Tuesday, 10 July 2018

Bobbin' up! - South Melbourne 5 Melbourne Knights 1

Does our fate lie in the hands of our youth? Manny Aguek, Pep Marafioti,
and the back of someone's head celebrate a goal. Photo: Mark Avellino.
The scene was set for another disastrous Sunday afternoon. Northcote had lost. Hume had lost. Kingston had lost. Even those recent form finders Bulleen had lost, thanks in part to a Michael Eagar header, which shows that at least someone out there still likes us. So there we were, another opportunity to get out of the relegation zone, just waiting for us to screw it up.

That's not taking anything away from the Melbourne Knights, who despite their own limitations have been hovering around the fringe finals places for most of the season, as opposed to where we are. But neither are they anything special. The idea among South fans, if not quite the belief, was that by our own low standards this game against the Knights were certainly winnable; and if we didn't win it - so the more extreme verbosity went - we were goners.

And why not? We'd still have Bentleigh, Gully, Avondale and Heidelberg away, and the Bergers at home as well, fixtures about which most assume - with some justification - that we'll probably get nothing from.

So at best we went into this match with a threadbare list - no George Howard (who somehow only got two weeks for his crazy tackle the week before), no Ndumba Makeche (probably out for several weeks with a hammy), no Milos Lujic (sunning it up in the Greek islands), and no Matthew Millar not only for this week but also for every week thereafter. Thus the notion that Knights fielded a depleted line up - probably true - should've been met with the response of, "yeah, and, so, what?". We've been fielding depleted lineups the whole damn year.

One thing we had an advantage in was the Knights personnel or at least some members thereof having probably stayed up or gotten up very early to watch Croatia's World Cup quarter final appearance, but who knows how many players from both sides had been clubbing the night before? At any rate, sleepiness can only excuse some of the nonsense play that Knights dished up. The bad throw from the keeper which led to Marcus Schroen being fouled on the edge of the box? Sleepy. But the appalling wall set up in front of the free kick from which Schroen scored with a grubber shot? Very bad, much as Knights set up a shocking wall last year for Schroen to bypass.

"KK" sounds like a court transcript identity given
 to a crown witness testifying against the mob.
The second goal came from a corner, which I suppose was our tribute to the 2018 World Cup and/or It's Coming Home. I guess since we never really even put in enough decent crosses from corners most of the time, Knights can hardly be blamed for falling asleep and letting Kristian Konstantinids float in unmarked for an easy header from the first flicked on effort.

The third goal, which for most other teams would seal the win, even before halftime, was even crazier for its combination of defensive sleepiness and carelessness. How Schroen was given that much space on the right is anyone's guess, but even better was that abysmal attempt at a clearance which by going backwards set up an otherwise offside Oliver Minatel for his sixth goal of the season, and yet another goal in his novelty tally.

There's probably some mathematical formula for how big a lead this South Melbourne team needs in order to win a game, involving complex formulations based on score, time left, rating of an opponent. While I'm not qualified to create said formula, it's fair to say that the gut feel about the place while happy with the 3-0 lead - how could one not be? - was also not really convinced about its impregnability. That's no false modesty on our part, because it's after halftime in most of our games where things have gotten particularly bad.

And the second half started off in much that vein, as we gave too much space to the Knights. It was a good thing that their end product was not nearly up to the standard of this season's leading sides. Eventually our compact, simplified game plan worked to our advantage in terms of shutting this game out, with Pep Marafioti winning a penalty and converting it to seal the win. The goal we coughed was not good, a mostly unforced defensive error gifting the Knights a goal if not much else.

But then we added a fifth from another counter, debutant Manylauk "Manny" Aguek nodding on a ball to Schroen, whose cross was met well and stylishly by an unmarked Marafioti. It goes to my opinion of Schroen that there's no real middle ground in terms of his performances: they're either brilliant or somewhere at the other, less reputable end of the scale. Marafioti's finish here (despite its lack of pressure) as well as his spectacular finish against Northcote, suggests to me that he should perhaps be the undisputed spearhead for the rest of the season, or at least until Makeche and/or Lujic are genuine options. Leigh Minopoulos slugged it out for 75 odd minutes, but you worry about how much each extra minute beyond a certain amount diminishes his fitness and chronic injury status.

The use of the under 20s players - and further to that, the whole three substitutes available - warmed the hearts of the fans, because they had a go and looked OK. Much as some of the senior players aren't happy to be subbed - Minatel looks especially annoyed when he comes off early - it makes sense in situations like this because we don't want him picking up extra yellow cards which could see our first or second most important player (after Nikola Roganovic) miss a game because of something which had no consequence on a match already won.

