Monday, 12 June 2017

A rare treat - South Melbourne 3 Heidelberg United 0

The Setting
Every now and again, when a good crowd turns up for what might be considered by a neutral as a meaningful affair of a South match, I like to note in these pages that the occasion 'felt like a real game'. Of course, for South fans, every game is important and meaningful, no?
And let's not forget no social club either!

So, because Brazil wanted to use Lakeside exclusively for training preparations, we found ourselves at the Bubbledome. No complaints from me as a one off, and I think most South fans, whether regular Bubbledome visitors or first timers, enjoyed the novelty of the experience. Those first ten minutes especially felt surreal, some strange mishmash of past and future that shouldn't have been, but was. Then the game eventually did its bit to overcome the uncanniness of the setting, and attention was then mostly on the players.

I don't like to predict crowds or count them, but I was expecting no more than 1,200 or so. The public holiday long weekend, the relatively lake kickoff, the lack of media attention, and all the usual banes of this state league existence. Some of that would be offset by the novelty value, the odd neutral making the trip in, the fact that it was South vs Heidelberg in a near top of the table clash, but those expecting miracles of several thousand to turn up were to my mind misguided.

The fact that close to 2,500 (officially 2,365) turned up was a good result. It was not earth shattering, but neither was it embarrassing. The club had promoted the game through its social media channels, the FFV did their bit, and the Berger fans came out in good numbers. One fan noted afterwards that a crowd like that at Lakeside would have been electric - and I won't argue with that - but it was hardly a disaster. It helped that, so far as I could tell, South itself did not put a number out into the public sphere that would be considered as a pass mark. Sure, it's true that you miss all of the shots you don't take, but by avoiding setting a definitive target, the crowd number did not become the be all and end all of the day.

Catch her if you can: Melina Ayres celebrates as South's WNPL side
keep pace with the ladder leaders after beating Alamein 3-1.
Photo: Mark Avellino.
I was surprised that rather than just opening the entirety of the western stand and leaving the rest of the ground closed off to the general public, that the folks in charge went for a bit more of a customer focused approach, opening the lower deck on the western side, but also each of the goal ends. South of the Border and associates got to the ground well before kick-off for the men's game, and had little issue with quickly getting our tickets and getting in. I'm not sure if lines closer to start time were more problematic. Security outside the ground was a bit intense for an NPL match, being standard major events stadium practice of bag searches and empty pocket metal scans, but inside the ground everything seemed fairly casual.

(the food and drink prices I'm told were ridiculous; it makes you appreciate the relative pleasures of local grounds, and for me at least, what we have with our social club)

As you'd expect there was no segregation of fans, though there was a certain amount of natural selection; South fans tending to take up areas of the southern side of the available space, including the behind the goals, while the Bergers took up northern areas. Security inside the venue seemed non-intrusive, the only interference in our area being to tell people to not stand on seats, which seems like a reasonable enough request. I don't understand why people stand on seats anyway when they don't need to do so in order to see the game. Clarendon Corner's minimal banner and confetti display received no hassle. Clarendon Corner's numbers were fine, and the chanting more frequent and committed than usual. The most memorable chant? Off the top of my head, 'shit ground, no fans'. Oh, and anything primary school level in order to outdo some Berger juniors on the wing.

Then there were the seagulls. The seagulls are infamous, of course, and Lakeside is not immune to their appearance - we are not so far from the ocean, after all. But the seagull problem at Bubbledome is something else. The kookaburra noise intermittently played over the speakers to disperse them was also almost as irritating as the seagulls to some. I was later told that the same sound is also played at the MCG, but I can't say I've ever heard it, maybe because I was too busy abusing Travis Cloke at the time. Anyway, I can't say with any authority whether the sound affects worked,

The stadium music was too loud, and its musical selections - with the exception of a bit of Pulp's 'Commin People' - not much better than Lakeside's offerings. The benches from the 2015 Asian Cup didn't make an appearance, and thus we had the famous Bunnings chairs instead. The scoreboard was in full operation, simulcasting the live stream. Most importantly, the grass and line markings all seemed up to scratch, which was a relief after the Wallabies had played on the field the day before.

The Match Itself
As we were making our way to the ground from the pub on Swan Street, I noted to one of the fans along for the walk that I no longer felt confident about any South game. So different to the NSL days in that regard, and so out of synch with the fact that in the Chris Taylor era we've been able to amass several long undefeated streaks. And as much as I hate to say it, the novelty of having an open doors match at Bubbledome also left one wondering about the contrived social media reaction would be if we lost this game. But that's just me being unnecessarily sensitive, as per usual.

