Wednesday, 28 July 2021

Soccer's back, but you're not

So the latest lockdown is easing, but it looks like there'll be a slower return to games with spectators this time. Thus, while our scheduled league game away against Hume on Saturday evening will go ahead, spectators will not be allowed to attend. 

Moreover, this policy looks like it will carry over into next week as well, but I suppose we'll cross that bridge when we come to it. Any guesses on whether the FFA Cup - and our hopeful payday - will be able to proceed given Sydney's extended lockdown, remains to be seen.

Still, at least we'll be able to watch the NPL games on the streams. How good are the live streams, by the way? Never doubted their value for a second.

Tuesday, 20 July 2021

Seven more days, at least

So, with lockdown continuing for another week, our next two scheduled matches - against Hume tomorrow night, and Dandenong City on the weekend - have been postponed. But you're all smart enough to have figured that out by yourselves.

Friday, 16 July 2021

News to tide you over during the lockdown

Weekend's matches cancelled

I'm sure you're all already on top of this. This Sunday's senior men's match against St Albans has been postponed, due to the current lockdown. Tomorrow's highly anticipated match between South's senior women and Bulleen has also been postponed.

Close contact

The senior women ran into a little trouble on Wednesday prior to their scheduled cup match against Casey Comets, when it was found that a player in the match "had been identified as a secondary close contact through an exposure site". By agreement of the two teams, the match did not go ahead.

New fixture date no. 1

During the week the date and venue for our Dockerty Cup semi-final tie against Hume was set. The date is this coming Wednesday, July 21st, and the kickoff time 7:30PM. Unfortunately, the neutral venue chosen was Kingston Heath Soccer Complex. I was 50/50 on whether it was going to be worth the bother. Now with the lockdown extending until Tuesday, one has to think that this fixture may also be altered. For the time being though, let's assume that it will go ahead.

New fixture date no. 2

Our FFA Cup round of 32 fixture against Melbourne City has been given the match date of August 29th. Unusually, this is a Sunday and not a weeknight, in line with the powers that be seeking to try and branch out from the usual midweek timeslots. Even more unusually, the August 29th date already had a fixture set for it - our round 26 match away against Bentleigh. You may recall that round 26 is the final match of the home and away season, when all fixtures are meant to kick off simultaneously. I'm sure that all involved will figure it out.

Vale John Anderson

Three time state championship winner John Anderson passed away during the week. The Scots midfielder won championships with South in 1964, 1965, and 1966. He also represented Victoria and Australia; the latter included being part of Australia's first World Cup qualifying campaign. Tony Persoglia has written a good summary of Anderson's background and accomplishments on the Football Victoria site.

Vale Chris Christopher

Former long-serving committee member Chris Christopher also passed away during the week. Christopher was president of the club in 1987, but he will likely be best remembered for making a large loan to the club in 2004 which, along with a contribution from the late Tony Toumbourou, helped stave off the club's death from the Australian Taxation Office. 

Vale Michael Christodoulou

Not directly South related, but this week also saw the passing of Michael Christodoulou, aka the Bentleigh peanut man. A fixture at Victorian soccer grounds for decades - at NSL, state league, and A-League - Christodoulou was always good for a chat, and was one of its more well known characters. His death probably brings to an end the era of the local soccer nut-sellers; the others have also passed on or retired, and I can't see anyone emerging to take their place.

National Youth League videos unearthed

Here's an absolute treat. Thanks to George Cotsanis (My World Is Round), who acted as the pivot for getting these two videos from former South Melbourne youth team players Tim Schleiger and Mike Lilikakis.

These homemade videos are from South's 1991/92 National Youth League finals campaign. The club had won the title in 1990/91, and reached the final in 1991/92, losing to a start-studded Sydney Croatia team.

The first video contains almost the entirety of the Southern Division preliminary final against Heidelberg at Olympic Park, and closes with some changeroom hijinks and tomfoolery; several of the players became if not quite National Soccer League household names, then certainly Victorian Premier League mainstays. It also includes quick moments with the training and support staff.

