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.


  1. "Chilling sign of things to come does not have the same ring about it" as "Chilling vision". (for those who do not know, a Simpson reference from the 'Ant's invading' episode).

    Did you notice the 4th official cracked it like a 10 year old? I think he blamed South Melbourne officials for not giving him correct number.

    One day we will hear the phrase 'Flaregate'.

    Everyone is a 'cigane'. The first openly Croatian person I met (as opposed to a Yugoslavian) called his fellow Croats tsigani! I think he thought of soccer followers as beneath his Ashburton raised Richmond supporting family.

    I will privately tell you about my Schintler Reserve story from 1988 about my car and the announcement over the loud speaker.

  2. Really wish KK would stop helping other teams score... Especially since we are down on defenders.

    Otherwise, our turn of form has been coming. We looked good against Thunder and apart from Oakleigh, we've been attacking in all our recent games. Lets hope this upturn continues.

    10 more points


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