The post-mortem on a game as lopsided as this one can go one of two ways. The first approach emphasises how good the winning team was, while the other looks at how poor the loser was. In this case the emphasis, even for a South blog, can't help but be about how bad Thunder were. They were abysmal, about as bad a side I've seen play against us since we re-entered the state leagues 13 years ago.
First up, Thunder were slow. Parking an overweight Theo Markellis in midfield was a bad sign, but across the ground we were able to outrun them with and without the ball. And their setup, described by more observant punters than me as having three at the back, was a disaster waiting to happen. Against a three pronged attack of Milos Lujic, Leigh Minopoulos and Andy Brennan, it failed miserably. I guess their plan was to clog the midfield and play the ball wide. From our point of view - or at least what I thought was happening from my sideline vantage point in the first half - we wanted them to head inboard, where they would hopefully cough up the ball.
And cough it up they did, repeatedly. We know that Iqi Jawadi and Matthew Millar are able to perform that task well enough, it's their bread and butter after all, but Nick Epifano's attitude in the first couple of weeks means that our pressing approach has that extra dose of effectiveness. Playing in a version of the central role that Chris Taylor had tried to use him in every so often, but which had never quite worked, the People's Champ is perhaps on the way to his best season. It's been more of a free floating midfield role - one observer likened it to the kind of role Fernando De Moraes used to perform - and it seems promising at this early stage.
But nearly everything has seemed promising about this early stage of the season, apart from of course Milos' finishing in the first game and Alastair Bray's injury. But there are tougher tests coming up, and we'll start learning more about the team in the next two weeks. Bulleen we knew were going to be one of the strugglers, but I don't think we expected Dandenong Thunder to be that bad. The idea in my head was that coming into the game I expected a tough affair. This was a Thunder side even if they weren't considered a finals candidate, they could at least be counted on to give a better account of themselves than did St Albans and North Geelong last year.
But they were done almost from the outset. It helps that unlike against Bulleen, this time we got our goals early and took away whatever initiative and fight Thunder may have had. Thunder had a handful of shots late in the first half, and one or two chances in the second, but there was never a risk of a comeback. Perhaps Thunder got promoted in the wrong year? Had they been promoted the year before as they should've been, maybe things would've been different. Taking advantage of Dandenong City's choke has perhaps seen them come up not as well prepared, though there were also people saying their last year's team was stronger. Who knows?
The crowd, which mostly seemed to be South fans, was excited in the early parts of the game, muted in the middle, and then celebratory and cautiously cocky by the end - including a bit of dry-humping of one of the goal stanchions by one frisky supporter. There was some discussion about the improved early season NPL crowds, especially as parts of the A-League are seemingly faltering, but this crowd was disappointing in its size. The first home game back in the top flight for Thunder after several seasons, I would've expected double the 500 odd that turned up, but it was not to be.
|Dandenong Thunder goalkeeper Sermin Sadikovski comes flying in|
kamikaze style on Oliver Minatel. Photo: South Melbourne FC.
Apart from Thunder being abysmal, what did we learn from Saturday? That we have goals in us, from multiple angles, that we are definitely playing a different style, but we kinda figured that out the week before as well. Everyone seems to love Christos Intzidis, with South and non-South fans alike noting the difference in the way he moves around and surveys the field compared to local players. Still, I'm concerned with two elements of our defensive efforts; the first is what happens when our fullbacks especially get stranded upfield - do we have the processes right where the wingers know they have to cover without being told?
(it's a pet hate of mine of Australian soccer players have to constantly be told to do things which they probably should be able to think of for themselves. This isn't just an issue at this level of course, but at higher levels from what I can tell from the little that I watch of Australians playing in better competitions.)
But I think we look our most vulnerable at the moment when teams push us back onto our 18 yard box, and we've let the two otherwise mediocre sides we've faced so far get a look in either with shots or with time enough to make passes through. But I'm not arrogant or stupid enough to think we're going to go through entire games without the opposition getting a sniff at all, and it's too early to make the jump from coincidence to trend.
Depth is the thing that seems to be bothering people the most. Centre-back is covered well enough with Konstantinidis and Intzidis, as well as Ajdin Fetahagic and the injured Jake Marshall. If something happens to one of our wing-backs? Yes, Konstantinidis can play either full back position, but would you want to break up his partnership with Intzidis without just cause? Can Josh Hodes play senior NPL football? It was impossible to tell from Saturday night, and you'd never want to write someone off based on 25 minutes of an increasingly decrepit match. Our wingers are talented, but do they/will they have enough gas in the tank to run out games? And still we pray and hope that Milos Lujic does not get injured or suspended, at least until Giordano Marafioti is ready to come back from injury. Depth is going to be the issue that's going to follow the side throughout the year, as the matches pile up, and as risks with tired and injured players get taken.
|New scoreboard for a record score. Photo: South Melbourne FC.|
Of course the other approach is to stop over-thinking it, and just enjoy the win!