The second video is a more manageable 20 minutes or so. This is a bit different from the first tape, in that it is a compilation of South's three finals matches. It includes the above mentioned preliminary final against Heidelberg; the Southern Division grand final against Preston; and the national grand final against Sydney Croatia. This video, narrated by goalkeeper Mike Lilikakis, also includes trophy presentations.

These are remarkable videos for a variety of reasons. First, for the sheer scarcity of footage from the NYL as a whole. Second, for the videos' time capsule quality - the Olympic Park that is no more; the players that would and would not become household names; the cameos by Eddie Thomson and Ferenc Puskas; the Sade background music, and the banter by the players. Third, the reiteration that such  archival material still exists, and that we must cherish it each time we come across it.

Hit "like" and "subscribe"

So, some of you may have been seeing the videos I've been uploading to my YouTube channel, which is mostly classic South gear. Well, I hadn't quite exhausted the tranche given to me a few months ago, but I'd done just about all the 1980s stuff... that is until I got given another collection of digitised VHS tapes couple of weeks back. So sure, there's bound to be a lot of crossover between the first set and this one, but this second set also seems to have some 1988 match footage that the previous set doesn't have, and which I have certainly not seen before. This new set also includes little set pieces as well - interviews, gimmicks, and the like - which will be interesting to dig out, because that's not the kind of thing that usually gets uploaded to YouTube. I've also started a little project (which will take time to complete, if I actually do complete it) which will aim to track every South match that's available online, classing them as either "short", "extended", or "full" - but that's for the future.

Tuesday, 13 July 2021

Boking Accident - South Melbourne 1 Green Gully 1

Dear readers of South of the Border,  I have been given a most precious gift; the gift of an epiphany. I wasn't looking for it, I didn't realise that I needed or wanted this gift, but I was chosen to receive it.

Since South of the Border was launched in December 2007, I believed I had the right to voice my own opinions, whether they were right or wrong, fair on unfair, and untethered to popular or official opinion. 

I now understand that this was a dangerous illusion, a devastatingly heretical one. I now understand that not only were my opinions wrong, but so too was my belief in the right to have my own opinions. I cannot express how much I was crushed by the sudden onset of the reality of my long-running egoism! All the lost years spent agonising about what to think and how to think it and how to express those thoughts, when all I needed to do was to look at the status quo, and just sit back and bask in its perpetual and permanent acceptability; no, its divine infallibility, for whatever happens must by design surely be good and right. 

As recently as last week I was like many of you, criticising people at our club who make decisions, focusing my stern judgments on those who have more than nominal responsibility for where the team has found itself this season. Ladies and gentlemen, I now know that it was wrong to feel this way. I don't blame the coach anymore. It is clearly the players' fault that we are where we are. They're the ones not following orders, or following orders too hard - I'm not sure which anymore. They're the ones who need to weather Spanish insults screamed at them for 90 minutes, and being rotated in and out of the match day squad for reasons they cannot comprehend. They need to play with less flair and intent! They need to comprehend better! It's for their own good! It's for our collective good!

But hold on - what if "blame" is the wrong word, too? What if this has been the plan all along? Maybe apportioning blame to anyone is not good enough or supportive enough of the team either? Forgive me; I'm new at this no longer thinking for myself caper. So instead of apportioning blame, let's start apportioning credit. I credit the coach for where we are now. I pay homage to the quality of his management skills, which see a squad capable of more, achieve less. Credit also has to go to the board. It takes a lot of guts to stand up to so-called reality. It's imperative that we South Melbourne supporters also reject this false reality, and substitute it for the one that management sees. My new and enduring hope is that one day those of us left in the crowd who don't agree with the current trajectory of the team, can squeegee their collective third eye and come to the same conclusion. Only then can we become not the bitter few defenders of a rump state, but rather, the discerning few.

