South Melbourne earnt the right to a rematch with Wollongong Wolves to determine this year's NSL Premiers after a solid but unspectacular two-nil win against Sydney Olympic in front of a disappointingly poor attendance at Melbourne's Olympic Park last Sunday.
Con Boutsianis opened the scoring just beyond the mid-point of the first half, which until then had been a dour affair. But in a more energetic second half where chances fell to both teams, midfielder Zeljko Susa netted South's second just after the hour to seal the result, if not the score.
"We've bought ourselves tickets to a Grand Final", said South coach Mickey Petersen after the game. "I think our lads deserved that right. It wasn't the prettiest game from our perspective, but Finals isn't necessarily about that."
An evenly contested, but sterile match was to change after an error by Olympic sweeper Scott Baillie who played a loose pass across goal which was picked up by Boutsianis. Boutsianis advanced upon the now exposed Clint Bolton and powered home his shot. Olympic's captain Ante Juric dived and got a hand to the ball on its way to Bolton, but it was insufficient a deflection to prevent the goal. As it was, Juric was lucky that the goal was scored, as his handball would surely have earnt him a red card, rather than the yellow subsequently proffered by referee Brett Hugo.
"It was a reflex (action)", said Juric afterwards. "The ball just came across my face, and I put my hand up. In hindsight I shouldn't have touched it. I'll see on the video if Bolton could have saved it or not."
South captain Paul Trimboli had been left out of the starting eleven, but was brought on immediately after the break to replace an injured Steve Panopoulos who suffered a hamstring injury late in the half. South's formation was re-jigged as a consequence. Boutsianis came inside from his previously wing position, and Vlahos moved wide left to accommodate Trimboli's appearance.
The rearrangement almost paid an early dividend. Vaughan Coveny played a ball from wide to Trimboli, who controlled with his chest and laid off a pass for Zeljko Susa. Susa took time and launched a 25 metre drive that cannoned off the bar with Bolton unable to cover.
Susa's next effort provided the goal that increased the lead. After being fed by a perfectly-weighted through-ball from Vas Kalogeracos. Susa's first shot rebounded from the foot of the post with Bolton well-beaten, but as the ball returned directly to Susa, he had time to bend his second effort into the now exposed goal.
By that stage, Olympic's best chance had come and gone. George Goutzioulis was found by a Kresimir Marusic cross. Goutzioulis's header was scrambled away for a corner by Michael Petkovic.
Olympic's other chance had come when Mehmet Durakovic managed to get his shin to a dangerous low cross from the right and watched as it deflected just wide of the post for a corner.
South tightened the screws in the later stages of the game and snuffed out any Olympic hopes of clawing its way back into the Finals race. Trimboli hit the bar with six minutes remaining, and Goran Lozanovski put the rebound over.
"I was pretty proud of our players", said Olympic coach Branko Culina after the game. "I thought we played some good football. The turning point was when we gave the (opening) goal way. South Melbourne has been a good side all season, (but) it would have been interesting if we hadn't given away the goal at that crucial time. What really hurts is that (South) weren't in it (until then)."