However events like last night's match much more resembled a zoo. We were there not just to play a game, but also to be marveled and gawked at by the audience at home, neutrals and unfamiliars at the game, and the roving cameramen and photographers. It was quite unlike anything I'd ever experienced at a soccer match. Since the NSL ended, we've had games with bigger crowds than this, games with actual silverware on the line as opposed to the most rank outside chance of achieving such in four month's time. But nothing quite like a situation where Lakeside and the club were the main point of interest.
|An inflated special occasion Clarendon Corner in action last night|
against Edgeworth. Photo: Cindy Nitsos.
And speaking of dress rehearsals, what about going for the Kappa kit last night as opposed to a Puma one? It was rather like the use of BLK as opposed to Adidas for the Palm Beach game two years ago, do not be surprised to see Kappa become our kit sponsor next season. Of course with Kappa being the signature label of the 1990s Altona North effnik techno bunny test station KISS (or Hitz or KIX or Stomp or Clomp or some piece of crap) FM listening demographic, that rules me out of buying any merch next year. - unless it's a beanie with a pompom.
Anyway, while I don't begrudge the club framing the match as a sort of top-flight audition, I and others have an issue in the things said as part of that process. But that's no secret, and if one must turn to someone who almost by necessity bucks this trend, it's Chris Taylor. Taylor acknowledges the importance of the team's success in the FFA Cup and the implied magnitude of the opportunity, but he also has to make sure the players don't get too far ahead of themselves, and instead treat the game on the field on its own merits.
Alas, at South Melbourne that's probably an impossible task to accomplish. Everyone has expectations, and the players are no different, regardless of whether they were there two years ago against Palm Beach, were making their South FFA Cup national stage debut last night, or had experience of playing on bigger stages than this one. None of it seemed to make a difference early on for us, because even if we didn't exactly crumple under both the implied pressure of the occasion and the real pressure of our opponent, we didn't exactly set the world on fire either.
The first half had a a measure of ebb and flow about it, but no one is under the illusion that anyone other than Edgeworth should have led at halftime. We relied on Nikola Roganovic being right on top of his game, Jesse Daley just manging a goal line clearance onto the crossbar and out, and Daniel McBreen butchering the best chance of the entire game just before halftime, to keep things level. At that point I was wondering how we would come out in the second half, and not much more than that - things were getting too hectic and nervy to pay attention to the fact that unlike every other team in our league, Edgeworth played with two up front.
That we started the second half a lot better didn't entirely reassure me. 'How long is this going to last?' I wondered. As it turned out, apart from probably one more chance for the visitors requiring another Roganovic save, that improvement lasted for the rest of the match. Our runs forward went deeper, our ball retention lasted longer, and apart from the monotonous and repetitive long ball tactic, we looked far likelier to score than our opponents in the second half.
Milos Lujic had been double-teamed all night, and effectively so. It's not that bombing it into him was absolutely the wrong idea, or the only idea we had, but Edgeworth's tall and tight defense kept close check on our man. I guess the aim then was if there was so much attention being paid to Lujic, that there would be free players in and around the box to pounce on a loose ball and have a crack at goal. Unfortunately that seldom happened, the ball landing unfavourably for us when it was not properly cleared by the Edgeworth defense. The good thing however was that in the second half at least, our midfield had the composure to keep the ball and stick to their plan of moving the opposition from side to side. Granted, this was made easier as the match wore on by several things.
First, Edgeworth clearly didn't have the fitness to keep up for the whole game. I had a decent discussion after the game with one of the behind the scenes folks, who reckoned that had Edgeworth been playing in our NPL, that would be an area they'd improve on quickly, and that they would finish in the top four in our league. I'm not so sure - they'd be competitive, but I couldn't see them finishing higher than 5th or 6th - they just don't have the spread of talent. Second, their lack of fitness was also tied to a conservative game plan, which saw them sit back deeper and deeper as the game wore on. Because so much of their emphasis was on Lujic, and then on negating our left hand side, they also played exceedingly narrow in defense. Thank goodness that the right hand side eventually clicked into gear - helped by bringing on Leigh Minopoulos for the 'having a bad day' Jesse Daley - and the midfield, especially Pavlou were able to do as they pleased.
Once the increased room down the left made itself apparent, our chief weapon of Nick Epifano and Brad Norton overlapping on that wing and crossing the ball started to get into gear. Speaking of the People's Champ, last night was far from his most glorious game in terms of getting on the score sheet or putting in the pivotal pass, but it was by far the most composed and complete game I've seen him play for South. His penchant for losing focus and turning inward was almost non-existent, his willingness to do his defensive duties unquestionable. The slide tackle near the sideline towards the end of the game was a highlight, but the more important stuff of covering his part of the pitch was more noteworthy.
Third, when we needed players to step up, we had them. When Edgeworth needed players to do the same, they were found wanting. At the pub before the game, one of the more perceptive people made the observation that Edgeworth had four good players against our seven. I didn't bother asking about who those seven might be for us, let alone who Edgeworth's four may have been (McBreen? The Japanese guy? The goalkeeper?). It occurred to me however afterwards that the observation played out as being fundamentally true. Millar, Schroen, Daley, Foschini - none had good games. But Foschini's output in the second half improved significantly, and Schroen came into the game late on. He delivered the pinpoint corner to Lujic, who was heavily marked even then, for what was the winning goal which sent us all into pandemonium.
|Marcus Schroen and an Edgeworth opponent both go to ground in search|
of the ball. Photo: Cindy Nitsos.