For all Heidelberg's complaints about having to field a sort of makeshift defense - which seemed to me to centre mostly around Steven Pace being out injured - it's not like we didn't have our own issue. Milos Lujic had injured a hamstring during the week, or so they said, so I wasn't expecting him to be out there yesterday, but there he was, metaphorically on one leg, Seeing him out there didn't fill me with confidence - it was certainly a gamble, but I guess the powers that be felt that the situation warranted the risk. I had felt, and still feel, that we've been very fortunate to not have Milos miss many games, and that while what do no doubt works most of the time, it would be interesting - from a strictly scientific point of view, of course - to see how the team would play without him. I'd expect that properly set up, it would be probably be less clinical, but it would also be much more flexible and unpredictable.

But that's getting ahead of ourselves a bit. Our defense also had a notable absence, in that Tim Mala was missing because of the red card he got in our game two weeks ago against Port. So what was the plan going to be for this time around without a known right back? Would Taylor play defensive mid Luke Pavlou there for a third time, having copped eight goals in the two games he was slotted in there? Thankfully not! Matthew Foschini was put there, and he played rather well. The big threat for Heidelberg around the final third is of course Kenny Athiu. It's not just his size, but also his mobility which causes opposition defenses problems. And in the first fifteen minutes or so, we were on the back foot, scrambling around a bit. But after that, we seemed to control the game. As one unfairly maligned supporter noted, apart from playing in his natural position, Foschini was also able to play those passes down the line better than Mala usually does.

Nick Epifano's shot on its way for 3-0. Photo: Mark Avellino 
Our wide play - our best feature when we play well under Taylor - was at its best last night. On the other hand, the Bergers would get to wide areas, or into the corners, and get stuck; snookered if you will. Our counter-attacks, so often a weak point of ours, have become a bit more a reliable outlet for us. Going two goals up before half-time - a slightly fortunate goal for Nick Epifano, and well taken one on one by Lujic - made things much easier to sort out for the second half. Lujic was subbed for Leigh Minopoulos, and while we played a bit more conservatively in the second half - we always controlled the nature of the game. As an aside, it will be interesting to see how Lujic's hamstring issue is managed over this next little bit - provided that he didn't aggravate the matter in his 45 minute stint yesterday.

We should have added to our lead well before the Peoples' Champ tapped in Jesse Daley's pass with about ten or so to play, but that's to nitpick unnecessarily. Our desperation for the contest across the board was excellent. Our organisation was usually pretty good. Even at our most vulnerable Nikola Roganovic only had to make sparing saves, the most spectacular of which was when the game was well over. If I was to pick out something which annoyed me, it was our continuing tendency this season to collect yellow cards from unnecessarily aggressive fouls or assorted inessential nonsense. Yellow cards get collected out of custom anyway, and the more games you play the more you'll get. Coming up to a crowded bit of the schedule though, it will be a problem when we have to shuffle things around more so than you would like. But that's where the much vaunted depth comes into play.

Unfamiliar venue, familiar routine: Nikola Roganovic, as he usually does
 after a game, celebrating with South Melbourne fans. Photo: Mark Avellino. 
The ladder as it stands is a complicated situation, what with the teams at the top, including ourselves, having various numbers of games in hand, sometimes against each other. The important thing is that we've kept in touch with the ladder leaders, especially Heidelberg, who could've skipped away with a win yesterday. We also extend what is an absurdly long unbeaten run. It's a long way from the dire start to the season.

In conclusion
A good win, and most people seemed to enjoy the event. It was also nice to be able to share the experience with everyone else, as opposed to what happened last year.

Next game
Sunday at Lakeside against St Albans.

Coming and goings
Liam McCormick has departed the club, joining Dandenong City. Meanwhile, we've signed young midfielder Bardhi Hysolli from Bulleen. I have no idea who he is, which doesn't mean he's no good. We've also gone for a Spanish forward, David Barca Moreno, from Getafe B. I feel like I've seen this move played before, but I can't put my finger on it. His international clearance reportedly came through this week, but not his local clearance, There is talk that Andy Kecojevic has gone overseas, but nothing official at the time of print.

