The great thrill of this season, if you can call it a thrill, is wondering what will go wrong next. it's one bad thing after another, to the point where you wonder whether people are trying to fail. That's dangerous thinking with nothing to gain from it, so let's just focus on what went wrong against Northcote.
No Brad Norton, who had gastro, meaning that where one would've probably expected Christos Intzidis to replace Jake Marshall at centre-back, Intzidis had to go to right back to contend with the dangerous Gerry Sylaidos. And what did we do to make it easier for Christos, not the quickest player in the team? We played in a such a way which that allowed Sylaidos acres of space from counter attacks. Intzidis actually did pretty damn on several occasions, but there's only so much any defender can do in those circumstances.
There was also no Matthew Millar, on trial for a third week at Central Coast Mariners. Without wanting to delve into conspiracy theories involving jilted third parties, how long does it take to evaluate the merits of the player some-of-us-but-not-me call "Apples"? He can run fast, he can run all day, and his end product is frequently questionable. Look, maybe there's "he's prefect for the Mariners" joke there that I'm not aware of, but Millar's absence has been hurting us a lot, if only because we cannot run out a game for the life of us, which makes you wonder about the pre-season preparations.
Northcote had no end product, and that was their main issue for most of the game. The first half saw them open us up pretty easily, but the final touches were lacking. We weren't completely out of it, but we looked a mess going backwards, huge gaps opening up exposing the back line. That being said, we were at least able to craft chances of our own, and even took the lead for the second week in succession, Ndumba Makeche's cross met by a spectacular finish from Pep Marafioti, the only thing of note that Pep's done for us in his short South stint so far.
Sadly, Mekeche limped off soon after with a hamstring injury, adding further to our 2018 playing stock woes. Two goals and an assist are the visible stats of Makeche's productivity, but that obscures to a degree his work rate, often tracking back to provide extra coverage. Leigh Minopoulos came on earlier than many would've liked, considering Leigh's injury and fitness issues. But at least we had a lead, right?
Unfortunately, things went very badly in the second half from the get go. We couldn't get the ball, and it only seemed a matter of time before Northcote would equalise, and they did. The sheer number of chances that the visitors had created meant that there was a strong likelihood of them scoring eventually, but the manner in which the move began was heartbreaking. Marcus Schroen in his attacking half, going backwards, getting tangled up, and the ball flying up the other end for the goal. In its conception it was uncannily like a goal we conceded against Avondale last season.
At that point you had the sinking feeling that we would cop another one, but before that point we had the latest example in our spectacular 2018 brain fades when George Howard - who had been lining up opposition players all day - finally saw his chance to strike. After a couple of Northcote challenges in front of Clarendon Corner which should've been free kicks to us, Howard threw himself studs up and all in the kind of sick challenge which will see him miss several weeks.
If Howard's recklessness was the end of the affair, that would've been bad enough in our position: in the relegation zone, thin on available players, now with probably ten men to fight out the rest of the match before conceding. But because one stupid thing follows another in 2018, in the ensuing on field melee there came the involvement of a small contingent of what people from outside the playing area, jumping over the fence and getting involved in the fracas. My immediate thought was, "is this Northcote people?", not out of any desire that it was Northcote people, but only because why would a South person get involved when it was a Northcote player that was violently felled?
Sadly, one of the offenders seems to have been injured youth team player Giordano Marafioti, and thus now you wonder what punishment the club will suffer and whether that could include a points deduction. The consensus among some fans, including this one, seems to be that there really is no option but to throw Marafioti to the FFV wolves and hope that the broader club will be spared. Security seemed to move in fairly quickly, escorting away the people who weren't meant to be where they were, but you never know how these things will turn out when they reach the tribunal - especially since there's no such thing as precedent in FFV tribunal hearings.
Then came the "sack the board chants", and the "sack the board" banner, and it's amazing how all hell didn't break loose. In amid all this it took several minutes for a lot of us to realise that one of our players had been sent off. Incredibly, while we could've conceded another goal in the remaining time, we also had the chance to get all three points, as undeserved as that would've been. Minopoulos' back post header should've been better, but we can just add that to the list of things gone wrong this season.
We're not doomed yet - we're still only in third last place - but we're running out of games where we can reasonably consider ourselves having a chance of winning. Having picked up only two points out of a possible twelve against Northcote and Bulleen, we're left with games against only Kingston and Hume where we can take points off fellow relegation battlers. We still have games against Bentleigh, Avondale, and Gully away, and two games against the ladder leading Heidelberg. Being at home has made little difference overall to our prospects of success, and we keep losing players for one stupid reason or another.
The way things are going, it'll be a hell of an escape. I'm not optimistic.
