For this week and likely the next two or three weeks to come, match reports on South of the Border will be more useless than usual. I was a bit concerned by a recent sudden decline in the vision in my one working eye; it turns out that my lens prescription hasn't changed, and it's just that I need a new pair of glasses. So pandemic sluggishness of international trade and mail systems notwithstanding, hopefully the folks at Nikon in Japan can get me my new lenses sooner rather than later.
It's not that everyday things have become impossible to do or enjoy, but reading certainly has become harder, and to a certain extent so has typing, at least on machines in this house that aren't my own laptop. For a very long time now it hasn't bothered me that I might not be able to tell one South player from another at first glance. Friday night though showed that things were a bit worse than that, both due to the distance separating the field from the stand, but also surprisingly because of the glare of the floodlights filtering haphazardly through my scratched up lens.
Thanks to an unrelated problem with my bad eye (which has corneal scarring), sometimes moderate infections in that eye can cause a sensitivity to light which affects the good eye as well. I haven't had that issue spark up for a while (I suppose that it helps that I've spent most of the past year indoors and away from people), and besides which, most NPL games are played at night, and in winter where overbearing sunlight is less of an issue.
The previous Sunday at Jack Edwards was fine enough by my standards, but I wasn't prepared for the shock of the glare caused by the Lakeside Stadium lighting hitting my way too scratched up lenses. So for the next little while I must be more patient than usual with my ocular deficiencies
Having said all that, I was still able to see enough on Friday night to be concerned, as were many of you; though bless, some of you are willing to be bit more patient, and more power to you for being able to take that stance. We all want to see evidence that something has changed in Esteban Quintas' coaching method during his admittedly interrupted tenure as South coach, but all we are seeing is much of the same, performed by slightly different personnel. And thus for many of us, the question remains pretty basic - what is he trying to get this team to do?
There are many paths to victory in soccer, none of which can guarantee success. Each has its advantages and disadvantages. Some teams rely on the innate superiority of their playing personnel. That approach requires money, and since we are trying to cut costs, that's not an approach we can take. We do have some talent on the books, but right at this moment we are not a destination club for the league's best players looking for a high wage.
Some teams go for a physical approach, seeking to outmuscle and outrun their opposition. The hope is to make up for deficiencies in skill by wearing down your opponent. It won't be a pretty approach, and the problem here is that your advantage is unlikely to be that great against most opponents. You can recruit big and fast, but chances are that the sacrifice made to gain strength and stamina over skill will only get you so far against teams that can move the ball quickly and effectively. And besides which, in a semi-pro league, how much faster and stronger can you expect the players to get?
Some coaches specialise in being motivators, getting their teams to run through brick walls for them. In theory you're never out of a game if you're playing for someone like that; but the funny thing about this approach is how it eventually runs up against the reality of superior opposition, who may or may not be as equally motivated as you. And there's another thing too - players aren't robots. They can't be "up" for every game at the same level every week.
Then there's tactics. Good tacticians make lesser teams more competitive, and make talented teams more than the sum of their parts already excellent parts. Tacticians understand their team's strengths and weaknesses and play to maximise one and minimise the other. They seek to nullify or at least manage the strengths of the opposition, and exploit their weaknesses. Where they can, tacticians seek to recruit with an eye for their preferred style of play, and where they can't, they try to make do with what they have, selecting a team where the best player plays in the most suitable position.
All of this is really basic stuff, and yet if someone can tell where we fit into any of this, I'd love to hear it. All we have seen so far in 2021 - which doesn't seem to differ too much from the little we saw in 2020, and the second half of 2019 - is a complete lack of imagination and especially courage, let alone a discernable tactical approach. I have to assume that the players are playing to instruction; if they are not, then clearly Quintas message is not getting through. If they are following instruction, and this method is the result of that, then Quintas needs to take responsibility for it.
One of the most instructive moments in coaching practice I happened to witness was many years ago at Point Gellibrand, back when I used to make intermittent trips to watch Williamstown footy club play. Brad Gotch was the coach of Willy at the time, and in the three quarter time huddle he made this point to his players, who were trailing at three quarter time - that the coaches had designed a game plan, that it was the players' duty to implement it on the field, and that if they did so and the results did not stack up, then the coaches would take responsibility.
