Tuesday, 27 April 2021

Top of the league with low expectations - Dandenong City 1 South Melbourne 1

Before I wrote the previous post, I assumed that I wasn't going to be at this game, but through the magic of the South of the Border audience, there I was at Frank Holohan Soccer Complex, eating a raznjice roll instead of a pork belly roll (because Gains apparently got the last one), and drinking a non-zero sugar CC & Dry. What a magical evening this was already, and then it was ruined, absolutely ruined, by the muddling team selection. 

With a nearly a full week between the St Albans game and this one, and over a week between this game and the next one against Hume, I could not, and cannot for the life of me understand why Esteban Quintas chose to once again rotate the squad Mickey Arthur style. Pick the best damn attacking options and get on with it. My lord, it is so frustrating to watch this team knowing that if its optimal attacking set up was unleashed, it would be in a much better position not just to win games, but to also win them well.

I'm sure Quintas has his reasons. Freddie Sey got a start instead of Gerrie Sylaidos or Zac Bates, and on five minutes should have had a goal, or at least a shot on target. Instead he hit Henry Hore's cut back in such a messed up way, that even watching it half a dozen (and them some) times on replay, I can't figure out what Sey was trying to do. It looks like he hit the ball with both feet at once, but even thinking about the mechanics of that just make me dizzy.

Anyway, these things apparently happen. But despite controlling the early part of the game, having not taken the lead from a great early chance early mean that City could afford to continue to play the game on its terms, in the sense that they were built for rapid counter attacks and making the most of mistakes in the middle. Since we were carrying the ball up field and committing numbers forward to do so, and since the pitch - by far the bumpiest I've seen this season - made ball control in the middle of the park difficult.

And despite being bottom of the table, City were hardly terrible. Certainly they looked more likely than St Albans. To wit - they opened the scoring thanks to a new recruit, secured with a transfer system loophole, a great finish even if our friend did have too much space on the edge of the box. On first glance it looks like Ben Djiba gets turned inside out, but the replay suggests that he's effectively being asked to mark three opponents while some of his midfield teammates are ball watching.

Some may say that wouldn't have happened under, say, Melvin Becket's watch, but that's a story for another day. Second half, a couple of attacking substitutions, and there we were, hunting for the equaliser in a game that had gone from messy and tolerable in a "I'm watching an NPL match, so I need to remind myself not to expect too much" way, to helter skelter, up and down, attack and counter attack, being on the edge of your seat wondering if the next gial would be ours or theirs.

As it turned out, the next - and only - goal was ours. Henry Hore with another cute assist, though Daniel Clark had some work to do to turn on his right and toe-bash the ball into the back of the net. Former South man Gavin De Niese, who was marking Clark, would probably be disappointed with himself for being so far off Clark when the latter got the ball. Either side of the equaliser City's goalkeeper pulled off any number of good saves, though he was also helped by the post after he cocked up one sequence, and also helped by us stuffing up a three on one opportunity.
There's a part of me that can't decide if we thought this game would be easier than it turned out, or if we gave too much credit to the home team. Either way, it was two points dropped for us, and being top of the league playing bottom, there's no way of getting around that. While there are no guarantees in any match, logically a team such as ours, on top of the table after eight games - even if we're not quite sure how we did that - should be winning these games, especially with the quantity of chances we created,

Still, after the game ended there followed the applause of much of the crowd, for I assume (I hope) both teams, who put together a very entertaining second half. And then some argle-bargle happened down near the players race, which kinda took the edge of the feelings of good sportsmanship and appreciation of a good game of football. At least we didn't cop anyone giving us a Nazi salute this time, so that's a plus.

Next game
Hume City at home on Saturday afternoon. Prior to the senior game I believe the annual Tony Clarke Memorial Shield game will take place. The under 21s will be playing after the senior game.

I'm not expecting a big crowd up against all those state league fixtures, and on Orthodox Easter Saturday to boot. Even I won't be there, as I will be in Wollongong for a friend's wedding.

So if you want to write up this week's match report, send me a line, because chances are I won't even get to watch this game on delay.

