Monday, 5 March 2018

Debbie Downer Special - Dandenong Thunder 0 South Melbourne 9

I had every intention of finishing this up last night, but I somehow ended up drinking bourbon and coke while watching season one episodes of Law & Order SVU on TV, back when they used a blackboard instead of fanciful electronics, and John Munch's presence on the show was still meaningful. So it goes.

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.
We were 4-0 up at halftime, but kept adding goals almost at will after the break. At 8-0 up and the game winding down, the most surreal moment of the match unfolded. Dandenong goalkeeper Sermin Sadikovski - up to that point the one blameless Thunder player - embarked on a kamikaze mission the likes of which I have not seen for some time. A long floating ball was being contested by Oliver Minatel and a Thunder opponent, and all of a sudden there was Sadikovski, flying in with a lunging studs up tackle ten metres outside his own area. He of course got his marching orders, and Minatel fortunately managed to avoid serious injury. That's why they invented shin pads. Having made all their subs, veteran Thunder goal scorer Veton Korcari put on the gloves, noting to the South fans behind the goals that since he wasn't likely to score a goal he may as well try and stop some. He managed to hold onto an on target but tame Foschini shot, to the applause of those same South fans, but his clean sheet was soiled soon after when Epifano managed to slam one home from a slight angle.

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.
I had turned up to the gate in my Shoot Farken t-shirt, which the gate attendant loved the sentiment of, though he clearly wasn't aware of the website. He probably wishes now that we didn't have the chance to shoot (farken) so often. Thunder also had what looked like a new electronic scoreboard, which got a workout no one was expecting, the scoreboard attendant not even bothering to update it to 9-0 at the end of the game. That final whistle was an overdue granting of mercy to not just Thunder's players, or its fans - those few who had stayed to the end - but also to everyone else. This game crossed the line from where a thrashing is enjoyable to where it's almost tedious, pitiable even, where doubts about your own's team efficacy emerge to compensate for how poor the opposition were. Are we really that good? At halftime I was thinking yes, possibly; at full time, I wasn't sure; by the time I got home two or so hours later, exhausted, I could only look ahead to the next few weeks and better opponents and hopefully some clarity of where we stand in 2018.

Of course the other approach is to stop over-thinking it, and just enjoy the win!

On penalties
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.

Next game
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.

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.
Another decent crowd in for a 7:30 start at Somers Street, though clearly not as big as the week before; last week I was forced to park my car on the back fence, this time I parked in my usual spot of the quarry side fence. Ex-South man Shaun Timmins got himself sent off on seven minutes for slapping a Pascoe Vale opponent on the wing in front of quarry hill, and got an earful from teammate Nikola Jurkovic for his troubles - more on Jurkovic later. Pascoe Vale's front three of Van 't Schip, Bernabo-Madrid, and Osmancevic couldn't get much going because Pascoe Vale were playing the most garbage kick and chase football I'd seen since, well, the last time I saw it. Let's just say 2017  Avondale for the sake of it. Knights were holding their own despite being a man down, but then gave a penalty, fell behind, and then looked a bit rattled. On half time Pascoe Vale also went a man down, a denial of clear goal scoring opportunity card that Ben Surey (sitting near me  in the stand with a broken foot) though was only given because of the earlier red card. Now that I've thought about that response in more depth, I've come to the conclusion that that attitude is probably why Surey and his Knights friends get sent off so often. Knights looked the better team when it was 10 vs 10, and equalised thanks to a goalmouth scramble back heel from an uncleared corner. The game had actually got watchable by this stage, and then Knights decided to shoot themselves in the foot when Jurkovic (who else?) got himself sent off. The home side coughed up the ball in defence with five minutes to go, went behind, and in the 95th minute desperation sent everyone up for a last ditch corner, The ball fell to the feet of a Pascoe Vale sub who looked about 15 years old, who ran up the field being chased by the Knights keeper; the aforementioned sub rolled the ball towards goal, and Van t' Schip tapped it home. Then everyone got splashed by the sprinklers as we filed out of the grandstand.

Final thought
That is some birthday cake.


  1. Gate entry update. Same 4 people were charged $25 at the Dandenong game.
    Good people down at Thunder not trying to rip of the general public.

    FC Bulleen FU!

  2. I did notice that free to air tv is showing some early episodes of various US crime shows like CSI derivatives and SVU. Since I missed them all the first time, its good news for me.

    1. Double episodes of early SVU on Gem late Sunday nights.

  3. An excellent result at a venue where we have traditionally done it tough (even though we have a good track record). Goal difference may play an important role towards the end of the season, and in some respects, may be as equally valuable as an extra competition point.

    I'll take the half glass view and proceed to laud our playing squad. Commanding and clinical performance.

    Could we see Dandenong Thunder cause a massive upset and hold Heidelberg to a draw this week?

    1. Fair point about the goal difference boost from this game being equivalent to a bonus point.


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