Where is the evidence that anyone is taking any responsibility or initiative for South Melbourne's style of play? We have overloaded the side with defenders and defensive height that we have hamstrung a whole side of attack. We are playing a true centre-back in Luke Adams at right back. Adams cannot effectively overlap, yet the most obvious alternatives in Lirim Elmazi and Perry Lambropoulos are either injured (are they even?) or out of favour for reasons unclear to me, and Ben Djiba is still a few weeks away from playing after a pre-season injury.
Apart from Zac Bates, who showed a little something off the bench, we had no attacking options on hand. While the concern with Bates is always on whether he can run out a game, he can at least use his speed to harass opponents and break open lines. He's no Matt Millar (yet), but the midfield (when it wasn't bypassed by longball after longball) was otherwise so static that it made me pine for the manic method of Melvin Becket.
The tactical psychological cowardice of the first half was infuriating. It's one thing to be cautious and patient when playing against a leading side; but we were playing against a team that everyone knows is going to struggle to stay up, and yet in the first half we sat back and waited for openings to present themselves.
If you're meant to be a serious contender you don't wait for openings against a team like that, you go out and make them yourself. Instead we resorted to playing the ball endlessly across the back line, before eventually squeezing ourselves into a narrow space next to the touchline and hoofing the ball on to Harry Sawyer's head; or worse, hoofing it onto the head of Gerrie Sylaidos or Henry Hore, players who need the ball at their feet in order to make the most of their talents.
Right at this moment, those two players may as well be Fernando De Moraes playing for New Zealand Knights, watching the ball ping back and forth over their heads. How are we supposed to score with such a method? We were fortunate in round 1 to score from a legitimate albeit very irregular goal, and on Friday night it was the one long ball that worked, and which Lions will be spewing they conceded from.
Sure our team managed to accrue other chances in the second half, and probably should have grabbed another goal; but even if we had, the whole affair would still have remained unconvincing. I'm less upset about the goal we conceded now than I was at the time - there's always a chance someone's going to hit the ball just right from range and score a cracker - but that's where you should be prepared to be scoring two goals a game on a motr regular basis. Out of 31 matches in charge of the team in the league and cup, using a variety of players, a Quintas coached side has managed to score more than one goal on just ten occasions. Demonstrating how front loaded this stat is, in our last ten matches we've scored more than one goal on just twice.
1, 0, 1, 2, 0, 1, 2, 3, 2, 3, 0, 2, 2, 0, 0, 1, 0, 1, 1, 3, 1, 2, 0, 0, 5, 0, 0, 1, 1, 1, 1.
If you're not scoring goals, you're not going to win games. If you're scoring only one goal a game, you're basically relying on the opposition being repeatedly inept in front of goals to get you the win. Now if the plan is to make up for a shortfall in available talent - which should not have been an issue against Eastern Lions - with a grinding, cautious, risk-averse game plan, why the hell do we need to hire an Argentine with experience of playing in Spain to do that? There must be dozens of local coaches who could achieve the same results using the same playing style.
We don't play effectively a neat passing style, we don't play a nimble pass and move style; apart from our defensive players, and Josh Wallen at defensive mid, we don't or can't play a bruising, intimidating style. We seem to lack line-breakers, or we if we have them, we are wary of using them. Just about the only thing that seems to have improved in an attacking sense at this early stage of the 2021 season is our being a threat from set pieces, and it's something we're going to have to rely on if we cannot score goals more regularly from open play.
Back to Jack Edwards Reserve on Friday night, against Oakleigh Cannons.
The match day experience
How nice of my phone to remember the details I'd entered the last time I went to Lakeside and did the covid sign-in procedure. Still, other things went a bit funny. Not getting my membership card clipped, a bit odd, but maybe everyone just knows that I'm a paid-up member. But well-known South supporter and scourge of South committees "Box", somehow scoring himself a corporate access pass? The man himself was most confused and amused by this, but he was glad to be able to take advantage (in moderation, I'm sure) of the club's probably unintended hospitality. Well, I did say that the club needed to show more signs of goodwill to its supporters.