Now it's official
Our cup game against Knights is on Tuesday May 4th, 7:30PM at Lakeside. South memberships won't get you into this game, but tickets are only $10.

I did not expect that
Last night on a whim, I decided to head out and catch our senior women in action at Lakeside against FV Emerging, because that's how much I love Monday night football. Considering the spanking our women gave Bulleen in round 1, and how even an at times half-arsed performance in round 2 gave us a win over Calder, I was expecting good enough things for round 3. Big mistake. I'd heard that the Emerging program (re-badged from whatever its previous name was) has been looking good this season, but I didn't expect it to be this good. I'm told they train four times a week, getting up at six in the morning, and have the odd over-age player, but notwithstanding any of that, they looked damn good. Scary good. They made our team look second rate. We couldn't get the ball; and when we did get the ball, we couldn't do anything with it; and when we did do something with it, it was hardly spectacular. I don't think we had a shot on target all night. And despite one cock-up, if not for Melissa Barbieri in goal, we wouldn't have only lost 5-0.

It wasn't down to fitness, or the individual physical qualities of players such as speed or strength. It was down to the quality of the teamwork from Emerging - their passing and movement a real cut above almost anything I've seen in local women's soccer. Much to think about for our women's team then, and much to think also I assume for any opponent of FV Emerging.

Promotion and relegation chat
I don't normally do this, but on the Australian soccer history podcast that I co-host, we recently had a chat with Australian soccer statistician Andrew Howe about the way promotion and relegation worked in the National Soccer League. Might be worth tuning in just in case you ever wanted to weigh in on the topic on social media.

Live streaming
First you get the streaming; then you get the gambling; then you get the women
Saturday afternoon, and I could not be arsed driving to Paisley Park. I also could not be arsed walking to Ralph Reserve. Decided instead to sit on the couch, fire up the Xbox, and watch some streaming matches on YouTube. Congratulations to all the streaming service advocates, you've won. I was flipping across multiple games, with no loyalty to any one contest. Devonport vs Olympia held my interest for as long the underdog Olympia were leading 2-1. Then when Devonport equalised, that was it for me. Bergers vs Port? Flat sounding commentary and no crowd ambience meant that the game didn't hold much interest, and it looked like the Bergers were in control anyway. The choice then was to flick back and forth between the Avondale-Thunder, and Preston-North Sunshine games. North Sunshine had four ex-South players in its lineup - Mala, Epifano, Zeneli, and Budimir - and the game had its share of tension and a big time feel. And the game at the Reggio Calabria had Avondale trying to win to close the gap to us... and yet I wasn't able to fully commit to the story of either game. It all came across as so frivolous, having all that choice. Richey Edwards had a line about that in a song the Manics completed years after Richey's mysterious disappearance, but that's really only of interest to exactly one person reading this: me.

Final thought
Thanks to Paul C. for giving me and Gains a lift to and from the ground - it was very much appreciated!

Monday, 19 April 2021

And you may ask yourself: Well... how did I get here? South Melbourne 2 St Albans 0

This game was so easy that it just might make you re-evaluate everything you think you know about soccer. Or perhaps not. 

Just before our game started we were equal on points with Avondale, with the same goal difference, but second overall on the ladder because we'd scored fewer goals. Immediately after kickoff we were top of the league, at least according to the live ladder ("we're top of the league / we're top of the league / check the live ladder / we're top of the league"), and after 90 minutes of play, we were top of the league outright for real, still.

How did this happen? Arguments about the general mediocrity and/or evenness of this league will only take you so far in finding the answer, because even being in an even league, why is it us that's on top? I suppose it helps that we haven't yet played Avondale, Knights, or Bentleigh, but even so... why us? What have we done that's been so remarkable to see us in this position?

We are a hard working team, but surely we're not only the one of those. We appear to be defensively sound in a way that's certainly surprised me, even taking into account Esteban Quintas' penchant for having his team sit back. But we throw up all manner of starting eleven combinations, not all of which (or even most) our very knowledgeable fans would consider our best and likely most effective starting lineup.

