Wednesday, 29 May 2019

Wrong about everything - South Melbourne 3 Bentleigh Greens 2

I can't quite figure it out, but perhaps we've just got to accept that most of us are going to be wrong about this team and most of these players on a weekly basis, and maybe even on a minute-by-minute basis.

Certainly this season is taking its emotional toll on some of our supporters, in ways quite different from 2018. Where in 2018 one (retrospectively) spent the entire season after round 3 gearing up for a relegation battle, halfway through this season we've been through the highs of two wins in the first three games, an erratic stretch of form which saw the loss of a senior coach, still more erratic form which saw us flirt with the bottom three thanks to dropping points to most of our relegation battling compadres, and yet over the past three weeks have knocked over three of the best credentialed teams in the league.

Now to be fair, some of our supporters are more susceptible to violent mood swings than others. But this season has had a knack of overturning the expectations of even the most astute commentators. Every player is wrong, every tactic is wrong, every signing is wrong, every board maneuver in regards to coaching, player management, and selection is wrong, until things just fall into place and it works. That's not to imply imminent ascendancy for this team, because the next two weeks against bottom half teams could see us drop back into old habits and poor results. But if you're hoping for grinding 1-0 wins for the rest of the year and a seventh place finish, this might not be the season for you. You should instead settle down in front of the heater and watch videos of (stereotypical) Chris Taylor coached South sides.

Though it would be nice to keep a clean sheet, something we've only done twice in the league all season.

Losing Brad Norton to injury early on (and here's hoping it's not a serious one, even though Brad had no hesitation in subbing himself off immediately) wouldn't have helped our cause, especially since he was replaced by the Much Maligned Perry Lambropoulos on the left. Having lost his spot at right full-back to Ben Djiba, Perry is basically in the squad now as cover. One person's misfortune (Luke Adams) plus another's (Brad Norton) meant where one might otherwise play Kristian Konstantinidis on the left, Perry gets a go instead.

Perry's inclusion did stymie our ability to make progress on the left, as Lambropoulos is mich less of an attacking threat than Norton or any of the rest of our full-back options. This meant Pep Marafioti had to work a lot harder on the left in the first half, and he wasn't having a great game before that of Norton's going off anyway.

Having shown some positive signs and an ability to match it with Bentleigh in the first 20 minutes or so, we were overwhelmed bu a superior side for the rest of the half. The Greens were getting numbers forward, and their opening the scoring looked inevitable, except for Nikola Roganovic pulling out some superb saves. Unfortunately another routine defensive blunder from Kristian Konstantinidis cost us a goal.

It was his third goal-costing mistake in four matches, and each of the mistakes was easily avoidable. Against the Magic he could've easily hoofed the ball upfield instead of trying to dribble his way on his own byline; against Heidelberg, he gave away a needless and reckless penalty; and here against Bentleigh, as a cross was cleared by our defenders to the edge of the box and the rest of the defensive line moved up the field, KK decided to sit on the goal-line, keeping the Bentleigh attacker onside when the ball was sent into the box again.

And yet somehow we've managed to not lose any of those games. Go figure.

At least someone's happy - for now. Photo: Cindy Nitsos.
We equalised early enough in the second half from a goal so simple in its execution you wonder why teams don't try it more often. The flu-stricken Gerrie Sylaidos got free on the right edge of the box, shot low and hard across at the Bentleigh keeper, and the resultant spill sat up beautifully for Pep Marafioti to belt home from close range.

Now I'm a Negative Nancy at the best of times, so while the crowd lifted from that unexpected goal, I said to the younger lads behind me (and they can vouch for this), "enjoy the five minutes while it lasts". Well, I was wrong about that, because we held on to the 1-1 scoreline for just three minutes, as Matt Thurtell raced through on goal unimpeded and slammed his shot into the back of the net.

Oh well, being level was fun while it lasted. And how nice would it have been if Marafioti or "he of the hamstrings which are always about to snap" Zac Bates could've slotted one of their chances soon after we had equalised. Anyway, at 2-1 down it's not like it was over, but I felt like we always had more goals to concede and not necessarily any way to match that. Well, I was wrong about that too, as Marafioti - who was playing on the right on the second half - decided to take a speculative low shot from the edge of the box, which took a deflection before settling in the back of the net.

All of a sudden it was 2-2, one felt that anything could happen, even if the most likely scenario was still us losing the game somehow. Before the game I would've been happy with a point, and at 2-2 with about twenty minutes to play, I would still have been happy with that point.

When Jake Marshall (2019's most improved South Melbourne player by a long way) got subbed off, I have to say I was a bit confused and concerned. But looking at the replay - especially of Bentleigh's second goal - and thinking it about it a bit more dispassionately, I think I understand the logic of it; even though Marshall wasn't having a poor game per se, Matt Thurtell was burning past him with pure speed too often.

But then we got the winner thanks to a corner and Kostas Stratomitros being in the right place at the right time. Say what you will about Marcus Schroen's corner taking this season - and it has often been dire - it has also occasionally been good, and when it has we have looked very dangerous from these situations.

Here's the thing - and I may have mentioned it in a previous post about Bentleigh, or I may not have, I can't recall and I'm not going to back and look for it - as good as they are in an attacking sense, they are more suspect defensively this season. Now let's put that in perspective: most NPL defences once you start putting pressure on them look suspect. But Bentleigh have looked particularly vulnerable to me, and the fact that we actually had a go made things happen.

It's a tautology of sorts, I know, but there's no use dying wondering. The corner we scored from? It came because Nick Krousoratis put in a crap ball into the box and the Bentleigh defender freaked out and booted it out behind his own goal line. That's the standard of pretty much every team in this comp once they sense there's any danger, no matter how remote.

Did we ride our luck? Did we look shaky when Bentleigh threw everything at us in the last few minutes? Well yes, of course. Did we get three points? Well actually, yes, we did. I expected at most three points from these past three league games (and really, probably only one) but here we are now with what some might call form or momentum.