Melbourne Knights at home on Sunday. Apart from adding to our death spiral, it's a chance for Knights to beat us twice in the same home and away season since 1995. Still, South picking up a win is more important than obscure statistical anomalies.
NPLW team keeps rolling on
Sick as I am of watching our women's team play against Bulleen this season, I nevertheless did make the decision to head out to Lakeside on Saturday ahead of two or three other options. And as usual, it was well worth the effort, the senior women putting in a good performance to finish up 5-1 winners, moving to first on the ladder, a point of Calder United who have a game in hand.
Always a bit more relaxed at women's games for me, which is no disrespect to the women's team who obviously take things seriously. Usual gin and tonic in the social club for me, where I was told by Tegan who's been working the bar that the night before an English futsal hiring had drunk about $3,000 worth of booze, including going through more gin than she'd ever seen before. Got to watch the first half in the match day operations booth, with a relieved George Kouroumalis at the helm, after the scoreboard malfunctions of the previous weeks necessitated repairs by the Trust. These kinds of situations are also good for a bit of scuttlebutt and rumour-mongering, not least that there had been an unusual spike in membership purchases during the week, getting in before the end of financial year cut off date.
Anyway, we were told by one insider that there would be a different style of play that afternoon, with South looking to press high up the pitch, and that proved to be the case early on at least. A very early 1-0 lead bucked the trend of much of what the NPLW side has done this season, which is fall behind and need to wake up and rally from that position. Here though there was the opposite, with the women controlling the game, mostly, and even doubling their lead albeit with a bit of luck from Melina Ayers' not exactly sweet finish. But the side also has a habit of defensive lapses, and copping a goal just before halftime wasn't ideal. Still, the second half was an improvement on the first, and I think the final scoreline does justice to the progress the team has made across the season.
That's a shame, etc
So Nicholas "the People's Champ" Epifano is gone. You could say something frighteningly obvious like "it had to happen", but you'd likely only follow it up with some equally obvious line like "it had to happen years ago". Rather than ramble on and recount the whole complicated history of this player and his time at our club, I'm keen to keep the obituary fairly short.
Along with several Dandenong Thunder players, Nick Epifano joined South Melbourne in mid-2013, during that time when Chris Taylor was appointed coach. The club had the opportunity to sack Epifano after he racially abused the club's own supporters - on multiple occasions - three years ago. Instead it decided to follow Chris Taylor's recommendation to help Epifano deal with his issues - whatever they were - rather than cut him adrift. That the club decided to do just that makes them come across as uncharacteristically noble and progressive, especially when you consider you're talking about South Melbourne Hellas here. Of course people would've also been operating under the idea that Epifano was a talented player that could help us win a championship. Thus followed a few years of South supporters watching Epifano ply his trade for South mostly through gritted teeth, feigned indifference, or with the assistance of supremely ironic emotional distancing. That facade broke apart at last against Pascoe Vale.
To sum up: Nick Epifano is a moderately talented soccer player who is, at best, an Australian second tier talent. Some people think he's got more talent than that, and that it's only character that's held him back, but I'm not convinced. On more than one occasion he was pivotal to our success in our good recent years, but he was just as prone to becoming a liability both on and off the field. He's signed up for North Sunshine Eagles in the state leagues for the rest of 2018 - the state leagues being the only place he can sign for now that the NPL transfer window is closed - and will likely end up back in the NPL somewhere next year, with Taylor's Oakleigh the obvious candidate. Whether we're there for our paths to cross again next year is another matter entirely, and of course the more important thing.
A-League shortlist news
Last Friday the announcement came from FFA HQ that the South Melbourne bid had made the shortlist stage for A-League expansion. Made up of ten out of the rumoured fifteen bids, it's a pretty long list.
- South West Sydney
- United for Macarthur (Sydney)
- Southern Expansion (Sydney region)
- Team 11 (Melbourne)
- South Melbourne
- Western Melbourne Group
- Brisbane City
- Ipswich Pride
- Canberra & Capital Region
If I were to attempt to discern some sort of logic as to the selection process thus far, it seems that the shortlist fits in rather neatly with the desire for expansion in bigger television markets - ie, David Gallop's "fish where the fish are" manifesto. Missing out are the Fremantle City, Tasmania, Gold Coast, and West Adelaide bids, and the rumoured but media silent Belgravia bid which no one seems to know anything about.
One could speculate in all sots of ways about why some were kept and some were left out, but that would be a waste of digital ink, and besides, in between now and the final announcement on October 31 there's bound to be all sorts of crazy commentary and shenanigans. Not that any of that matters.
I get it now - getting relegated and spending our 60th anniversary in NPL 2 has been designed as a tribute to our 1960 team, which of course played in what was then the Victorian second tier. Coincidence that it was split into two sections back then? I think not! All we need to do is lobby for the east.west split to be refashioned into a north/south one.