This revelation means that I now understand that the last two months of football have been incredibly adequate. Maybe even more than adequate! Why demand excellence, even relative excellence, when you can accept the sweet comfort of midtable, or wherever we end up? Higher, lower, what difference does it make? What sweet release to now see that we are not in competition with other teams, but only with ourselves and our own expectations; even then, the only worthwhile struggle is to stop struggling. to stop having expectations, so that we can finally and genuinely let go of the infatuation of competing. 

You win this year or the next, or you lose this year or the next, what does it matter? And I don't mean what does it matter in the context of no one caring about this club or this league. I mean what does it matter at all what we do, if concerning ourselves with whether it matters only causes more psychological and spiritual torment? I've been going to games and seeing the anguish on our supporters' faces, and not seeing it for what it is; the agony of trying. So why try? Why not just be? Just go out there and do anything, and let the chips fall where they may. Give up trying to understand, give up the idea that South Melbourne Hellas should be doing better. Acknowledge the genius of the strategy, and acknowledge its genius wherever it leads us. 

Ideas of stature and pedigree? Let them go. Consistency? Throw it to the wind. Fluency? Ask yourself why we should make the effort. Come to the realisation that forwards and backwards are actually the same thing. Learn to love short corners. 

Next game

At St Albans away on Sunday. Now I know many of you aren't quite with me yet on the path to "who gives a stuff" enlightenment so I'll phrase this next section in a way that will hopefully gently start you on your journey. St Albans are struggling, but I don't us expect to roll over them; I expect us to walk alongside them, being neither better nor worse. Why make the opposition feel bad about themselves? We have a great chance to make them feel better about themselves - not so much better because they've managed to beat us, but hopefully at least enough to give them the taste of being able to know what it's like to match it with the great South Melbourne Hellas. And you also wouldn't want to win, because you only really need 26-30 points to definitely (probably) avoid relegation, so anything more than that would just be a waste of effort, and of course win bonuses. So, no showboating please, and absolutely no goals unless we need to equalise to keep our draw tally going. 

Women's news

In all seriousness, despite playing against an obviously inferior opponent, I was pleased with what I saw on the live stream on Saturday by our senior women against Alamein. Granted, Alamein didn't push as high up the field as say, the Bergers did the other week. But I think we moved the ball around well in midfield, and seemed more in control of the tempo of the match, even in those moments were Alamein had a decent spell. Big game at home against Bulleen on Saturday though, to show how far this team has really come.

Final thought

At least the last half hour of the game was kinda entertaining, if you're into that sort of thing. But if you are into that kind of thing, I must warn you, because it's a hell of a drug, and you're going to be chasing that high for the rest of your days if you're not careful.

Friday, 9 July 2021

Oakleigh Cannons 0 South Melbourne 0 - South win 6-5 on penalties

Let us begin our now customary report for the transport engineer.

Drove to Sunshine station, as only the main car park was closed. Missed the first available train by mere seconds, had to wait a little for the next one. Got to Flinders Street in reasonably good time, and had Pakenham train waiting on platform 7 ready to depart within a minute. Sadly the departure of this service was delayed by quite a few minutes, because of an operational matter further down the line somewhere. I don't know what it was, someone maybe chasing a dog onto the tracks? Train eventually leaves Flinders, and makes good pace down to Huntingdale station, after which it is a short walk by myself to Jack Edwards Reserve through the relatively poorly lit industrial backblocks of Oakleigh, with cars and truck trailers blocking the footpath, and then there was the bit where there's no footpath near the ground.

I was fortunate that as a media pass holder, I was able to skip the queue outside the ground and head straight in. I overheard some people being frustrated with there being no eftpos facilities at Oakleigh (still!) but as far as I'm concerned, if you're going to a suburban ground, you just have to bring cash. I suppose it tends to sort the wheat (those who go to local regularly) from the chaff (those who do not).

A bigger crowd than you would usually get for a league game here these days between these two sides, but not as big as you might have had in the past. Maybe it was too cold, maybe the pandemic still puts people off from attending sporting events, maybe even the FFA Cup has lost a tiny bit of its sheen. God, I hope it's the latter.