I'm not going to go overboard with the praise for Aguek and fellow debutant Will Orford, because the game was won by the time they came on, and the opponent wasn't really switched on. Still, it makes you wonder why some of these boys, or others like them, couldn't have been used earlier in the season even if they weren't considered quite ready yet. After all, sometimes inexperienced but fresher and fitter players are surely better than experienced but hobbled players? But that's one of the recriminations we'll return to at the end of the season, hopefully having secured another season in this tier of the Victorian NPL. Until that time, we make do with what we have - perhaps acknowledging that we have a little more in available playing stocks than we thought we did - and do our best until we can reset properly next year.

Relegation-survival prognostication
No point in including the teams immediately above us, let alone the ones in
finals contention. As you can see (click to enlarge), we still have much to do.
So after all of that, a fifth win for the season and more importantly, jumping out of the relegation zone by a whole two ladder positions.

There's a prognosticating arithmetic game going on among some fans about how many more points we'll need to avoid the drop, but there's still too many games to go before we can forecast those scenarios with any certainty - though when it comes time to doing so, there is an online tool on the NPL results pages that will let you speculate to your heart's content.

Here anyway are some unsolicited data points to keep in mind in terms of the number of points required to stay out of relegation since the onset of the NPL in Victoria in 2014, keeping in mind that 12th is the playoff spot and 13th and 14th are the automatic relegation places.

12th place finishers
  • 2014 - 28 points - Werribee finished behind 11th placed Port Melbourne on goal difference.
  • 2015 - 21 points - North Geelong finished five points behind 11th placed Oakleigh.
  • 2016 - 23 points - Richmond finished two points behind 11th placed Bulleen.
  • 2017 - 24 points - Melbourne Knights finished three points behind 11th placed Port Melbourne.
As you can see there's great variety in the number of points that the 12th placed teams were able to accrue, and how far behind they finished behind the next best side. There's also notable variance in terms of each season having weaker or stronger teams finishing in the bottom three as a whole, where it might be useful to look at the point tallies of the bottom three sides for each of those seasons.
  • 2014 - 65 points
  • 2015 - 54 points
  • 2016 - 53 points (this doesn't include Victory's six point deduction)
  • 2017 - 49 points
The 2018 points tally for the bottom three teams right now, with seven games to go, is already at 47. That tells us that this season's relegation dodgers and even the 12th placed playoff teams are probably going to have pick up more points than usual to achieve safety. Disregarding whatever points the bottom five teams may pick up against opponents higher up the ladder - or whether teams like Dandenong, Knights or Oakleigh could somehow be dragged into the scrap, though I think that's unlikely - there are also five fixtures where the bottom five teams are set to play each other:
  • Round 20, Hume vs Bulleen
  • Round 21, South vs Hume, Kingston vs Northcote
  • Round 24, Northcote vs Bulleen, South vs Kingston
Each current bottom five side gets two shots at beating at a fellow relegation rival, which says that as important as picking up points against everyone else will be, there are likely five season defining matches whose importance cannot be overstated - and the fact that we haven't managed to pick up wins against Northcote and Bulleen this year could well come back to bite us.

But let's not forget goal difference, and the game in hand we that we have. Though we hope that it doesn't come to that, at the moment we have significantly better goal difference than every team in the relegation battle; but a couple of heavy losses coupled with a couple of big wins to a relegation rival could also negate that.

So yeah, beating the Knights and getting out of the relegation zone? Great! Getting complacent about our chances of survival? Not on your life.

Next game
Bentleigh Greens at Kingston Heath on Friday night. We weren't winning there against the Greens when we were good, now that we're not very good I anticipate even greater struggles. But Bentleigh play the Bergers in the Dockerty Cup final tonight, so maybe they'll destroy each other by accumulating a ton of straight reds, injuries, and taking the game all the way to a penalty shoot out which keeps going into the following morning. Even then, I'm not expecting any miracles.

Farewell Matthew Millar
It's official: after a three week trial in Gosford, Matthew Millar has signed a one year deal with the Central Coast Mariners. While I will continue to be mystified about why it took the Mariners three whole weeks to figure out what Millar's all about as a player, I guess this is good news for him. While (probably) far too many players get immediate second chances in the A-League, there are not so many that can bounce back after getting dumped back to the state leagues for a season or two.