But even taking into account that St Albans racked up quite a few corners, they generally sucked. Sure, they had that one shot cleared off the line when they were already 2-0 down, but that was pretty much their contribution to the day. The two goals we scored, while pleasing to us, on further re-watching reveal a pitifully slow response time from the visiting side. Jake Marshall being unmarked at the near post, as the ball was headed back across goal from the far post from a corner? I'll cut them some slack for that one.

But the second goal? It was hardly searing play from us. Neat movement and passing, but nothing obviously devastating. And Gerrie Sylaidos' gently lofted cross to Harry Sawyer? That was pure futsal/indoor/beach soccer shenanigans. Someone in the crowd asked when was the last time we scored from two headers in a game, it being the kind of question which is being asked nowadays because we are unexpectedly not terrible (maybe even "good"). As usual, the answer seems to be not as far back in the distant past as people like to instinctively think, but rather early last year.

My main concern now, in the event that we don't have a mid-season stumble, is that this season will be our own version of The Producers; in that we have gone to the trouble of selecting players and a coach that we thought would not succeed, but which instead will be so successful that it'll send us broke.

The following segment is not a part of Hume's social media antics complaining about the state of refereeing

Aside from the goals and generally non-objectionable play from us, there was one perplexing moment when Harry Sawyer was fouled, and the referee gave what we assumed was a penalty, what with Sawyer having fallen about two metres inside the box. But no, the foul was directed to be taken more or less just outside the penalty area. One can only assume that the referee thought that whatever infringement he thought he was adjudicating had begun outside the box, in which case it is remarkable that Sawyer (even with his height) only managed to come to ground so far inside the box that everyone just assumed that it was a penalty. 

But seeing as how we're all older and more tired, and top of the league and whatnot, no one seemed particularly fussed about the whole matter. It was a very mature response from our fans to the fairly confusing sequence of events, which just goes to show that the club is dead or some such. Where was the outrage? Where was the abuse? Where was me remembering to ask referees assessor Chris Bambridge after the game what that whole thing was all about?

Next game

Friday night away at Dandenong City. No idea how I'm supposed to get out there. Good chance of just watching this on the stream instead. A stranger reader of this blog has kindly offered me and a friend a lift to the ground. So, just in case said reader turns out to be an axe-murderer or some such, let me just say it has been a pleasure writing this blog, and that I've enjoyed hanging out with my South friends on the hills and terraces of Victorian soccer.

FFA Cup news

While nothing has been announced "officially", it appears as if our cup tie against Melbourne Knights has been scheduled for Tuesday May 4th, at 7:30PM, That would put it just three days after our Orthodox Easter Saturday league match against Hume, and three days before we play the Knights again in the league. Get ready for some serious squad rotation is all I'm going to say.

Pulling their finger out (when I'm not looking)

Before I even got to Lakeside - more specifically, while I was on the train on the way to the ground - I was streaming the opening half of the women's team match against their most likely title rival Calder United. We were up 1-0 by the time I tuned in, and I had to skim back to see the, as it turned out, quite lovely goal. We then proceeded to spend much of the rest of the first half being very slack with trying to win back possession, and playing many lazy, corner cutting long balls into space, instead of trying to carry the ball further up field. Infuriating play from a team you know can do better, and even more aggravating when they conceded the goal they should have conceded. South were lucky it was not more than one goal at half-time.

Now, to the second half... I was at the club by this stage, but the televisions in the social club were not broadcasting the women's game (that was only happening on the pro-shop's screen), and by the time that was rectified, our women were up 3-1 or something like that, and apparently kicking arse, eventually winning 3-2. Well, I'm glad for the fact that they picked up their game in the second half, even if I didn't get to see the magic happen until afterward on replay. 

They'll say you'll miss it when it's gone, but what if you won't?

The St Albans game was first of our seven scheduled Saturday home fixtures, and boy didn't it go down like a lead balloon in terms of attendance and fan engagement. There'll be a millions of excuses, ranging from the obvious and valid, to the abysmal and made-up. The bottom-line though is that the attendance figure, whatever it is officially, was poor, and the attempt to try for a Hume City style reverse fixture order in terms of putting on the 21s game second didn't work either, though it may have saved us a few bucks on hiring security and such.