Onto the game. This fixture provided irony upon irony, and cliché upon cliché, as well as the chance to revive some of old favourite lines. Not many expected us to win this fixture; not neutrals, and not our own fans. Some of our own fans thought we were going to get buried, based on Oakleigh's recent goal scoring run, and our own flailing efforts where the one (mostly) unquestionably good thing we'd had going for us - our defence - had also gone down the gurgler. 

That wasn't my thinking by the way, the getting buried part I mean. Certainly, I thought we were going to lose because:

a) we were in the middle of a wretched run of form, and

b) I generally think we're going to lose most games, even when we have a very strong team and good form

But getting buried? I didn't think that would happen; or at least not nearly as fervently as some other South fans seemed to think. But props to some of my fellow South fans for fully embracing doomism! 

In retrospect, if there was one game where an overly defensive and cautious set-up could work, it just might be a knockout cup game where no-one expects you do anything good. The morbid joke on the terraces last week was that Esteban Quintas sets up his team to win games 0-0, but a knockout fixture allows you to progress to the next round doing just that, assuming everything falls into place.

And in this case, it kind of did. Though they had a day's extra rest from the previous round of league matches, they'd also had a more congested fixture thanks to the multiple postponements of their previous FFA Cup fixtures. So, you'd hope that fact, as well as the matter of some of their important players being well on the wrong side of 30, would help us.

Additionally Oakleigh's narrow ground provides diminished opportunities for playing the ball into wide spaces. Credit where credit is due, we limited Oakleigh's ability to get wide and behind our back four or five or six players. Granted, the dimensions of the ground - being both short and narrow - make that easier, but the frustration of our fans wanting some of our defenders to step up and press the Oakleigh midfielders sometimes missed the point - that being to keep them at a collective arms' length.

The proof in the pudding was that Oakleigh struggled to get through the defence's middle channels, and were rarely able to get behind us out wide. Often times, when I thought they had the chance to move the ball wide away from the places we'd overloaded our defensives stocks. When they did, things looked terrifying,. but thankfully there was usually no one there to meet the cross in the six yard box. I can't say what the stats said at the end of the full 120, but after 90 minutes Oakleigh had had just one corner for the game. Considering how dire our defending from corners has been of late, that was just sensible risk mitigation.

As for the old line that was revived? It was an old forum chestnut, when critics of Chris Taylor would note that his teams and his methods, were not built for big games. It was, largely, an unfair criticism, because we won two league titles, a Dockerty Cup, and had a deep FFA Cup run 2017 - but it's a criticism that's stuck. It stuck because of notable failures especially in knockout games - against Bentleigh in the cup, in a final, and in the grand final - and of course the calamities of the losses to Palm Beach and Hobart Olympia.

That it came to the lottery of a penalty shoot-out was also fitting, because part of Taylor's reputation for failing at South comes down to penalty shootout losses. Again, that's a little unfair, because there were only two penalty shoot outs during his time with the club, which just goes to show that more often than not his teams got the job done well before it came to the point of needing a shootout to resolve a situation.

(as for Taylor's dislike of practicing for penalty shootouts, I tend to instinctively agree with him that the anxiety of the actual shootout can't be replicated in training; still, here's an opposing argument backed up by some sort of legitimate science; and there's something to be said for the chat some of us had at the game that it was practicing at least for the sake of making our players be comfortable with a penalty taking routine)

But the penalty shootout was still a long way away from happening during the game. We'd set up a tight defence which made it hard for Oakleigh to score, but also made it even harder for us to score. Poor Daniel Clark was left floundering up forward like Brodie Mihocek under Nathan Buckley; an undersized forward being asked to do too much against too many, without nearly enough support.

Chances were few and far between for both sides. We had two good chances - one sequence of play with a header onto the crossbar and a follow up attempt cleared off the line, and Henry Hore hooting the post from a tight angle. Oakleigh managed to get behind our defence and around Pierce Clark, only for (I think) Luke Adams to clear off the line. 