We've returned to equilibrium, now can we maintain that?
It was a handy win in other ways as well, because with regards to the relegation battle, the round's other results were a bit of a mixed bag. Oakleigh and Port both won on the road, while Dandy Thunder, Pascoe Vale and Kingston all lost. Probably the most surprising result was Dandy City picking up a point at Avondale, in what may be a chilling sign of things to come.

Still, some of our bottom-half rivals might be looking at the table and wondering - as many of us are - how the hell did we manage to beat three teams on the trot that were sitting in the top six at the time.

That nice run of form has some people already looking up to a possible finals run - after all, we're just three points adrift from the sixth-placed and stuttering Melbourne Knights.

I remain more focused on getting enough points to avoid the drop or a relegation playoff. Though one person is intent on moving the goalposts about what would constitute a points total that would see us safe, I'm keener to stick with the 30 point mark as the initial aim here. At the moment we're three wins and a draw adrift of that target, and if we can't manage at least that in our remaining games, then we deserve to go down.

Next game
Dandenong City away on Friday night. Dandy City have splashed out during the mid-season transfer window, signing Carl Valeri, Adrian Leijer, and Brendon Santalab. Some of you may remember the last two playing for various clubs during the late NSL era, though I'm not sure what they've been doing in the last 15 or so years, as they kinda seemed to fall off the face of the earth.

If you're one of those weirdos who love getting to the grounds by public transport, this might be one to avoid, unless you have a plan for getting back out to civilisation somehow.

The club should demand its $50 back
We made a substitution during the second half, in which the fourth official put up the number 12 on his fancy board as both the player coming off and coming on. These blokes have basically four jobs, all of them very simple.

  1. Put up the correct numbers of the subs on their fancy boards.
  2. Put up the correct number of minimum amount of injury time minutes to be played.
  3. Occasionally tell coaches to get back in their technical areas.
  4. Pray like hell that they don't have to actually get called up to do the ref's or the lino's jobs.
That's money well spent across a season, dollars which would could just as easily be spent being put into the pocket of hard working professional NPL players who entertain thousands of people (most of them overseas gamblers, admittedly) on a weekly basis. These fourth officials need to lift their game.

Photo: Luke Radziminski.
Bucket of sand
Does anybody remember the last time a flare was lit at Lakeside Stadium? No, that's not a call for you to rip one and break the drought. It's just that someone noticed the flare buckets on standby during Sunday's game, and people were wondering when was the last time they were even needed.

The best that anyone could seem to recall, people affiliated with Pascoe Vale ripped one during the 2015 semi-final they lost against us. There was a flare confiscated and/or found during that Melbourne Victory game in 2016, but I think that's about as close as we've gotten since 2015. I can't remember the last time one of our fans ripped one.

Mumble grumble (social club kitchen)
Much dissatisfaction expressed on the forum this week about the food service in the social club. Mostly based around how slow it is. Now I usually eat in the social club well before the game, so I've dodged most of in the "just before kickoff and during the game" issues with getting food quickly from our social club.

What I will say is that the social club did look understaffed on Sunday, for reasons I'm not aware of. That certainly added to the problems experienced by several of our supporters looking to get food and drink on Sunday. There was one register open, and one guy responsible for taking order, making coffees, and getting people's drinks. That's not usually been the case the season, but you can see how that caused a lot of problems.

There have been three operators of the social club since the social club reopened, and while the quality and the range of food have varied between operators, the problems remain largely the same. Slow service and an ability to decide whether the social club space is going for speedy match day service (if it is even capable of doing this under its current setup) or bistro style cooked-on-request service.

I'm not in hospitality and never have been, but it seems that there are at least some basic solutions which would alleviate some of the current problems. The first would be to open up the canteen on the side of the grandstand (if it's not open already), and let people know that it is open (seeing as how most people enter the venue via the social club), taking some of the heat off the social club kitchen.

(and isn't getting access to that canteen and outside pouring rights on match days part of what we gave up some of our monthly income for?)

Second would be to get a coffee cart working outside of the social club. We're a winter competition, and some people are understandably going to want a warming beverage. Coffee takes longer and more effort to make than pouring a beer or soft drink. Why would you make it harder to access for punters to access and harder for staff to provide this service?

Third - and this is not my suggestion, but rather a popular one from the forum - just provide food that is easy to prepare, cook, and serve on a speed and scale befitting a soccer match instead of a sit-down restaurant. These people (by which I mean all these people who have attempted to operate the social club) have been experienced hospitality people in one form or another. It boggles the mind how this issue still hasn't been sorted out.

Mid-season transfer period news
Though some people on Sunday said there would be a Peter Skapetis related announcement on Monday, as of Tuesday afternoon there was no Peter Skapetis related news other than to say that there was strong word that he was no longer at Dandenong Thunder, which is the very definition of being neither here nor there.

Then on Tuesday evening, the announcement was finally made that the Skapetis signing had come to pass. Skapetis is a former South junior, who claimed with what felt like something with believability that scoring against us earlier in the season for Dandenong Thunder felt very wrong. He's signed until the end of 2020, but the more immediate question is who is going to make way for him? I'm guessing it's going to be Zac Bates' hamstrings, because you wouldn't drop your leading scorer in Pep Marafioti, would you?

There has also been simmering rumour chat that Canadian defensive midfielder Ethan Gage is on his way out of Lakeside, but as of Wednesday morning, he's still with us as far as I'm aware. Having said that, Gage's not being used in either the midweek cup match nor the Bentleigh game says to me that unless he's injured, there's something wrong here. We'll see what comes of it.

The transfer window reportedly closes on June 4th, so there's still time for lots of stuff to happen, or not happen.