To be fair, Saturday at 5:00PM is an unusual time, falling in between the final whistle of most state league fixtures and the usual Saturday evening NPL Victoria kickoff time of circa 7:00. And we may find that once we get to the point in the season where we actually play our own scheduled 7:00 Saturday night fixtures, that the crowds will sort themselves out, making the adjustment to something than our traditional Sunday afternoon/evening games. ate

One shudders to think how it all might have looked had we not been undefeated and top of the league. Certainly winning a game comfortably to main that maintain that undefeated run and top of the league status did nothing to keep people behind in the social club afterward. Everyone has their reasons for not sticking around of course, but it is a problem for the club if they don't.

I know what's waiting for me at our next home game.
The service was good, however...

One particular absent friend of ours was much better at food reviews than I am; his reviews had more heart for a start, and he had an off-the-cuff genius for these things that people like me can only dream of. But for the sake of documenting the experience in something approaching its totality, we plod on regardless. I had my first taste of the food in the social club on Saturday night, and all I'll say is don't pick the chicken schnitzel burger; go for the regular beef burger or the lamb sandwich equivalent, for which I have heard things ranging from "very good" to "it's fine". It's not that the schnitzel burger is inedible - it is very much edible, I ate it, and have suffered no deleterious side effects from doing so; but the "fun" beetroot coloured bun, above average salady bits, and the chipotle mayo can't completely disguise the fact that the chicken element of said chicken schnitzel burger is not up to scratch, what with it being a variation of every truck stop/school canteen/giant heart-shaped frozen crumbed schnitzel sitting in your local bakery's bain marie that, at best, you know and tolerate. I look forward to trying to some of the other items on the menu, and writing things about them.

Merch murmurs

I am hearing a pompom beanie with a new design is in the offing. Also, the Gunners t-shirt is on its way.

Final thought 

This is just a reminder that I owe the club the cost of the SM Hellas cap that I tried to buy after the pro-shop register was shutdown for the night, but which I was allowed to keep for the time being because people apparently trust me enough to follow through with payment eventually. 

Monday, 12 April 2021

For now, just shut up and enjoy the ride - Green Gully 0 South Melbourne 1

Marching bands, match programs, and a grassy hill that's deteriorating into dirt. These are some of the reasons why you should turn up to away games, instead of sulking at home. I mean, sure, if you have something better to do, you should do that, and more power to you. But watching your team from home when you have the option to go to a game? That's just madness. If one of the supposed (accidental) advantages of not being in A-League is the fact that you can see your team in person every week, why not take up that opportunity?

That's for those people to deal with. On Friday night it had not crossed my mind that with an 8pm kickoff, that there wouldn't be a reserves game. So here's me and Gains making a terrific argument for the experience of turning up to games in person, by getting to Green Gully Reserve about an hour and a half before the game, to find the entrance to the ground locked. What to do, other then try and find the alternative entrance to Gully's social club and bistro, which meant wandering around many doors trying to find the right one, before figuring out that it must the be the entry with the people smoking.

Oh, and how wonderful to be forced to go through the gaming area in order to get to the bistro. I'm sure such an arrangement is down to trying to minimise the amount of entry and exit points due to pandemic protocols; but how convenient that they didn't open the main doors which give you the option of not passing through the gaming room.

Anyway, eventually they did open the gates to the ground, and we were greeted by sprinklers on the field for some reason - because it wasn't like it hadn't already rained in the western suburbs earlier that day. But also, there was a marching band, that wasn't really marching so much as standing most of the time, parked next to Gully's covered shed thing, blasting out the tunes like it was 1885 and the Kaiser was due in town.

Some people on Twitter may have come across my recent footy posting about the music at AFL matches; this was not quite in that level of annoying, as well as my gripes over the selection of music at South games; but at least it was a band and not a recording, and at least they were playing full length songs, even if their repertoire was short. But damn it if there just wasn't anywhere to get away from it without leaving the vicinity of the western side where the food/toilets/drinks/etc were.