If this was not a cup game, with the knowledge that one team would win, and one would lose; that one team's prize would be the national stage, and the other's a return to the drudgery of the league; if all the tension built up in the crowd creating an atmosphere of expectation; without any of those things, this game would rightly have been called a dour, frustrating, and poor spectacle of local football. 

There's no way of getting around that. It was not a good game to watch. I commend the players from both teams for giving it all their all, especially ours, but it was a difficult game to watch as a piece of entertainment, as a showcase for what teams in this league can achieve. A good thing for all concerned that that's not what people are going to remember then.

What they'll probably remember is atmosphere in the stands, and the no quarter given on the pitch, and even some of the back and forth between South's fans toward former Hellas boys Tyson Holmes and Matthew Foschini. The fans might also remember a pretty ordinary and one-sided performance from the referee, which saw us collect yellow cards at will (and in the manner and rate in which we were collecting at the start of the year), while Oakleigh seemed to get away with a lot more.

(And as has been noted to me elsewhere, when will Victorian referees finally tell Holmes that he is a not referee, and to just piss off? And Foschini kissing Oakleigh's cartoon cannon badge was just bizarre theatrics)

But what they'll remember is the penalty shootout, taken to the railway end of the ground, which started well for us, until it was almost scuppered by Gerrie Sylaidos' smashing his penalty - which would have won us the tie - against crossbar. I don't blame Gerrie for his miss, in much the same way I wouldn't blame anyone for missing a shot in a shootout. I felt sick just watching the shootout preferring to sit down instead of getting a dizzy spell and losing my bearings.

And I don't even blame Gerrie for taking the shot the way he did; maybe it was a correction against the penalty shot he had saved against Avondale earlier this year, but he's entitled to try and score anyway he likes - and if that means a powerful blast down the middle that'll be strong for any keeper to save should they even avoid diving left or right, then so be it.

As it was, we got into the sudden death element of the shootout, with Lirim Elmazi's squib of a shot trickling underneath the Oakleigh keeper, and then Pierce Clark comfortably saving Oakleigh subsequent and just as squibbish shot. And there it was. the cup tie won, and onto the next stage of two tournaments to much rejoicing. And maybe, whether by accident or design, it was revealed that this team is one built not so much for league success, but for cup runs. Maybe all it needs to prove its worth is a Dockerty Cup title; or somehow sneaking into the finals, and grinding its way through three do-or-die fixtures.

Again, credit where it's due - this has been our most difficult cup run to date in combined opposition calibre, certainly at least since the FFA Cup was attached as the main thread of knockout of football as opposed to the Dockerty Cup. Aside from the terribly youthful Werribee City, we had to face three NPL opponents in a row, when in other seasons we'd had difficulty getting just past one. And while Eastern Lions aren't one of our division's better teams, they still put up a good show in most games.

And winning two ostensibly "rival" games to get to this point is not worth sneezing at either; we'd overcome Knights, who knocked us out of this tournament two years ago, and who prize our scalp above all others; and this was our first "win" over Oakleigh (however you want to define it) since 2017, and against them at Jack Edwards since 2013.

That's not to say the journey has been anything close to aesthetically edifying, though it's had its moments of moral schadenfreude. Apart from the six goal Werribee romp, we won the remaining games by scoring just three goals, two of them penalties. In two of the games we played football that was beyond dour,. and most troubling, those were the recent games; but we won, and thus we are expected to be in nothing other than a good mood.

Me though? I prefer the linearity and subtlety of league season over cup football, which is for the excitable and the easily distracted fan, who can't commit to an ongoing storyline with depth; cup football is the pay per view event of local soccer - you come for the endless high spots, and forget about the graft that's needed to keep things going on and off the field for the rest of the year.

But that's just me I guess, a man renowned for taste in all things subtle and sophisticated.