On the couch
Momentary abstraction/Eventual clarity
It's the most curious thing - my zeal for watching other games from this league has returned just as South has managed to win a few games. I wonder what the connection might be? I'm sure I'll figure it out one day. Anyway, for whatever reason I was compelled on Monday night to watch Kingston vs Port Melbourne. I was hoping for a Kingston win, or at worst a draw between the two teams. We didn't get that. Sure, Kingston took the lead, but they coughed it up to, well, a team that deserved to win it on the balance of play. To go back to an earlier point in this post - being entertaining is fun, but perhaps not so much when you're on the bottom of the ladder. At some point you've got to control the tempo of a match, disrupt the momentum of your opponent, and grind out results rather than lose honourably.

Cue, meet rack... wait...
That aforementioned return of a zest for life? Yeah, I ended up at Knights Stadium yesterday because of it. A bit cold and some regret on that front, but I emerged emotionally unscathed, and actually also a bit entertained as well. There was an announcement that a white Toyota was blocking something or other and needed to be moved, and I had a momentary flash of panic that it was my Toyota... thankfully the licence plate number was different, and later on we found that the car was also an Aurion and not a 1989 Camry, which was eventually moved once the announcement was made again, this time in both English and Croatian.

As for the match, either way this turned out would've been funny, but seeing the cash-splashing Avondale bow out after putting the cue in the rack with a 1-0 lead and about half an hour to play, on the assumption (not entirely unreasonable, but still) that Knights would not pose a serious threat going forward, was pretty funny. This was a game whose excellence built up slowly, revealing itself only in the final minutes. A slow start from both team playing between arcs. Then Avondale having a goal cleared off the line by what Twitter says was a clear handball. Then missing a one on one. Then finally taking the lead early in the second half and deservedly so. Five or so more minutes of trying to put the game away seemed to be enough for the visitors, and that turned out to be their downfall. Knights had been ceded the initiative, they managed to get an equaliser, and we were off to extra time. Then Knights took the lead, and Avondale had to figure out how to get their way back into the game. And it wasn't like Knights were going to be hospitable in that - the ball at one stage went over the fence on the Quarry Hill side, and no one, not even the ball boys, made any effort to retrieve the ball necessitating the Avondale player on that side jumping the fence.
It was a stunt made riskier by the fact that it had started bucketing down in extra time. The chances also flowed from both sides after that, with Knights keeper Cakarun making one final, reaching save to preserve their lead, and Avondale sending a header from the resulting corner over the bar. So Knights progress against the odds, while Avondale bow out to chants of "cigane" coming from the Mark Viduka Stand.

Final thought
Googled myself on Google Scholar this week, and found that Andy Harper had cited my now six-year-old journal article in his own recently released journal article. I mean, it was only part of his literature review, but it's something I suppose.

Saturday, 25 May 2019

Late cup report - South Melbourne 2 Langwarrin 1

This week's excuse for a late post is that I didn't finish this by Thursday night, and the next day I was off to Sydney for a couple of days thanks to a $50 Jetstar voucher someone gave me late last year. That's how they get you of course, but we can safely say that apart from an airport train and Frango's Chicken, Melbourne still has Sydney beat on the important things like weather and geographical flatness.

Also, my flight home got delayed by about 40 minutes because of some sort of passenger argle bargle at the front of the plane. Thanks a lot, chumps.

As for Wednesday's game, some people (who knew at least which division our opponents were in) were suggesting that we'd smash Langwarrin. I wasn't so sure. They've got a few ex-top tier NPL players in their squad, including Fraser Maclaren, Roddy Covarrubias, Wayne Wallace, David Stirton (allegedly), and maybe one of the Websters. Not leading their division, but in the playoff hunt, and with players "built for cup football" which is I believe the naff generalisation I used on the night.

Despite the "big names" of Langwarrin, and South fielding a weakened/non-full cream squad, it was us who opened the scoring, by which I mean Pep Marafioti sent across a, er, cross, which Nick Krousoratis - remember him? - controlled the ball beautifully at the back post for the opening goal. I mean, it was an empty net, but that ball was flying across, and it necessitated something very much like a volley at pace to score the goal.

Meanwhile, rather than outwardly celebrating too much - after all, it was just one goal, very early - some of us in Clarendon Corner attempted (mostly by accident) to make Krousoratis' effort someone what lesser than what it was, by comparing it to the four or five much easier chances that Andy Brennan missed in the home league match against Green Gully last year.

Those not in the mood for self-flagellation continued looking the search for Stirton. Surely as a redhead, he'd stand out? Had he bleached his hair? Was he tall or short? While everyone was trying to locate Stirton, Wayne Wallace somehow managed to elude three centre-backs (Adams, KK, Marshall) heading home Langwarrin's equaliser. Thus followed about ten minutes of play where Langwarrin outpaced our defenders and we did that thing where we don't have much of the ball for some reason,

At that stage Langwarrin looked quick, and not at all like the hit and hope side that existed for decade under Gus MacLeod and Caleb Nichols. Neither were they were particularly hacky in the tackling department. We worked our way back to opening them up, but missed oodles of good chances. Marcus Schroen was a major culprit again on that front, scuffing a virtual tap-in from a Pep Marafioti ball into the box, but Schroen wasn't alone on that front with several players missing good chances.

Now admittedly the second half is a bit of a blur to me now several writing this several days (and a couple of plane trips, a footy match, and a gallery visit) after the game, but I seldom thought that Langwarrin looked overly threatening during the second half. Some people remember a glancing header that could've gone anywhere but missed, but I think to myself, if that was from Covarrubias is anyone so shocked that it missed?

That's not a slur on that particular player, but rather a frank assessment of his capabilities. Maybe with some better finishing Langwarrin could've pushed us to extra time or even have pinched the win. Sure their chances were limited to a ten minute phase in the first half and glancing header in the second, but they did create something. But maybe at the end of the day, one has to perhaps acknowledge that, possibly better wages aside, there's probably a reason even the credentialed players are in NPL 2 and not NPL (1).