It was bloody loud is what I'm trying to say. Hard to hear oneself think, and you know I was missing out on some golden thoughts because of the noise, and even worse, finding it difficult to relay those thoughts to people in my vicinity, who were all desperate for my wisdom. On the plus side, credit to Gully for being one of the few clubs persisting with a (free!) match program, which made it easier to figure out who was who for them, and for reminding us both of the Maltese love for 1950s and 60s tribute acts, and for the existence of ex-South personnel at other clubs - in this case Steve Laurie (assistant coach), Peter Gavalas (physio), as well as the still active Shaun Timmins, Jerrad Tyson, and Melvin Becket.

Much to one person in particular's disappointment, Becket didn't even make the bench for Gully, nor he did he return the greeting offered by his biggest fan. The lesson here being, of course, never meet your heroes. Stranger though was the lineup that we put out, which after weeks of complaining about Esteban Quintas' ultra-defensive set-ups, on Friday night instead looked like something that was 65-80% compiled by the collective wisdom of the South forum.

Ben Djiba starting at right full-back, and Luke Adams on the bench. Daniel Clark on the bench (apparently for arriving late to the ground), and Zac Bates starting. Basically, it was the most attacking line-up we'd put on the park all year in the league, and that helped produce what was a pretty open game. Neither side was particularly good at producing quality final third product, but it was entertaining, which was a real change of pace for what we've dished up this year. But for the few hundred people at the game (up on the more usual mere couple of hundred for this fixture), at least they got their fifteen dollars worth in terms of end-to-end action.

It was weird to see a Quintas coached South side actually going toe-to-toe with an opponent of roughly similar calibre. I'm not so confident that it will always work out well, and the second half was in particular was much messier for us than I would have liked. Our midfield, or at least our desire to play through the midfield, disappeared almost entirely. Instead we resorted back to long ball after long ball to Harrison Sawyer, with Gerrie Sylaidos and Bates trying to pick up the scraps. It was invigorating to see Sylaidos and Bates unleashed, given licence to break lines and zip forward, at least in the first half. The second half's long-ball plan worked better than it should have, and I can't see it as a viable long-term prospect, but Sawyer did well enough with little help from either teammates or the officials to set up the winning goal.

He still looks as awkward as the proverbial baby giraffe, but for the time being he's getting the job done. Who knows what will happen if he gets injured, but you'd almost not want to think about it. 
That it took until the 80th minute or so for the deadlock to be broken is down to bad luck and poor finishing rather than a paucity of chances or lack of daring from either side. And then we got a bit lucky with a goal line clearance, but we escaped with a third 1-0 win for the year, and the players got to do their rendition of the dreadful 'Sweet Caroline', which is apparently their thing now instead of the 'Celtic Song'.

Along with the win came injuries both physical (Wallen's arm injury) and to one's pride (Daniel Clark), who seemed not quite as enthusiastic in his play as he usually is, after he had come on as a second half sub. We also continued to pick up yellow cards, and

Next game
Back at Lakeside on Saturday evening against St Albans, who are winless in their last four matches. Please note that the under 21s match will not be played as a curtain-raiser, but rather will be played after the senior match.

FFA Cup draw news
"So you like South vs Knights cup fixtures, eh?"
"Well, have all the South vs Knights cup
 games in the world! Ahahahah, hahahah!
or the fifth round we've been drawn at home against Melbourne Knights. Quelle surprise. Did not see that coming. Here we go again. Fourth time in seven years. What is the point of even tuning in to the draw? You sit there at your computer or hold out your phone, waiting for the draw to start, then you find out that the draw is delayed by an hour and a half due to "technical issues", and then you just end up with this anyway. 

Football Victoria should just make South vs Knights a default fourth round FFA Cup game each year, and that way at least get rid of the pretense that the draw isn't rigged. Just alternate the home team each year. Save on the electricity bill by not having to heat up the balls in the microwave. I suppose we should be glad that we at least avoided the banana skin (on field and off) that would be a game against Preston - unless you're one of these people who want a big pay day - but that's really small comfort. Give me the cruisiest path to the cup any day of the week.