One more thing

The day after the game while I was at home, my brother picked up the phone; he mumbled something about "Hellas", then passed the phone to me. It was my mum calling from her work - a customer in her shop was a mostly lapsed South Melbourne supporter from days of yore, asking to find out whether we'd won the cup tie the previous night. To which I replied that, yes, we'd won the game on penalties after the game had finished 0-0, but that geez it was very hard to watch.

Which when put like that, is a much shorter version of everything that I'd written before that paragraph, so sorry if you had to wait until here to get the summarised version.

Next game

Back to league action, against Green Gully at home on tonight. I wonder if we tried to get this game moved to the Saturday? Anyway, here's hoping the team don't feel the pinch too much from 120 minutes of effort, as well as last Saturday's game. Here's hoping also that at least some of the bandwagon from last night turns up as well.

FFA Cup draw

The draw for the national stage of the FFA Cup was held last night, with its new and not so national zoning system. I'm not sure if the zoning system is a pandemic related change, or something more permanent; then again, who knows what's permanent anymore? This greatly reduced the range of possibilities for a match up, making it more likely that we would get an NPL Victoria team as opponent. Except that's not what happened, with us getting Melbourne City instead. 

There are, broadly, three schools of thought on what an ideal FFA Cup match up is once you reach the national stage. One stream of thought suggests that the best course of action is to avoid an A-League team for as long as possible, which allows you the best chance to go deep into the tournament; people in this camp are divided about you want to play more home games (to maximise crowd revenues). The second stream of thought is that it's best to get an A-League opponent first up (ideally a local one), which will get you the biggest chance of a full-house, and the best chance of winning a game against an underprepared and understrength top-flight team during their off-season.

The third stream of course, is your correspondent's island of one position that the FFA Cup is a horrible competition wholly without merit.

But under the circumstances, a game against the current A-League champions is probably the best draw we could get. For those who'd prefer to travel, the pandemic continues to wreak havoc thanks to sudden border closures and lockdowns. And considering the suddenly increased workload Tuesday's night win has brought forth - at least one FFA Cup game, one Dockerty Cup game, to add to the three catch up games lost due to the lockdown - how deep do you expect our players to go? How many games do we expect semi-pros to be able to play in a short amount of time?

And for those who don't care about the FFA Cup

A reminder that our Dockerty Cup semi final will be against Hume City, after they beat Monbulk Rangers 3-0. No date or venue has yet been arranged for this fixture, but if recent practice is any guide, the semi-final venue will likely be a neutral venue.

Final thought

Thanks once again to Johnny for the lift back to Footscray.

Tuesday, 6 July 2021

Hello, Nuna! Dandenong Thunder 4 South Melbourne 1

So, for the transport engineers out there, here was Saturday's method for getting to the game. Both main car parks at Sunshine station closed, so decided to take the bus up to the station instead, thinking I would get a cab on the way back because buses stop by the time I would get back. Instead of getting the bus from my nearest stop (about 50 metres away), I walked up to the next stop (about 300 metres up the road), because my nearest stop is a bit of a mess thanks to extensive road and footpath rehabilitation works.

The wait for the rail replacement bus wasn't more than a few minutes, a stopping all stations effort to North Melbourne. Once at North Melbourne the task was to get on a train to somewhere in the city to change to a Pakenham or Cranbourne service. That didn't take more than about five minutes, getting on a train to Frankston.

Oh yes, there's this thing which still throws me off sometimes, that a train from Werribee towards the city might nowadays come under a "Frankston" designation on the screens, because Werribee trains often run through to Frankston after reaching the city. So I took the Frankston train to Richmond from North Melbourne, and changed at Richmond to a Pakenham service, which again, I didn't have to wait long for. That went pretty smoothly, and then I got to Dandenong Station.