For our own part, we created more than enough chances, and screwed most of them up with abysmal finishing. On came Billy Konstantinidis from the bench to show the children how it's done. Another great Pep Marafioti cross was met by an excellent Konstantinidis header, and we were back in front and seldom ever troubled from that point on, even with a healthy dose of injury time.

While the first half was reasonably clean on the discipline front, the second was much messier. The visitor's tackling got more fierce and/or reckless, and there was also some behind the scenes nonsense. In the lead-up to our second goal, Gerrie Sylaidos was sandwiched in a tackle by two Langy players - we hope he's fine. Less optimistic is the outlook for Luke Adams, whom forum rumours are suggesting will be out for the rest of the season with a serious knee injury.

So while it was fun to win the game and progress to the next round, it did come at a cost to our chances of surviving the drop this season, which remains our chief concern. This is especially the case now that Oakleigh has started claiming points at a brisker pace, and as other teams (Dandy City) start splurging on former A-League players.

But still, comedy Darwin Olympic chants aside - and the hope that we can catch the desert bus on the way to Darwin - there are already people asking when the next round will be drawn. Sorry to say folks that it probably won't be until late next week, after the remainder of round six matches are completed. Thus far, the only other team to have made it through to round seven is NPL2 side Moreland Zebras, who took out State League 2 side Westgate 2-0.

But look at you all now. Just a couple of weeks ago you were all doom and gloom, and now you're all excited to be going to South games again, thinking that the world is once becoming our oyster, sort of. You're nothing but a pack of fickle mush-heads.

Next game
Sunday arvo (ie, tomorrow) at Lakeside against Bentleigh Greens, who are fresh off beating the previously unbeaten Avondale, but who also begin a new era without coach John Anastasiadis, who has moved across to an assistant role at Western United. Will they rest players in this game due to their having a cup game in midweek? We can only hope that they do, and that we can take advantage of that.

Signings! Two of them!
The club has announced its first two two signings of the mid-season transfer window. One is midfielder Melvin Becket most recently from NPL2 side Geelong, as well as (to quote one of's more knowledgeable posters) Pascoe Vale, Port Melbourne, Melbourne Knights, Oakleigh, and Altona Magic.

The other signing is Josh Dorron, a goalkeeper from Doveton. Yes, he is that Josh from the cup game against Doveton two weeks ago, and whom rumour was circulating about last week. You may also recall that I suggested last week that if the club did sign him, it would be in large part due to him having the rare honour of being a lower league player who performed in front an actual South Melbourne power-broker.

If that sounds like a harsh assessment of our recruiting methods, well at least I didn't suggest that Dorron (and how much of the mystique is gone now that he has a surname?) was signed because he's a massive unit.

There's still strong talk about Peter Skapetis being brought across to the club. While I have discussed the implications of such a thing happening on the terraces, in terms of who would be dropped to the bench, and who would be let go completely - it's probably not worth putting the effort playing that hypothetical while he's not been officially signed yet.

Final thought
After much disappointment at missing the no. 12 tram back into the city, I walked up Clarendon Street to the corner of Park, hoping to catch the no. 1 instead. A great end to a top-night all round. Didn't even need to jaywalk.

Monday, 20 May 2019

Pantomime - Heidelberg United 1 South Melbourne 3

This game simultaneously had a bit of everything and a whole lot of nothing, and if you missed it for whatever reason, you missed one of the more off-tap local soccer experiences of recent times.

I will say this from the get-go - it was an ordeal getting to the ground. Not public transport wise, but everything aside from that. Insane roadworks on Glengala Road, fine, these things happen, and a massive detour to get to Sunshine station required. But it was also an ordeal getting into the ground. After having promoted the fact that the southern gates would be open from 4:30pm, this detail was changed about an hour before kickoff in the main game to 'yeah, nah', for reasons which will forever remain a mystery.

But at least I managed to make it to the ground - the designated officials for the under 20s game reportedly failed to show up at all, and thus that game was never even started. Probably a common sense outcome under the circumstances, but South of the Border's go to guy for Football Victoria bylaws says that the game should still have gone ahead, with the home team providing match officials in lieu of the missing referees.

Anyway, arriving at the aforementioned southern gate, I saw that the Bentleigh peanut man was also locked outside. There was a security person on the inside, but even after I noted that I had a media pass (and thus wouldn't need to make a financial transaction to enter), I was informed that he couldn't let me in via that gate as he didn't have a key. Thus was necessitated a massive walk around the back of Olympic Village to get into the ground, upon whose entry the previously mentioned mystery was probably solved - there were fuck-all people at the ground, and thus no need to spend money on extra security and gate attendants for a fixture of minimal appeal.

Now I've seen good crowds at the Village in games between these two sides, and I've seen poor ones, but pound-for-pound this was one of the worst attendances I've seen for a derby here. I think back to the last round of 2012, where the Bergers were already relegated and we were out of the running for finals, and this was much closer to that than anyone would have liked. I suppose the low turnout of ours fans was understandable - we've been erratically pus for good chunks of the season, and what's more, there's no hope left in the club to drag in the slightly less rusted on. Indeed, the South contingent on the outer side before the game that it seemed so small that even the one overly keen security guard assigned to that area was probably overkill

They were driving a car of some sort.
But for the Bergers and their fans? They're the reigning champs and are still a top three side so far this season, and their support also seemed poor. One Berger who did turn up did so in a (I assume) rented convertible sports-car of some sort (someone said it was a Porsche, but I don't know cars, OK?), dressed in his wedding suit and bringing along his new bride along for the ride. The car was parked on the goat running track on the western side of the ground where the South fans tend to congregate, where the bride and groom eventually had a wedding photo taken with the current Bergers squad. Why he decided to come onto the western instead of eastern side of the ground is curious, but one can assume that he wanted to aggravate the South fans on the hill with chants directed their way.