Expect the game to be fixtured pretty close to whenever it is we're supposed to play them in the league.

Rout via (mostly) the right hand channel
Judging by the opening half of their league season opening game against Bulleen, it looks like the senior women are back into overpowered squad domination mode. Which is fine by me, though I wish the audio on the NPL stream wasn't so unbalanced as to come out almost entirely through the right-hand speaker. The women were six goals up at half time, and finished with a 7-1 win. Who knows if this is an aberration on Bulleen's part - they looked a lot sharper in the second half than the first - but this could be a long season for pretty much everyone else other ourselves and Calder if that's the kind of performance we can dish out to a likely finals team. 

Image edited from original photo found on
 Wallen's Instagram page (IG:joshuawallen)
Anyone for a bowl of tea?
Josh Wallen's arm injury, which has required two surgeries, will rob us of one of our better players for several weeks. My guess (and probably yours) is that Luke Pavlou will probably take his place, but it could well be that Marcus Schroen has picked up enough match fitness to be able to start a game, if not quite finish one.

We can rest assured that Wallen is being well taken care of, because clearly the photo on the right was not taken in a public hospital - that toast certainly looks better than anything I've come across in the public system.

Of more concern in this matter is the size of the cup of tea that Wallen is seemingly about to drink while injured. That thing is so massive, you wonder how someone with a broken arm is supposed to safely lift that much hot liquid without spilling it on oneself.  

On the couch/On the streams/In the stands
Here's to getting into arguments with strangers at a game, on the topic of why the team you both support just so happens to suck so very, very much.
Here's to me sitting on level two at the Punt Road End on Saturday night, and somehow ending up next to one of the few people who apparently regularly attends Avondale matches, who himself may have been wondering how he ended up next to someone who still goes to South matches. Don't ask how the topic of soccer came up in conversation, only know that it was the more genial part of the conversation, as we spent most of the next three hours disagreeing about why exactly Collingwood sucked. He repertoire on that front was straight out of 1992, while I was - unusually for me, perhaps - very much in the present. I did check out some of the NPL Victoria stream action at halftime, when it wasn't drizzling so much, by which I mean I was trying to skim through to where the goals were. Certain teams really loving draws this year.

I will say this for the Bentleigh vs Heidelberg game, and not much more. It was the first full-length game I watched on a stream for quite some time (though I say that with some frequency), and I still cannot get over the fact that several years down the live-streaming track, and NPL Victoria's offering still doesn't have a instant replay option. And no, I'm not talking about sliding the cursor back a few a seconds yourself, but something that's part of the coverage itself. If they can do it Tasmania, why can't they do it here?

Final thought
We're now thirteen points clear of the relegation zone; or fifteen more points to go as the kids like to say.

Sunday, 4 April 2021

Zero Sugar - Werribee City 0 South Melbourne 6

Freddie Sey bundles in his first goal for South,
 putting South up 2-0. Photo: Luke Radziminksi.
This was the pre-season game you have when you're not having a pre-season game. It was at a ground that most South fans would never have heard of. You didn't have to pay to get in. It was against a lower league opponent. It was hot, with frequent drinks breaks. And we fielded what was a half-strength team, and still got the job done.

There's really not much more to say than that. What could have been a banana skin game turned out to be anything but. Werribee's senior squad seems to be very young, and while we fielded a couple of kids of our own, there was more than enough experience on the field for us to overcome whatever inexperience our youth team players would have carried into the game.

Backup goalkeeper James Burgess made his debut for South, with Pierce Clark being on the bench. Freddie Sey got his first start as a South player and his first goal. South junior Sasha Murphy made his debut, while fellow junior Yianni Panakos came off the bench and scored a penalty. Marcus Schroen got his first start of the season, and played just over a half. Brad Norton came back into the starting lineup. Gerrie Sylaidos was left out of the squad entirely, as was Ben Djiba, while Harry Sawyer and Henry Hore started on the bench; Hore would come on in the second half and score. Jake Marshall came in for Marco Jankovic, and Daniel Clark also came back into the starting eleven.