It was freezing, and there was a 20 minute wait for the 901 bus, so what else to do but keep watching the stream of the women's game against Heidelberg at Lakeside. The NPLW can be such an unsatisfying competition to watch because of the lack of depth and its inbuilt imbalances, but the South women this season... I don't know, there's also something annoying about the way they play. It's a bit showboaty, it's a bit pull finger out only when necessary, and more than a bit careless. Heidelberg are an OK team, but we made them look a lot better than they are - at least during the first half - because there was little desire on our part to play meaningful football in the middle of the park.

Sure, there was the dangerous (and pointless) backline passing around, which attracted pressure for no good reason. But midfield proficiency? It's been a problem for much of the season as far as I can tell, where the all the caution and possession based style of the back third becomes all about booting the ball into space and hoping Melina Ayres (mostly) can run on to a loose ball and smash the ball past a helpless keeper. But where's the midfield panache, the evidence of stylistic and player growth? Hard to see where I'm watching from, but hey, we e3nded up crunching the Bergers 7-0, so everything's good, right?

Finally got to the ground, super early - because if I'm going to hike it all the way to Dandenong on public transport, I might as well get as much football in as possible - and caught most of the reserves game, which we ended up losing 4-2. One tolerable but nevertheless overpriced chicken roll was not enough to ward off the cold, and double-socked or not, there was no chance that my feet weren't going to freeze on standing on cold concrete or on dewy grass. I was disheartened also with a conversation with one of the few former South players that still comes to our games, who wanted to place most of the blame for our recent poor run of results on our injury toll, and none whatsoever on the coaching methodology. Well, we all see the game differently; we're all blind men touching different parts of the same elephant.

Still more time to kill, and not many South fans in sight, because pretty much everyone's given up, possibly for good. Having ditched the Futbol24 app some time ago because there just isn't the space on my phone for more apps, I am nowadays checking up on NPL scores via flicking over briefly onto NPL Victoria YouTube streams. Do I like what I see? Not really. That's because I see good and mediocre teams punish the poor teams in ways that we could not, even when we were "good". So you see Hume cracking four past Eastern Lions, Oakleigh crushing Dandy City, Green Gully smashing Altona Magic - with my three seconds of live viewing of that match being some goal from 30 metres out - and Port crunching St Albans. All very good, very reassuring only insofar that there should be just enough bad teams in this league that they won't all be able to catch up to us in our current mediocre state. 

And then there was Avondale vs Bentleigh, which finished 3-1 to the home side, after they trailed early on. Now, apart from the observation being made that not only does Avondale have good footballers (which costs money, I admit), there's also the fact Avondale also play good football (which doesn't cost any money, really); the kind of football that you'd like to see your team play, whether your side has the kind of resources that Avondale has, or merely half of them. It's a question of attitude, to a certain extent. And I get it - sometimes situations cause you to play more circumspect football, sometimes you need to deploy a more defensive state of mind.

But Avondale, after trailing early on, against what is a defensively suspect but otherwise pretty decent outfit in Bentleigh, amassed 21 shots on goal, and 13 on target by the end of the game. Against Altona Magic last week, a team who had not won a game all year, and whom we trailed (and eventually lost to) 2-1, we could manage three shots on target, over 90+ minutes of football. Against Thunder, we had two timid shots early in the half, to 13 on goal and seven on target from Thunder. Of course numbers don't tell the whole story, because by the end of last Saturday night's game we had more shots on target to Thunder, but that only goes to show that if want to play attacking football that we can. 

Of course the instruction to our players is obviously to play awful, boring, dispiriting football, in the hopes that we will win 0-0; which will only happen if the opposition is stupid enough to play a suspended player. But what we witnessed on Saturday night would have got most coaches sacked. Hell, I would've had the coach sacked at halftime, or even 30 minutes in if that was an option. Apart from a moderately promising opening five minutes, the team spent the rest of the half basically camped in its own half, gifting the opposition possession and territory. Thunder have good some players, they're no mugs, but they're also no world beaters, and yet we could not get possession of the ball in the opposition half. 