Of course he copped abuse from some of our fans, which kick-started the latent pantomime feeling supposedly inherent in derby games. Rumour has it that the groom was actually Heidelberg Laser Dude himself, but I can't confirm that myself. One wonders what the bride made of it all, especially as she (and here's putting my Australian soccer racial profiling hat on) looked to be of south-east Asian origins, and thus not likely to be familiar with the white hot passion engendered by this once great rivalry.

While the bride and groom were off to the side, there was also a minute's silence for the late David Cervinski, and some bloke in the crowd took up the role of cantor; my Greek Orthodox church attendance being as poor as it's ever been, I can't say if it was a prayer was for the dead or a celebratory one for the bride and groom - let's assume it was the latter.

Finally the game got underway, and look - I was distracted by wild conversation for a good chunk of it. As usual in 2019, see Luke's blog for an actual match report. But I did see Zac Bates dink the ball over the Bergers keeper for 1-0, Marcus Schroen bumble the ball into the roof of the net, and I certainly saw Gerrie Sylaidos' shot for 3-0 - hell, I was halfway down the hill as soon as Gerrie took the shot.

3-0 up at halftime, only an all-time and yet entirely plausible implosion would see us cough up the lead. The Bergers showed a bit more initiative and had a shot hit the crossbar early on in the second half, but in general we were doing enough to maintain the lead and they weren't doing enough to make a comeback. Reuben Way getting sent off for a second yellow - a dodgy handball call, but stuff him, I say - should have made things harder for the home team, but then came the classic Kristian Kontantinidis Klanger. With his Berger opponent turning away from goal and being no obvious threat, KK decides to clatter right into him for an obvious penalty.

Kosta Stratomitros prepares to be stretchered off the field
after being violently tackled. Photo: Luke Radziminski. 
Thankfully, though the home team scored the penalty, they never really came too close to another one. When Lewis Hall tried to smash through Kosta Statromitros' through the latter's shin, Hall was shown his marching orders, and that was pretty much that for the game; except for Heidelberg assistant coach Jeff Olver getting red carded for smashing a chair on the sidelines I assume.

It would've been nice however if the Heidelberg marshals didn't delay getting the stretcher out to Stratomitros, but at least our man has apparently avoided major injury and shouldn't miss any time.

With Heidelberg down to effectively eight players thanks to the two reds and an injury, we wavered between running over the top of them and just playing calm, risk-free possession football. The last ten minutes (including the seven minutes of injury time) was a bit better, as the risk of the Bergers getting back into the game was over, but our finishing was dire, leaving some to lament the missed opportunity to boost our goal difference.

At the end of the game, one hoped for the southern gates to be opened up to allow the meagre crowd to leave from there, and head back to their cars in Northland's car park. No dice. At least I avoided getting mugged on the dark path alongside Darebin Creek; less fortunate was having to deal with Heidelberg Harismidis on the bus until I got to Preston station. That's the great public transport peanut gallery for ya.

Next game
Back to Lakeside, and back to cup action on Wednesday night against Langwarrin. Langwarrin are a capable NPL2 side, with quite a few veteran NPL players, so I'm expecting a pretty tough game.

Partly borrowed midpoint summary
Thanks, Dave. Not that one wants to throw away the six points gained over the past two weeks (and the comparatively more competent performances that came with them), but if we'd managed to take at least some points off Kingston, Oakleigh, and Pascoe Vale, it wouldn't be just points gained for us, but also points taken off fellow relegation battling opponents.

Anyway, if the magic number is 30 points to guarantee survival*, we're two points ahead of where we need to be, with a stack of home games to come which should make things easier.** More importantly, we're three points ahead of Pascoe Vale and Port Melbourne, four points ahead of Dandenong Thunder, and five ahead of 12th placed Oakleigh who lie in the playoff spot, who despite their ongoing struggle to get results are apparently improving their general play and are now closer to 'unlucky' rather than merely 'crap'. So, you know, no time to rest on our laurels and such.

*Not a guarantee.
** It probably won't.

Fare thee well. Bon voyage. Toodle-oo.
Goalkeeper Alastair Bray is no longer at the club; his current whereabouts and/or ultimate destination remain unknown at this point in time, and no, I'm not going to stalk him on Instagram. Bray's irrepressible talent for getting injured limited his appearances for the club to a miserly two games - round 1 of last year, where he was crippled by a reckless Bulleen player; and round whatever it was when we played Pascoe Vale away this year, where an underdone Bray made that dreadful error which set us back 1-0 early in that game. A pity that it couldn't have turned out differently. Had he not been injured in that Bulleen game, Sasa Kolman might still be coaching us. Hmm.

All of which means we're probably on the lookout for a backup goalkeeper, because realistically Amir Jashari isn't going to be a good enough prospect for that role. Which, if we're being honest, should be communicated to the lad quite clearly so that he can move on to another club, even if lower down the league system, so that he can start playing regular senior football.

As for who will or should become the backup keeper, some of 'they' are saying that we've signed 'Josh' from Doveton. I have no idea if this is true or not. Neither do I want to disparage 'Josh's' abilities based on the one game I've seen him play, in which I saw him ably close down attacks on relatively tight angles. But if it is true, all I can think is that the club has made the recruiting choice in large part due to the fact that it was the one time that members of the football committee had actually ventured out of their comfort zones and watched a game involving an unfamiliar opponent.

Such cynicism! Such unbecoming cynicism even! But if you thin that's bad, you should hear the terrace chat about who we're looking to bring back in! Utterly unprintable, and scarcely believable, but imagine the possibilities!

Final thought
Hmm, football seems enjoyable again these last two weeks. Not sure why.

Tuesday, 14 May 2019

Saltiness - Altona Magic 1 South Melbourne 2

Another example of the blog's steep decline in quality and timeliness.

Drove to Paisley Park from Sunshine with the last quarter of the Blues-Pies game on the radio, and dreading arriving at the ground with the Pies having lost... thankfully no nonsense hundred metre penalty could prevent a Collingwood victory. Thankfully also that I had to stop at just about every red light on the way, which allowed me to refocus on the road.

