as opposed to preventative measures; in both cases, Tim Mala was typical of the very best and worst of our play on that front. All up, we played maybe twenty minutes of passable soccer on the day.
We also continued to earn yellow cards that needn't have been earned. One can make the excuse that these things happen in a 'derby', but Carl Piergianni - who was on the bench and didn't even get on the field - picking up a yellow card for mouthing off at the officials is the tip of the iceberg to some of our disciplinary problems. I get that perhaps being under siege brings out that kind of desire to be more physical or aggressive in order to make up for other deficiencies, but we've got to be smarter.
The refereeing, without being abjectly poor, was to my mind best defined as being erratic. The man in charge did the usual thing - or at least in regards to expected custom - of not dishing out cards until each side had managed to get in a couple of good shots in beforehand. I hate that approach, but it's what 'the people' want, so there's no use in complaining. It did lead however to the situation whereby repeated but non-violent tackles were sometimes treated more harshly than obviously bad tackles.
Which brings us to the yellow-card-which-should-have-been-a-red dished out to Fraser Chalmers in the second half. While taking into account that the rules around denying a clear goalscoring opportunity have changed - and that refs are no longer obliged to give reds out in those situations - the way Chalmers flew out of his area, performed some amateur Bruce Lee Shit™ on Brad Norton, missing the ball by a mile, surely should have resulted in a red card.
But seeing as how any win's a good win the way we've been playing so far this season, it would be the height of proforma miserableness for its own sake to complain too loudly about anything that happened yesterday. It was a 'classic' derby game, the right team won in just about the most hilarious way possible, and we have a social club to celebrate these things in.
At home on Sunday against Hume City.
FFA Cup news
We have been drawn at home against NPL2 side Box Hill United in the next round.
How quickly they forget
Afterwards in the social club, there was a post-match function of sorts, with current and former South players being interviewed. It was hosted by Brandon Galgano, whose introduction to the segment rambled on about how good it was back to be in the social club. Unfortunately, Galgano repeatedly got the years and dates wrong about how long we'd been away. Once upon a time we had a clock for that kind of thing.
It'll sound creepy, and the novelty will wear off soon, but it's interesting being in the social club after a game (more so than before a game) and just watching the way people use the space. There seems to have been a real ownership claimed over the space by our fans already - at least the ones that use it.
There is still the mistaken belief floating about regarding exclusivity vs priority. Maybe that's a tension that will never cease, especially for those who hope to bring in 'occasional' guests into the social club.
In that sense, as I've noted before, the room will be more like an AFL club's social club - priority first for social club members, and then afterwards for everyone else. Confusion about fluctuating capacity will also persist because some people have started using the social club as their exit point from the ground.
Post-game meal service (which now has more variety in its menu than the pre-game service) has settled down a bit more, and the offerings look a notch above what you get prior to a game. There also seems to have been improvement in pre-game options, insofar as it's now clear you can purchase a souv or burger without needing to buy it in a meal which includes chips and a drink. I just wish they hadn't forgotten the aioli for my chips.
Around the grounds
Back in 2009, I saw Altona Magic and Green Gully play one of the most exciting matches in recent Victorian soccer history; a semi-final 3-3, extra time, penalty shootout extravaganza, which at the time interested me more for the penny-pinching ways of the Gully faithful. But times and fortunes change, and while Magic went on to win that year's title, they soon found themselves broke and bottoming out. Now in the state leagues, they've got a new money man, and have splurged with the ambition of going back up. That suggested to me that this FFA Cup game against Gully at Gully had some potential, but apart from the opening ten minutes, Magic were dire, and found themselves 3-0 down at the break. The skill level was atrocious, my lift to the game decided we should early at 4-0. and the best that could be said for the affair is that Gully's lights were turned up to maximum, which for some reason didn't happen in our recent game against them.
Some of the chairs in the social club will probably need to be replaced, as they're not as sturdy as you'd like them to be.