1-0 down, and then 2-0 down, both goals coming from corners - which is three goals conceded from corners since lockdown ended - and probably lucky not to be further down. And despite all of that, we continued to try and do the stupidest things imaginable under the circumstances. Down and out, under siege, we invited even more pressure onto ourselves by trying to play out the back from every situation. The goal kicks were the worst of it. Pierce Clark, seemingly not trusted to just belt the ball long under any circumstances, would inevitably play the ball left or right (usually to his left), no further than the edge of the 18 yard box, whereupon usually Brad Norton would pass the ball back to Clark, who would be rushed upon by Thunder forwards who knew exactly what we we're going to do all along, and then good luck hoping that we wouldn't concede.

The lack of situational awareness from anyone on field or on the bench was astonishing. In a game of soccer, there's skill level, there's tactics, and there's psychology. Our skill level is good enough to be competitive against almost any team in this competition, but our tactics are dire, but we've already said that. But our situational awareness is also completely shot. You have an opponent that is fired up, is in the ascendancy, and looking to press high up the field. They want the game to be played at the same high tempo that's benefiting them at that moment of time. So instead of taking the sting out of the game, we try to match that tempo, try to knock the ball around right on our goal line, and keep playing the game on the opposition's terms.

It was astonishing stuff, watching South Melbourne psychologically capitulate to the extent that no matter how many times it failed, that our players would robotically perform Nunawading "Evolution of the Idea" playing out of the back. Sure, there had already been the robotic qualities earlier in the season with our retreats from midfield back to the keeper, but on Saturday night the situation had become deploringly bad. It was, dare I say it, Southern Stars 2013 bad, and I don't use that comparison lightly.  It was a gut wrenching, soul destroying, club destroying spectacle. Two subs made on the half hour mark only served to show that Quintas had got the starting line-up badly wrong, and that he has no switch-up from Plan A (whatever that means in a non hit it long to Harry Sawyer world) to whatever else he might have up his sleeve.

That we came out in the second half in a more positive frame of mind, pulled a goal back, and almost levelled the score was even more dispiriting. Clearly we have the talent on our books to play imperfect, but still generally good attacking football. But let's say for arguments sake that we did equalise. Let's even say for argument's sake that we somehow went on to win the game. That would only prove the point that we are being coached horrendously, and that just about anyone else in this state could do the job better. At this stage of the season, it's barely about personnel anymore. Tactically and psychologically, we are shot. No one out there playing for South is enjoying the game anymore, you can see that at least half the senior squad is beyond fucking miserable. It's been a grind for the whole season, salvaged only by a ridiculously fortunate unbeaten run to start the year, and no amount of Shepparton bonding trips and renditions of Sweet Caroline can make playing this kind of football under this manager feel worthwhile. 

Apparently on 3XY Radio Hellas on Sunday, the sports program read out a message from president Nick Maikousis that Quintas will remain as South coach for the rest of the season. You can read that in classic "he's got the full support of the board" style, which means he'll be sacked soon, but the reality is that we probably can't afford to pay out his contract. Why this is the case when we were told that Quintas' performance was tied to certain KPIs is anyone's guess, but it seems we are stuck with him until the end of this year, unless he falls on his own sword. 

So what's left to do? Hope the players perform a quiet mutiny, by taking over control of training and matchday themselves, completely cutting out management? 

(Big hint to any of our players stupid enough to read this blog - you should totally do this) 

I mean, what could possibly go wrong with such an approach that would be worse than the last two months worth of performances, and the misery you have (and we, the supporters) have been forced to endure?

Next game

FFA Cup qualifier tomorrow night against Oakleigh Cannons at Jack Edwards. A win here gets us into the national stage of the competition, and into the Dockerty Cup semi finals. No one expects us to win though.

Final thought

Big thanks to Johnny for giving me a lift back to Footscray, and to Kartsi for offering to give me a ride back to somewhere approximating civilisation. Then when I got back to Sunshine station on the rail replacement bus at about 10:30, there were no cabs in the vicinity, so I walked the kilometre and a half home. A tiptop end to a tiptop day.