The most impressive player on the day was Zac Bates, who scored a couple of goals and set up at least one more. Overall, it was not the kind of lineup you're likely to see again this year. Within five minutes it got on to the front foot with a Norton goal, and without exerting itself too much, then went on to score goals at regular enough intervals to be emphatic without showing off - except for Bates' second goal, which was a bit showing off. 

What could have been a tricky week ends up with three wins, and some reasonably good rotation of the senior squad. Not one of the three opponents we faced over that eight day stretch offered up the kind of challenge that I expected. Magic, despite their spending and player pedigree, and despite taking the lead, were overwhelmed by a team that had only scored three goals in the opening four weeks. Thunder tried hard, and defended well enough, but were mostly kept in the game for as long as they were by some profligate finishing. And Werribee, despite the advantages of a few days extra rest, were out of the hunt within twenty minutes.

All of which means there'll still be doubters over how good this team actually is; and fair enough, too, because it's still early on in the season and there's much to learn. That, and we've also served up some real slop in the first six weeks of the year despite the good results. But as usual, it's worth remembering that things could have turned out much worse. Heidelberg apparently rested a bunch of first teamers, and got done by Nunawading. The sputtering Altona Magic are out, after losing to Ballarat City. But the shock of the round was Altona North coming from behind to beat St Albans - no idea what kind of lineup Dinamo fielded, but that's still a terrific result for a state 3 club.

Looking ahead to the next round of the cup and possible opponents, the draw has opened up more than I thought it would have. As well as the aforementioned NPL trio, Dandy Thunder are also out, having lost to Green Gully. At the time of print, Bentleigh, Dandy City, and Port Melbourne had all yet to play their lower league opponents.

All of which means we'll probably get drawn against Knights again.

Next game

Back to league action, away at Green Gully on Friday night.

Final thought

Some weird cats out there yesterday watching the game from the non-shaded parts of Grange Reserve. Hope they had their sunscreen on.

Thursday, 1 April 2021

Giddy heights - South Melbourne 1 Dandenong Thunder 0

Keeping this one short because it needs to be knocked out before the game on Saturday.

Last night the strange 2021 season just got that little bit stranger. No one in the stands at South seems to seriously rate what we're doing, how we're doing it, or even the results that have come our way. And yet we're still undefeated, and top of the league after six games.

Mind you, being top of the league after six games with only three wins tells you a little bit about where this league is at the moment - it's both a very competitive league, and probably more than a bit of a mediocre one quality-wise. Put that down a little bit to the lack of visa players because of covid if you like, or just the normal cycle of things where some years are better than others. But how about that competitiveness! Just four points separate first (us! really!) and tenth, in part because teams like Eastern Lions are picking up points at a rate that no-one really expected them to, while other teams full of pricey "name brand" players aren't quite where they thought they'd be. 

And that pithy comment from our last post, about us having only picked up the points we had because we'd played three of the bottom four teams? Well, that's now two teams at the bottom, two in the middle, and two nearer the top end. I assume it'll sort itself out eventually, once the apertura portion of the season is finished, but for now let's enjoy the unexpected glory of South Melbourne being top of the league.

Starting with last Saturday's game, this was always going to be an important week for the team, one where the senior roster would have to be managed and the starting eleven positions rotated somewhat. Three games in eight days is a tough ask for teams in this league from a conditioning standpoint, especially for us as we've not been gifted one of the easier FFA Cup draws for the fourth round. And Saturday afternoon is going to be unseasonably warm, which won't make things easier for us against an opponent who has had a few extra days rest.

So back in to the starting lineup was Luke Pavlou, who was left out of last week's squad entirely. Also coming in for a rare start was Perry Lambropoulos. And Ben Djiba, having seemingly recovered from his injury issues from pre-season, was also in. Out of the starting team were Brad Norton, Jake Marshall, and Daniel Clark. Marcus Schroen was out of the match-day squad entirely, which hints to him being an important part of Saturday's game. With Luke Adams moving back to his more accustomed role of centre-back, we got to see a much more balanced attacking set-up, and evidence as well that Djiba can hold down the right-back position, at least against a pretty ordinary opponent like Thunder.