After arriving at Paisley Park (and waiting out the last couple of minutes of the footy while parked), I managed to catch most of the under 20s game. We dominated proceedings, but failed to get the win. That's less important than the performances of the players of course, because it is a development team in a development league that's a subsidiary to another development in a development league. Of most interest of course was the ongoing form/status of Manny Aguek, who played well but could not manage to convert any of his many chances on the weekend.

There's safe standing, and then there's this; people standing on old flimsy
 chairs, on soft, muddy ground. Photo: Luke Radziminski.
Then time for the seniors. I don't think many of us had high expectations of this game (and the two after it), especially given the σαπίλα of the second half of the Oakleigh game. There were two useful ins from that league game (I am conveniently ignoring the midweek cup game), with Gerrie Sylaidos and Zac Bates in the side. Gerrie was good, and Bates was fast. Kristian Konstantinidis didn't start the game, because he arrived at the game due to car troubles. Luke Adams was sick. Ethan Gage is/was absent due to differing reasons depending on who you ask.

The first half performance wasn't too bad. A bit dull, to the point where a idle chat about certain non-NCIP compliant flags at the venue turned into a full-blown vexillology discussion, and whether or not flags from JRR Tolkien's universe would pass the test, seeing as how they are often explicitly linked to particular races.

Anyway, apart from a near own goal (well-saved by Roganovic), Magic didn't really create anything resembling a threatening chance. The game was a messy one, which I thought would suit us, in the sense that if Magic got up and about and started playing in the way they're capable of, we'd struggle to keep up. But then towards the end of the first half, we started to eke some nice moves, and I suppose we felt good that we were still in this game.

The second half could not have started off much worse, with KK giving away a goal. Magic had struggled to make attacking inroads, but instead of clearing the ball up the field, KK had one of his brain-fades and turned the ball over while dribbling in circles on his own byline. Another day, another goal coughed up cheaply. If teams were scoring 30 metre rockets or goals from 25 pass moves, I could cope a little easier with that, but most weeks so many of the goals are self-inflicted.

Look, that's not such a surprise. That's what happens to teams like ours, regardless of the opposition. If one were to use a cricket analogy, one is as likely (perhaps even more likely) to get out from a single bad delivery than several good ones.

And we finally managed to get a bit of luck going our own way. I am glad that Marcus Schroen's free kick (I am not calling it a shot) went in, but there is no way that Marcus meant for the ball to end up in the back of the net. But they all count the same, right? And I suppose the delivery was good enough in the sense that KK was there at the back-post anyway, after faking(?) despondency on the edge of the 18 yard box before the free kick was taken. Say what you will about KK, but he is actually quite adept at making some nice runs into the box from set piece situations.

The other goal, the one that put us into the lead, was a bit more orthodox, but in some ways no less accidental. A decent Schroen pass from deep released Pep Marafioti into space (thanks in part also to the Magic defender who was too high upfield - a common theme on the night, as the home side played a very high line), who after making his run, bobbled the ball at his feet, managed to squeeze the ball under the Magic keeper. Maybe one could be generous and say that the surface contributed to the bobbling, but the net effect was that the stumbling effort to control the ball actually sucked the keeper out  further than he may have otherwise committed.

At any rate, Pep's penchant for hitting shots straight at the keeper went his way this time, and he moved into outright leader for our golden boot, with the still miserly total of three goals. Say what you will about Pep though, chances do tend to fall his way, even if he hasn't managed to convert as many as he should've.

And accidental or fortunate goals are still worth more than orthodox no-goals, as could be seen by the normal chances we created we which failed to score from - most notably a Bates one-on-one and a Billy Konstantinidis header. Credit to the opposition goalkeeper on that one, who would've probably walked away with the man-of-the-match plaudits had his team walked away from this game with a point.

I am a bit worried though by our players celebrating by jumping on the fence at Paisley Park - I only say this because I know from unpleasant personal experience that several parts of the field's perimeter fencing has bits of unclipped metal sticking up. Anyway, the only damage done was getting soaked in beer from someone launching their cup in the air during the goal celebrations. And there's me with an umbrella for the rain which never came, sitting closed at my side. At least the guy next to me complaining about being soaked had a waterproof jacket.

The game was interrupted during the second-half by a low flying drone, which stopped the game for a little bit, and led to this reworking of the 'hooligan blood' chant:
Hooligan drone
Flying through the air
Hope it doesn't crash
Hope it doesn't crash
Hope it doesn't crash
Along with the three goals, the substitutions and stops in play for injuries, the appearance of the drone saw the officials add six minutes of injury time, which ended up being closer to eight. Naturally this upset quite a few South fans, but one has to remember that the added time as displayed on the fourth official's board is only the minimum amount of time to be added on.

Still, one can understand the frustration with the game not ending, because there was the feeling that a very good performance - probably our best of the season, if we limit it to the second half - could've been undone by late moment of misfortune. But at least we didn't have our official Twitter account sooking about the officiating.
I'm a fan of official media streams going off the rails (even if it's just ever so slightly), but what was the Magic Twitter account complaining about here? The late 50/50 contest between Jake Marshall and Dusan Bosnjak in the dying moments of the game? That's a bit of a stretch and to extrapolate that into numerous other decisions is mind-boggling, especially as they tended to get the rub of the green, especially in the first half.

The thing is that even with their player outs, Magic have a much a stronger (and more expensive) squad than we do, and with a couple of notable exceptions, there'd be few of the players we fielded on Saturday night that they'd swap into their side at the expense of the players they had themselves.

But the story of the night is that against an undermanned but still heavy favourite Magic side, we created many good chances and restricted our opponents to almost nothing of value. They can try and play the underdog, but the international gambling community knows who let them down on Saturday night.