Off the field - the crowd, atmosphere, stadium - is where much of the attention was. I don't think anyone expected a huge Edgeworth contingent to come down for the game, and that turned out to be the case. Situated mostly in the balcony section - they were VIPs I suppose - they made a bit of noise, having the advantage of being able to stamp on the wooden floorboards and having decent coverage from the roof to carry their chants. Too bad for them it took them a while to figure out who they were playing:
I guess our fame has either diminished in the time we've been absent from the national spotlight, or it hadn't traveled as far as we'd thought it had in the first place. That, or the Edgeworth fans were being casually racist in thinking that every Greek team's nickname was Olympic, as is the case for the main Greek mob in Newcastle, Hamilton Olympic.Edgeworth fans chanting "we can't hear Olympic sing" Took 15mins & two chants later to correct it to South Melbourne. lol #FFACup #SMFC17— Steven Chang (@Gixibyte) July 26, 2017
Some of their other behaviour was less than endearing though, and that's coming from the perspective of South fans who themselves don't always have the best reputation of being either gracious hosts or guests. Coming up the stairs next to Clarendon Corner, they got a bit lippy, as well as making a few objectionable gestures. Not that I would countenance any retaliation - which from our end didn't happen anyway - but it seemed like a stupid thing to do and something that could've easily led to something worse than moronic banter. From some accounts closer to where they were camped for the match, their behaviour up on the balcony wasn't much better.
The crowd was reported at being 2,622. Being a South crowd, I'm not going to go into the debate about whether the number was 'real' or not. How would I even know? The crowd looked good on the broadcast, and seemed to sound good when there was something happening (or when there was chanting), otherwise it was a lot like the old NSL days of reactive noise, which I don't mind. I hate when crowds become so self-absorbed they don't pay attention to the game. There were a lot of free tickets handed out by the club, and there was clearly an effort - or directive - made to to get as many of our juniors and their parents out there as possible.
But you can hand out as many free tickets as you want, but it doesn't mean people will turn up. Given the opponent, the weather, being midweek and every other complicating factor, I was expecting about 1,500, hoping for 2,000, and glad if we were able to get anywhere near filling the stand. As it was, the match was reportedly the second best attended in the FFA CUP national stage between two NPL sides, and the best between two NPL sides at the round of 32 stage. What does that prove? I'm not sure it proves much beyond what we already knew - that the NPL is of little interest to anyone but a few hundred diehards, and that South has a core following of about 2,500 who can be counted on to come out for 'occasion' matches. Oh, and that should there be bigger occasions, and more favourable fixturing circumstances, we could get more of the old recalcitrant, drifter, fickle South fans back for such games.
Of course it was a relief to win for the sake of getting the national stage monkey off the back. But it was also a relief to win for the sake of not having to put up with the usual torrent of crap that emanates from people who hate us whenever we talk ourselves up and go on to cock up in one way or another. Instead right now all we have to deal with is pockets of online saltiness, mostly based around the usual complaints - Greeks this, ethnic that, chanting Hellas, and something to do with the Crawford Report despite the person making claims about its contents not having read it. But there were also unusually desperate comments, complaining about our playing style, or that the quality of game was not up to scratch. Quite what people like that expect from two semi-professional teams, which play in a second tier whose talent is spread thin across eight or nine divisions, and without the benefit of starting lineups being half made up of visa players, I'm not exactly sure. People are funny like that.
But for every knocker there are people who found the contest at the very least entertaining, and not only for its climactic finish. Which is more than can be said of the broadcaster covering the game. Waiting at the tram stop and watching the Fox Sports coverage of the winning goal on my phone was a little underwhelming - not for the goal itself or the wild celebrations, but for commentators Brenton Speed and especially Simon Colosimo sucking the life out of a 94th minute winner.
People took the piss out of Brandon Galgano and his over the top call of our win against Dandy City, but at least and the understated Rick Mensik seemed to care about the game they were calling. Still, no tram that terminated early, and certainly no rail replacement bus, could take the edge off the win.@MilosLujic he scores when he wants. We can't get enough of this #FFACup winning goal last night. We're through to the Final 16. pic.twitter.com/fbGsbzDwDF— South Melbourne FC (@smfc) July 27, 2017
Meanwhile, for those keeping track of these things...
It appears as if our fixture didn't manage to crack 40k viewership on Fox Sports. While obviously finishing too late for Neos Kosmos to do a write up today - though it managed to get brief pieces in on a couple of NPL teams playing A-League teams in the latter's pre-season friendlies. Our current best friends at the Herald Sun got their piece in, while I assume The Age's Michael Lynch had a day off, which is why The Age relied on an AAP piece for its FFA Cup coverage, as did The World Game. Looking at ABC News Breakfast this morning, and Channel Ten News this afternoon, there was no mention of the FFA Cup. But I think someone noted that Channel Nine had something in its evening news broadcast, which if true, would fit insofar as they also featured our win over Dandenong City.
Lest we start howling at the torment of our own irrelevance though, it's worth noting that for 'some reason' Fox Sports persists in showing our FFA Cup games, even without an A-League opponent draw card, and that the wider lack of media coverage says as much about the wider sporting public's disinterest in the FFA Cup and Australian soccer as a whole. The competition may have captured the attention of some dedicated members of Australian soccer, but it has a long way to go before it crosses over to being anything like a mainstream concern.
Back to league action away to Pascoe Vale on Saturday night.
It's rather a minor thing of course, but Fox Sport's on screen scoreboard and clock having us listed by the three letter shorthand of 'SOM' just seems unbalanced at best. What's wrong with a two letter initialism of 'SM'? If they insist on three letters, why not even 'SMH'? Of course, I kid...