Intergalactic Space Hussy department
For Victorian premier Daniel Andrews, caught two-timing us with the Dandenong A-League bid.
Around the grounds
Half arsed
Among even the most sartorially oblivious of men can be found a certain niche for fashion trends - the soccer jersey. And thus I spent part of a Friday night at Somers Street observing a conversation about colours, shades, cuts and fabric; about makers, years, taste, and at times an unapologetic preference for unpopular styles. As for the game itself, it was rubbish. Knights are barely keeping their head above water, being at the start of a very long rebuild. Bentleigh meanwhile went about their business completely half-arsed. While else would they play Andy Brennan when he is clearly battling with injury? The game seemed set to take its expected course, when Bentleigh took the lead in the first half via Lambros Honos. Knights were bound to get one chance which they would need to make the most of - and Tom Cahill blasted his penalty into the back of the net. Then Bentleigh had a player sent off, and you wondered how Knights would manage to stuff this one up. The answer? By conceding a woefully soft goal with the last kick of the game, And I never got to find out for sure if Knights ever had an Umbro kit in their history.

The proverbial, dare I say, quintessential six-point game
Westgate, the home team, were on three points. Altona East, the away side, were of four. South of the Border's correspondent, having not had lunch, was hungry. Westgate scored, early in the second half, and won the game. Altona East had their chance, saw it saved, and lost the game. I had a cevapi, was satisfied, and walked home for dinner after the match. Where everyone involved lost: when someone decided to have this game kickoff after 6:00PM. It was cold when the game began, and it was bloody cold when the game ended. Dead set, this bloke rocked up to watch the game early in the second half wearing shorts and thongs and I was *this close* to getting his mates to stage an intervention. As you can see, it was not the most thrilling of affairs.

Making hay while the sun shines
Approaching the gates, I pull out my media pass. One bloke at the gate is OK with it, another guy demands a more rigorous examination. That's no surprise - who from the media would bother to cover this game? So after I explain that I'm a freelancer, I eventually go through. The old blokes in front of the social club - some of whom I know from other grounds - are comparing their ages. I buy a souv - and you know it's a big game when they have a separate booth for buying tickets away from the food outlet - and wander through the social club. The picture frames tell the story. Of humble origins, in photo and in print. Of volunteers who built the social club building in the late 1980s. Of being proud of playing South, and beating us. Western Suburbs had a brief bit of limelight in 2007 and 2008, when they reached the lofty heights of the Victorian Premier League. They got a new grandstand and media box out of the stint, and good luck to them for that. Nowadays things are a bit more grim, down in State League 1. Myself, it's moment like these, sitting in the stand during the tail end of the reserves, wondering how I got here. Yarraville had the better of the first half, and should have capitalised on their chances. They didn't, and during the second half, five or so minutes of napping undid the visitors. The first goal was a chip over the keeper from angle; the second goal a lofted ball from a midfield free kick which sailed over the Yarraville keeper, and which almost no one expected let alone saw. Yarraville only managed to wake up late, and score in the dying seconds.

Final thought
The staff at the Richmond Club Hotel really should have given me a pen so I could get the out of date map on one of the walls up to speed.

10 comments:

  1. Probably our most consistent and polished performance for the season. We looked a bit shaky in the first 10-15 mins of the match, but we worked our way back in and then dominated proceedings from then.

    Our defence tonight was resolute, and did not let anything through. Kenny was completely marked out of the game, and the remaining attacking options largely neutralised. Roganovic made 2-3 big saves that ensured he kept a clean sheet.

    One of the highlights for me was seeing Foschini playing RB and Pavlou playing DM. The side looked more balanced and no player was played out of position. Epifano, Daley and Shroen had big games and played a big part in the end result. You could say that Millar probably had one of his quietest games in a while, but that said, did enough of what was asked of him.

    Today's win was important on a number of levels. Apart from the usual requirement to defeat our arch enemy, we had to win to reduce the margin at the top of the ladder back to three points. However, it was important to win and play well on this much hyped match at AAMI Park as the eyes of Victorian football were focused upon us. So often we have mucked up these opportunities, and its positive to see South performing on the big stage.

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  2. So glad Bil P didn't promote this as a HAL audition.

    Was fun to just enjoy it as an NPL fixture.

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    1. So glad the out of tune trumpet with that awful drum was silent. Confiscated at Gate 7?

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    2. I'm not sure of the actual process that led to that, because the snake charmer and his clarinet were allowed in.

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    3. Harri the clown tried to get Stevie (Kevin) bared from entering the game. So I guess that had something to do with his drum being confiscated..

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    4. Very happy we didn't have to hear the trumpet or drum. More of the same next week please.

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    5. Harry did play his drum and trumpet, at least during the first half. I moved at half time but in the first half he was doing his standard thing.
      @est1959

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  3. Best performance of the year. Great shape 2nd half when we closed the game. Would be exciting to see Daley Minopoulos & Epifano up front together if Milos is out. Go South !

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  4. Security at the gate when asked about the intense measures implied that it was because of past situations with MV customers, probably for acting antifa like

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