We got three of them on Saturday, and I thought that maybe a couple of the penalties we got were a bit soft, but you know what? Maybe we've been conditioned to think that a penalty should require a more robust kind of foul than anywhere else on the field. But why? A foul in the box is no different to a foul anywhere else, right? It's the same rules, yes? And if we happen to be on a trajectory where we receive an above average amount of penalties, it's only because we actually get into the box, surely? Remember the Gus Tsolakis years, where we didn't ever get in the box? Once we're in the penalty area, it's up to the opposition defenders to behave themselves, and if we get past them, maybe not nudge bodies or tug at shirts. And I would say the same for our defenders at the other end of the ground. Maybe stricter enforcement of fouls will mean that players will have to learn to defend better.
Oakleigh away on Friday night. Oaks have lost their opening two matches, an unlucky loss against an at this stage improved Knights, and a narrow loss to Bentleigh, so they're under the pump at the moment. Some will point to our rubbish record at Jack Edwards in recent years - I think that our last win there, apart from that cup semi-final win against the Bergers, was back in 2013 - but this is a different team and a different style which may be able to get a win over Oakleigh here at last. Apart from losing both their league games, Oakleigh are also dealing with a mini-injury crisis, with both their starting centre-backs being injured in the first week, and midfield enforcer Wayne Wallace also coming off hurt against Bentleigh. Who knows how many of those injured players will line up against us? Oakleigh keeper John Honos has committed costly howlers in both games so far, so he'll have a blinder on Friday. They still have a lot of firepower in midfield and up front though.
Alastair Bray out for the season
Coming into this season having recovered from a shoulder reconstruction, goalkeeper Alastair Bray will miss the rest of the 2018 NPL Victoria season after the injury he received late against Bulleen was revealed to be an ACL rupture.
There is talk that the recently retired Nikola Roganovic may come out of retirement to help bolster our keeping stocks. One assumes that if this is true, that it will be as a backup option to Coulter, but stranger things have happened.Hard to accept the fact I’ve ruptured my ACL in my first game back after a year out with a shoulder reconstruction. Thanks to everyone who has messaged me. I’ll be back https://t.co/Hd6eXUp53w pic.twitter.com/7E8sXxx2AD— Alastair Bray (@alastairbray21) February 28, 2018
Puskas film update
I've been told that the Ferenc Puskas in Australia doco I spoke about last year is going well. Plenty of the notables have been interviewed, and the insights and memories collected sound terrific. But Rob Heath and Tony Wilson still need to get homemade footage from South fans. Apart from costing less than having to buy footage from the ABC and SBS, homemade footage of Puskas and that era of South Melbourne at Middle Park will add a real layer of authenticity that commercial or professional footage just can't match. So if you have footage, or photos, or just a good story to tell about that era, please do not hesitate to get in contact with me. Your archival material - maybe even you yourself! - could end up in a great little film project, paying tribute to one of the greatest soccer players of all time, as well as the club he called home for three memorable years.
Also, if anyone knows who owns this YouTube account, please get them to contact me, Tony, or Rob.
AAFC roadshow hits Melbourne this Thursday
The Association of Australian Football Clubs, the upstart collective of NPL teams making a big racket around the issues of promotion-relegation and the FFA's congress issues, is in the middle of a national roadshow. The roadshow arrives in Melbourne on Thursday, so if you didn't manage to get a ticket to the Jordan Peterson thing or you don't have to attend soccer training, this AAFC thing might be worth a look. I'll probably be there, arriving with an open mind, and hopefully keeping up that facade for at least three seconds.
The event is being held at Sports House, 375 Albert Road, Albert Park, near MSAC, with the meeting starting 7:00PM.
Around the grounds
Same Knights time, same Knights channel
|In lieu of the flyer that was attached to my windshield for|
a concern by some Cro singer coming out to Australia, I'm
putting up this Croatian bank ad up instead.
That is some birthday cake.
Happy Birthday Stef. What a present, another hatrick!! pic.twitter.com/XDDO7FYSpv— John Patitsas (@johnpatitsas) March 3, 2018