I'm not sure if Box paid any attention to the Australian soccer heavy-hitters being entertained upstairs in the South Melbourne corporate spaces. Those upset by the presence of particular heavy-hitters present on Friday are free to hate as their hearts desire, but moaning about Football Australia bigwigs being there at all seems counter-productive. If such people are in town, and you have delusions of grandeur in terms of being an important club; or just the plain desire to feel more important for a couple of hours than you otherwise would, then you simply must do this kind of schmoozing. Besides which, even if nothing comes of it in the form a National Second Division or some such, then at least the club's sponsors would hopefully be impressed enough to keep supporting the club.
Meanwhile down in the lower decks with the plebs: after many years of food of erratic quality, which in recent years was also served at an embarrassingly slow pace, have we turned the corner in the social club? It's too early to say if the good vibes on the social club catering front will last a whole season, but the verdict from those who ate and drank within the social club on Friday night seemed to be positive. Reportedly good quality food (even with a beetroot flavoured bun on the burgers), and very fast service. I haven't had the chance to sample the food yet, but I did manage to grab a gin and tonic, which saw the return of name brand gin and an $8 price point, a welcome step down from the $10 of the past couple of seasons.
The day before our game, the scheduled W-League game at Lakeside was moved to a closed doors match at AAMI Park because the pitch was deemed unsuitable. Disappointing for them, and annoying for us that we still had to play on that ground, but what else we can do? We share a venue with athletics, the nature of whose use of the grass field is very different from our own. Our season starts in February, coinciding with their peak events, which cause significant damage to the playing surface that takes weeks and not mere days to properly repair. And yet we also want late summer home matches early in the season, as well as avoiding clogging up the schedule and overuse of the ground in winter. No way out of it, unless relocate the club to Oakleigh.
Where is Luke Patitsas?
His Sour Grapes blog seems not to have been updated yet this season. Where are people who want to read about what actually happened during a game (including me), supposed to go for information now? Is Luke temporarily pre-occupied with more important writing? Or has South of the Border outlasted another blog from the state leagues?
Tearing apart the fibres holding together the Twitter universe
This is a not a big deal, really, just something stupid that's happening on the old Twitter machine at the moment. Several years ago now, Shouty Mike blocked me on Twitter. In recent weeks, I've had to mute a certain hashtag (#aleague) because a certain media organisation I appear on had begun to live tweet A-League games, and I didn't need that guff clogging up my timeline. As with muting a user rather than blocking them, muting a hashtag means I have the option of viewing a post with said content should I choose to. Somehow Twitter's internal machinery has decided that so far as my muting of #aleague goes, this includes being able to see the posts Shouty Mike has used #aleague in, despite his having blocked me.
Not on the streams
With six of the round's seven matches being played on Friday night, opportunities to watch the streams of any other games were pretty limited. For both those who like to stream games, but especially those who prefer to go to games, this is a less than ideal situation. Blaming Football Victoria though won't really cut it here; the clubs choose their timeslots based on what suits their likely audience and other fixture commitments, and Football Victoria tries to put together the puzzle of the fixture as best it can.
I'm personally miffed at the lack of a Sunday home game this week - even a Labour Day game would have been nice - but I guess our club and others would baulk clashing with NPL juniors for Sunday games, or public holiday penalty rates, or having only a short turnaround before the inevitable Friday night fixture in the following round.
The less said about the chance to attend early round FFA Cup games locally, the better, what with most of them being on the other other side of town. The only streamable game available was Magic vs Avondale, which I didn't watch for two reasons. First, the way the wind rockets through the effects mic on the bad side of Paisley Park. Second, I just plain forgot.
Instead I read (thanks to reasonably large print) Helen Garner's memoirish novel (though I'd call it a novella) The Spare Room, whose plot centres on a woman who takes on a three week stint caring for a terminally ill friend, not fully realising what such a task will entail. If I were being flippant I'd say there were at ;east some similarities to supporting a once great Australian soccer club, but that would be a very juvenile take,
Best wishes to Socceroo and South Melbourne Hellas championship player Ted Smith, who is recovering after a minor stroke suffered during the week.