Apart from being worthwhile in its own right, the win was also useful in the ongoing struggle to avoid relegation, especially as Oakleigh took beat Pascoe Vale the day after. The other relevant results tended to go our way this week, but our failure to beat any of the six sides below us at this point of the year (with the exception of Dandy City and Port) is beginning to bite. We're just three points above the playoff spot, and it's that fact which makes you wish we could have scraped more than a combined one point against Oakleigh, Thunder, Kingston, and Pascoe Vale.

Next game
The Bergers away on Saturday night.

Shedding excess baggage
The mid-season transfer window has opened, and our first move has been to part ways with forward midfielder winger defender utility p;layer George Howard. He seems to have landed at Hume City.

Final thought
Wishing ex-South man Andy Brennan all the joy and happiness in the world.

Saturday, 11 May 2019

Beanie weather - Doveton 0 South Melbourne 1

Another perfunctory report.

After a long, hard day's work making sure people put their votes in the correct ballot box, I walked home from work, picked up my car, drove to Nick's place to pick him up, and together we made the long trip out to Dandenong. Thankfully everything went very smoothly, no delays on the trains, and smooth connections between different transport modes. Were it ever thus.

Another day, another bit of proof of how much pompom
 beanies resonate with (checks non-existent commerce
 textbook),  the consumer  demographic known as
 "ordinary people".  Photo: Luke Radziminski 
Got to the game in time for something approximating dinner, a rubbery sponge of a bread roll filled with marinated chicken not worth the $10 price tag in terms of its serving size. Beggars can't be choosers though. More gladly, even while we all complained, it was the first proper cold day of soccer for the year. Not just a bit a chilly, not just "I regret not bringing a coat", but actually biting cold, wet socks, reconsidering life decisions weather.

One expected Doveton to hack and slash, but perhaps not quite so early. Maybe they thought they were just being vigorous? Certainly the referees generally seemed to think so, applying a lighter touch than I would've liked. It was good (and surprising )to see Gerrie Sylaidos back on the park, because he makes a modest world of difference. Even if he tends to float in and out of games (which may be as much to do with his inexperience as it is to do with team structures), he's one of the few players who (cliché alert) seems likely to make things happen for us.

Also, opposition players seem genuinely in awe and/or afraid of him, as Australian players tend to be of any player than can dribble the ball.

The team otherwise wasn't quite at full-strength, but who even knows what that is and whether that even makes a difference. We managed to create some good chances, but mostly on tight angles which were easy enough to clean up by the Doveton defence. Doveton would seemingly make some promising forays of their own at the other end of the ground, but who's to say how close they really got when you're watching the game from 110 metres away.

At halftime several South fans congregated around a mid-sized sedan and drank moderately upmarket hot chocolate poured out of a thermos into Styrofoam cups. I apologise to the environment after the fact for not expecting the possibility of away days hot chocolate to become a reality, and forgetting all of my novelty mugs (Star Trek, Brian Griffin, South Melbourne Hellas) at home. Apart from warming the body and soul, it did remind me of the behaviour of Green Gully's elderly fans back in 2009, which is a bit sad; but the theme of South supporters aging alongside their near pension-age club is at the heart of what this blog has documented.

The second half was more of the same, us doing more of the attacking, but not being able to really create the killer chance. Enter Billy Konstantinidis and his one-man mission to relocate the club to George Andrew Reserve because "he scores at this ground". Having Billy start on the bench seemed risky considering our paucity of scoring this year, but at least this time the strategy paid off. Mind you, it helps the situation when a) Kosta Stratomitros was given a quarter-acre block from which to send his cross in, b) Konstantinidis was left without a marker for who knows what reason, and c) Billy knows how to head the ball well proper.

Some sympathy for the Doveton goalkeeper "Josh". He'd done his bit up until that point, closing off angles, coming off his line, and generally cleaning up our half-dangerous moments with confidence. Unfortunately for him, and fortunately for us, Billy's header was too good for even the greatest of goalkeepers. Thus the singing of one of the (even by the lyricist's own admission) worst chants ever heard at a South game.
Foreboding mood turned into indiscriminately optimistic joy, and more stupid chants such as:
We're coming for you,
We're coming for you,
Darwin Olympic,
We're coming for you!
And the even worse:
What else you gonna do,
On a Wednesday night?
Darwin away!
Darwin away!
Darwin away!
Of course all of this mirth was premature in the sense that there were still 20 minutes to go, the opposition had already managed to create some chances, and they were playing against team that somehow managed to collide into and dispossess each other, something I've otherwise only ever seen in a State League 5 game, where a mate happened to be coaching the pound-for-pound worst team I've ever seen.

One possible VAR moment aside, Fate's cruel hand seemed to descend at the worst possible moment in the worst possible way. Promising right-back Ben Djiba, who had performed mostly admirably during the game, inadvertently had his arm hit by an awkwardly bouncing ball. Thankfully, Nikola Roganovic guessed the right direction and made the crucial save from the spot kick. Thereafter not even "Josh" going up for a corner could make up for that missed opportunity for the Doves, who conceded a foul on Roganovic before the corner was even taken.

Winning the game was nice, but it doesn't solve our immediate on-field problems, all of which exist in the league, and in which we haven't won a game for many weeks. Indeed, the previous game we'd won before this one was the previous cup game against Essendon Royals. Key players are out of form and who's even sure whether they're on an upward or downward trend. Ditto for certain players who have been around for a very long time.

I assumed we would get done on the night. Not because we are bad (which we mostly are) or because Doveton are good (which, as it turns out, they aren't really, or at least not as much as I expected of an undefeated team), but because that's just the way things seem to be going for us this year. And yet therein lies the possibility that we yet very well somehow fall over backwards into an FFA Cup round of 32 spot with one of our worst ever teams.

FFA Cup draw news
However, all those dreams of national cup glory will have to be set aside for the time being. We've been drawn as the home side against NPL 2 side Langwarrin. Even at Lakeside, I doubt that anyone thinks we're better than a 50/50 chance.