And while no disrespect is meant to Thunder, in general they were a poor opponent. Apart from whatever they could make of our mistakes from mucking around the backline, they were almost entirely dependent on a counter-attacking strategy. A more capable attacking side might have made more of some of the breaks they had; but then again, if Thunder were indeed a more capable side, chances are we wouldn't have set up the team in the more overtly attacking fashion that we did, instead reverting back to over-defensive setups of the earlier parts of the season thus far.

Though we clearly had the better of it, the first half was a bit of a mess from both teams. Part of that was down to the pitch, which saw players losing their footing on several occasions, especially towards the lake end of the ground. It will sound a little callous to say it, but my main concern with that was less to do with player safety, and more to do with the possibility that one of our players would slip over in the second half while defending at that end, leading to us coughing up a goal. That would have been less of a concern had we had a half-time lead of some sort, but we didn't. The final ball just wasn't there, though we got up to the right end of the field often enough. 

Second half, Thunder came out a bit more aggressively, pressing higher up the field, but their quality of possession wasn't up to scratch. And once we worked our way back into the half, we were if not quite all over them, then certainly the team most likely to score. Oh, but it was interminable waiting for that goal. The absence of Daniel Clark meant that our set pieces weren't up to scratch, but the finishing touches weren't there from open play either. It got to that point where you were waiting for the sucker-punch goal. But then Gerrie Sylaidos got behind the defence one more time, and shot the ball past the Thunder's keeper who it looks like got a hand on to it, which may have even deflected the ball into the net.

At least we created enough chances to say that we deserved the win on the balance of probabilities, so that if we scored from a slightly fortuitous goal, it was not for want of more orthodox opportunities. It would have been nice to have scored earlier, so that we could have perhaps rested some players a bit earlier, but what can you do? A warm evening, a convivial, mixed crowd, an entertaining game, and three points in the bag. You wouldn't want to get greedy.

Next game
FFA Cup match against Werribee City on Saturday afternoon. 

Please note that the kickoff time for this game has been adjusted to 3:00PM, from the previous (and now apparently preliminary) 2:00PM timeslot

As per the previous post, please note that this game is being played at Grange Reserve, the home of Hoppers Crossing Soccer Club, and not at Galvin Park, Werribee's normal home ground.

A new player? Already?
Talk on Twitter that midfielder Josh Barresi is set to join us from South Australian club Campbelltown. Barresi was a fringe A-League player (no senior appearances that I can find), and had stints in Victoria with Bulleen Lions (2016) and Green Gully (2018). If this transfer is true, I wonder who's going to be shunted out of the current senior roster.

Much frivolity on the livestreams last night, again. There was the (now deleted) tweet by a prominent NPL commentator about too many cameras competing for limited space at Knights Stadium. There was also the return from local commentary banishment of Teo Pellizzeri, which is good to see. Even wilder, our own game was being called by *the* voice of Channel 31 soccer, Thanis "Arthur" Arkritidis! With so much retro action, I had to check to make sure that Ian Burke hadn't been summoned to call the Gully game; no dice on that front, but we live in hope.

Yet the most important part of the livestream, the video feed itself, continues to be a shambles in 2021. In what was apparently a pretty tense game last night between Knights and the Bergers, the Football Victoria stream went offline late in the game at just the time the Bergers scored what turned out to be the winning goal. Someone out there is getting paid to provide what is turning out this year to be a less than stellar service this year.

Final thought
Speaking of being top of the league, in partial answer to last week's query about when the last time Knights and South occupied the top two places on the ladder, Andrew Howe noted that for the National Soccer League:

A really half-arsed search by me to try and find the last time the two teams occupied first and second on the ladder in the post-NSL era came up very short. Maybe circa March 2015? Regardless, it wasn't a situation which lasted long.