It's less than good news for us though, as whatever we South fans may think of Millar's deficiencies as a player, he was more than serviceable for us during his time with us, and it's one less experienced - and as importantly, fit - senior player available to us for the rest of the year. All that we get from it is some bonus points in the player points system that no one monitors anyway, maybe some minimal compensation (who knows?), and no chance (I assume) to replace him with any current free agents.

At least it's certain now that those damn inflatable apples will never see the light of day again at a South Melbourne match.

Around the grounds
That's it, back to Winnipeg Geelong!
My first time attending an Altona East home game this season. Blame scheduling conflicts? There's a bit of that, though hanging out at a couple of Kensington City games wasn't the sharpest idea in the shed. Blame the standard? I've watched a fair few other state league two games this year, and a couple of state five games. Blame the distance from Sunshine to Altona North? A very lame excuse. Blame the footy? Yeah, maybe. At any rate, it took long enough for me to get out to Paisley Park this year that I didn't even bother using my media pass to get in, just chucked the gate attendant a fiver and headed straight for the canteen,. PAOK's opponent on the day was Geelong Rangers, a team performing very much like PAOK this season: not good enough to be pushing for promotion, far too good to be in the relegation zone. I spent most of this game chatting to a South fan I met for the first time that day, not a bad conversation about many different things and people, which was a pleasant distraction from the not terribly inspiring match. Rangers took the lead in the first half, deservedly so, and it wasn't clear how an Altona East side that's hardly free scoring was going to work their way into the game. Well, 25 yard top corner screamers and curling shots from the edge of the box help. By full time it was 4-1, and Rangers like the rest of us must've been wondering where East managed to pull out that kind of football from. Makes you want to go there again to watch more of that style.

Final thought
We will fund our A-League enterprise by playing Croatian matches at the 2018 World Cup on loop in our social club, attracting local Croatians to our bar like moths to a flame.


  1. You have not given Schroen enough credit in this piece.

    Firstly, he has been coming back from a knee injury. Plus that silly suspension.

    Secondly, his free kick must have been inspired by Columbia's goal against Japan by Quintero.

    1. I'm not as big a fan of Schroen as others are. Did well in this game, but Knights gave him a lot of space.

  2. Furthermore, it appears that our easiest games are against teams with leaky defences. And we have now played the two worst in Dandenong and the Knights. Something to be of great concern, perhaps.

  3. A point against Bentleigh would be huge. I don't care if we play the most disgusting football, we need that point.
    God I wish CT was still with us, I don't think I'll ever get over his firing. Stupid board

  4. South's Players and coaching staff have got to just put in the hard yards for the rest of season.
    Every team out there always plays out of their skin to beat South no matter their current form, and knowing a win could hurt us on the ladder that is a bonus to them.
    Bentleigh is not going to do us any favours, and doubt they will be suffering from a Dockerty Cup hangover. The boys down at Kingston love nothing better than beating us.
    Bullen will undoubtedly pick up points against weak sides given their form after their midseason splurge on experienced players, hence at worst end up in the playoff spot. Kingston, Hume and Northcote will be at the mercy of their consistancy, and maybe how charitable other clubs feel.
    So South has to take each opponent and game one by one, making sure to pick up at minimum 1 point if not the full 3.
    Who cares how they play, as long as we play smart and avoid injuries and suspensions, ensuring our best players are available every week, given the how crucial every game will be.

    The unfortunate side effect of us salvaging our pride and staying up will be the board will save face, pointing to their actions of accepting Sasha's resignation as steering the club in the right direction.

  5. btw .... that's a great photo. Maybe best of the season thus far

    1. Yes, it is good. I was tossing up between using that one and the one with Mala, Aguek and Orford. Everyone knows Mala's limitations, but his influence as a morale booster/best club-man is under-appreciated I think even by those who know that side of him.

  6. Tremendous to win in such a manner and pull away a little from the relegation battle. Granted the Knights players were up all night watching the World Cup semi final, but in the end its the 3 points that mattered.

    Bentleigh coming off a Tuesday night Dockerty Cup Final, and as such only have had 2 full days to recover, Be that as it may, Bentleigh have defeated us in the past under similar conditions.

    I'm hoping the players are fired up for Norton's 200th match, and ensure its a memorable one. An upset tonight would potentially see us pull away by 5 points from the relegation spots.

  7. I see Bentleigh are calling tonight a NPL vs NPL2 contenders match.

    They need to be careful. Humble pie can be fattening !


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