Next game
Altona Magic at Paisley Park on Saturday evening. In other words, today. Rug up.

Final thought
Thanks to Johnny again for another lift back to civilisation from Dandenong.

Tuesday, 7 May 2019

*sigh* - South Melbourne 0 Oakleigh Cannons 2

Another quick run through due to time-constraints.

Those turning up to see the return of the People's Champ and boo him until their throats were sore were left disappointed. Those turning up hoping to see South secure a much needed three points would have also left Lakeside disappointed. More pity to the latter from me, even if there was ample opportunity for wrestling style gimmicks.

Notable too that there the massive ex-South contingent (across many generations) that was possible in this contest was actually minimised. We outplayed Oakleigh in the first half, and had we had our finishing boots on, we may have gone into the halftime break ahead or level. But we didn't, and Oakleigh - who hadn't managed to create a single shot on target in the first half - still managed to lead at the break because of a ridiculous own goal from Brad Norton.

There was that one moment in the first half where a ball was cleared off or over the line by an Oakleigh defender at a corner, a goal obviously not given to us, and we'll never know what might have been. Looking at the video, the whole phase of play moves so quickly that it's hard to tell. Still, even it would've only papered over the cracks of this season's mediocrity, I would've taken the goal.

After putting in a good performance attacking wise last week thanks to a more attacking setup, we were back to playing to defensive midfielders; or if you were looking at it from Leigh Minopoulos' point of view, we were continuing to play with two defensive midfielders' as per last week, but this time just not executing properly. That was extracted from a discussion the winger/forward/makeshift assistant coach had with some of our fans on Twitter about the playing style.

I don't remember if anyone asked where our midfield disappeared to in the second half - a rank garbage second-half that no-one will ever get back. No sign of Gerrie Sylaidos either, one assumes still on trial at Central Coast. When we had him, we didn't use him or we benched him, and now it seems like we're letting him spend weeks away from Lakeside at a crucial time, while other clubs with triallists are able to use their players on weekends.

Milos Lujic came on in the final minute of the game to a warm reception, and I suppose we should be grateful that it wasn't him that managed to get the second (and ultimately meaningless) goal at the death.

And I should say while I don't agree with the borderline hyperbolic negativity, a chat I had pre-game with Cannons coach and former South boss Chris Taylor, did bring up one truism (of both us and Oaks) worth noting, and which in our case was hardly a secret: that after 4-5 games, you can count yourself unlucky, but after 11 games you gotta face up to the fact that you're probably just not very good.

We should've been aiming for four points from the Thunder and Oakleigh games, and instead we got just one. The next three league games are against Altona Magic, Heidelberg, and Bentleigh. Some might say we'd be optimistic to expect much more than a point from those matches. A good portion of the forum seems to have given up on anything being achieved this year except bare survival.

I just wish that for this season that we were not so bad, even if it was just good enough to be well clear of the bottom three.

Next game
But before then, Doveton in the FFA Cup tomorrow, at George Andrews Reserve in Dandenong.

South Melbourne Hellas Sound Bite Machine
So sometime during the second half a stranger was wandering around Clarendon Corner with a phone and microphone shield. Turns out he was some journalism student from Monash University working for Mojo News. A few people seemed to not exactly want to tall to him, but since I'm sympathetic to students looking for survey participants and such for their assessments, I was happy enough to participate when another Hellas fan palmed off the aspiring journo's advances towards my direction.

And besides, apart from my sharing my opinions with everyone whether they asked me to or not, the kid was a journalism student for crying out loud. I mean, talk about a dead end career choice, something which I know all about. Anyway, his first question threw me off balance, which is some accomplishment.
"What does the NPL mean to the community?"
The community? The NPL? Do those things even go together? I made the instinctual judgement that he was a naïf and not a troll, and asked him "what community?" to which he said the "Victorian community". The Victorian community? The NPL? Do those things even go together? All I could come up with at very short notice, and hopefully articulated very clearly into his phone/microphone, was "nothing".

Thus it was his turn to be thrown off balance, and the rest of conversation - brief as it was - centred around, "well, if the NPL means nothing to the community, who are all these people here then?" to which my response was "there's only like 500 people here". I wish he didn't leave at that moment so we could expand on the discussion, but he did, and I guess we'll never know what he made of my desultory but nevertheless forthright responses. At least I learnt from the time I did an "expert" appearance for the ABC, and kept my answers brief and quotable.

Anyway, that's my heroic story.

Erm, no
Just in case anyone read the following,
and believed it, I would like to declare that I had no influence on the middle-of-the-road generic '80s playlist that was played over the stadium PA on Sunday. If I did have any influence, I would be playing Godspeed! You Black Emperor's Slow Riot For New Zero Kanada in its entirety, or some such tryhard maneuver.

Oh yes, that thing
Me and Ian Syson are back on FNR doing our If You Know Your History show. This time we're live, on Thursdays at 7pm.

Around the grounds
Ancient Sugar
Decided against going to see Altona East vs Hoppers Crossing, partly because the weather was looking crappy, but mostly because I didn't expect winless East to put up much of a fight against a ladder leading side. So I ambled down to Ralph Reserve for a battle between two winless sides, Western Suburbs and Hume United, in a game that turned out to be rather entertaining if not exactly good in the conventional sense. Hume took an early lead. Suburbs eventually got enough control of this game to score from two penalties, which made some of the visiting fans a bit upset. These things happen. I also ate a packet of lollies of some sort of provenance and vintage a university faculty's worth of archaeologists and paleontologists would be hard-pressed to date and identify. Also, Altona East won their game.

Final thought
While working at the Fraser Pre-Poll Voting Centre on Monday in Sunshine, a bloke comes up to me and asked if I went to the South game. Me, not wearing a South beanie that day, yet very recognisable. Him, not wearing South gear, and yet I had no idea who he was. Is this what it's like to be a celebrity?