Souths v Kingz

Round 15 report by Alan Clark
South Melbourne v Football Kingz

South Melbourne defeated Football Kingz two goals to one at Bob Jane on Friday evening, with a last minute Con Boutsianis strike. In a game that was being played between the two bottom teams in the NSL one might have expected a match involving dour, inept, and tentative football, but this one had the ingredients that - in a film - would likely have been rejected as overly fanciful.

The mere fielding of Boutsianis was controversial. The fact that he scored the winner, and at the last minute too, will be another event in sport which will be referred to by those in New Zealand in the same way as Greg Chappell's bowling along the ground in the last ball of a one-day cricket final.

The bare facts of the match are these: Joe Bacak had beaten a square Kingz defence to run onto a through-ball played by Patrick Kisnorbo for the opener, just before the half-hour.

Kingz drew level after staving off continual South pressure when Paul Urlovic stabbed home a cross from a corner on the left which the South defence failed to deal with adequately, mid-way through the second half.

But Boutsianis was not to be denied his position in the centre of the spotlight from the game's first moments to the last when he was able to take an age inside the Kingz penalty-area to set up a left-foot shot which rifled high into the net for a dramatic winner.

Being on the field was enough to upset the Kingz, who he had left just a week prior. And such was the manner of his service whilst at the New Zealand club, the strike must surely have rubbed salt into the still raw Kingz' wounds.

Kingz coach Kevin Fallon was direct and to the point when he was asked about the playing of Boutsianis. "I have no comment to make on Boutsianis. Next question."

Boutsianis had been released by the Kingz after an eventful time following his move there from South Melbourne at the end of last season. Boutsianis hadn't played a single competitive minute with Kingz - he'd walked out on the club after a dispute arising within weeks of his arrival. In the transfer agreement between the two clubs, claim and counter-claim had been launched regarding whether there was a valid agreement between the clubs that he not be played in this fixture.

South believes there was no existing agreement which validly applied, and so started Boutsianis. South's justification for this was delivered to the media at the half-time interval by club lawyer and Board member Peter Mitrakis.

In an almost Joycean stream of consciousness oration in which he barely drew breath, Mitrakis' outlining of the case was labyrynthian in its direction, and related to South's view that Kingz had greviously wronged them in past dealings.

What seems to be the nub of the matter according to Mitrakis is that South provided Kingz with a written agreement Boutsianis not be played in this fixture as probably the only way South was able to convince Kingz to release Boutsianis before the fixture, that the agreement did not stand as part of the transfer arrangements as lodged with Soccer Australia, that South could be liable to Boutsianis for a breach of contract if South refused to play Boutsianis, and that Kingz breached a confidentiality provision of the agreement and entered the agreement knowing it would breach it. As a consequence, South therefore felt no obligation to leave Boutsianis out.

According to Mitrakis, South further assert that Soccer Australia could not provide them with a written reason declaring Boutsianis ineligible under Soccer Australia regulations, and that the best reason Soccer Australia could come up with - were Boutsianis to be fielded - was to charge South with bringing the game into disrepute.

If this is the case, it is a startling one. Soccer Australia's recent case against Northern Spirit's Robbie Slater alleging Slater brought the game into disrepute for his comments on the direction of football in Australia, only ceased bringing disrepute on the game when Soccer Australia itself decided not to proceed.

And so although South won the game on the night, what is still to be determined is which is the team to win the points. It is likely that poser may take quite a bit longer to decide than the traditional ninety minute period.

Whilst all this drama was going on, what was lost from sight was that the game was supposed to be about Vaughan Coveny - a New Zealand international on South Melbourne's books - who was due to play his 250th NSL game. Indeed the match-day program had Coveny on its cover in recognition of this momentous event.

Coveny's milestone would have been overshadowed had he been fit to play, but he was suffering from a corked thigh picked up in last week's game, and could not take his place in the squad. He was probably thankful that his chance to celebrate his 250th would come when there would be a greater opportunity of it being a centre-stage and leading role, rather than a supporting one.

As it transpired, the game could happily have stood on its own merits without needing to rely upon the storm of controversy which surrounded it.

Both teams were in positions on the ladder that threatened to bring to a premature conclusion any of their hopes of competitive success. Perhaps as a result of this, both teams sought to grab all three points on offer, and either side could have won the game.

Kingz almost stole a march just six minutes in when Mark Burton headed dangerously goalwards from a Jonathon Perry cross from the right. Burton's downwards header was exactly as the text-books recommend, and required South's keeper Michael Petkovic to move smartly to save.

Midway through the half, Bacak received a pass from Peter Buljan wide on the left, cut inside between Robbie Hooker and Perry and unleashed a shot which required a diving save from Michael Theoklitos in the Kingz goal.

But gradually South gained the upper hand, and the pressure eventually told twenty-eight minutes in. Steve Iosifidis had stolen in on the near post to head a cross from Bacak onto the post. Kingz failed to clear effectively as the ball was snapped up by Kisnorbo who in turn played a through-ball to where Bacak had made a clever run. Fellow striker Buljan was in an offside position, but adjudged not to be interfering with play and so neither the assistant flagged, nor referee Perry Mur blew.

By this time, Bacak was clean through on Theoklitos and shot low into the corner of the net.

There were protests from the Kingz players, but Fallon was more circumspect in his after-match comments. "There was an appeal from the players but I'm not in line with the second-last defender. Whether (Bacak) was or he wasn't, I'm not in a position to judge."

Andy Vlahos - one of a number of ex-South players in the Kingz line-up - almost levelled for Kingz barely three minutes later. After a fine exchange of passes with Urlovic at the edge of the penalty-area, Vlahos' shot required a fine save from South's Michael Petkovic.

Kingz made two changes at the break - Sean Douglas was exchanged for Hiroshi Miyazawa at left-back, and George Goutzioulis entered the fray for Jeff Campbell in midfield.

"Campbell had got a knock," said Fallon, "And Sean is just coming back from ten weeks (absence). George had had gastro-enteritis in the middle of the week. (He'd) not last ninety minutes (and) I didn't think he'd be strong enough for a full game, so I brought him on at half-time."

The changes seemed not to alter the balance of the game to any appreciable degree, and for a while it seemed more likely than not that South's lead would be extended.

Boutsianis wasted no time after the break, shooting into the side-netting even before Mitrakis' half-time dissertation to the press had concluded.

Just before the hour, Steve Iosifidis, now being used as a midfielder after his many years service in the heart of South's defence, broke up a Kingz attack and swiftly played the ball forward to Bacak from where it was crossed to Steve Panopoulos, now returned from his honeymoon. Panopoulos was just wide.

Burton had what had appeared to be Kingz' best chance of clawing its way back into the game with a bullet-speed header which was spectacularly turned around the post by a full-length diving Petkovic. The move had arisen when Kingz broke quickly out of defence and had sufficient player involved to outnumber their South opponents.

But Urlovic's side-foot from inside the box on seventy minutes looked like it would be the goal that spoiled the South party.

And Urlovic could have been the supplier of two following chances, neither taken, either of which would certainly have won the game for Kingz. Seven minutes from time Urlovic had made an effective run down the right and cut-back to Goutzioulis whose shot went just wide.

And as the Bob Jane crowd anxiously scanned their watches, Urlovic supplied Vlahos with a cross in the clear only to see Petkovic grab the Vlahos' well-directed header.

But Boutsianis hadn't played for just the solitary point, and his last-minute rocket high past Theoklitos and a packed Kingz defence from the edge of the penalty area, after being allowed to settle and turn, gave him, and the celebrating fans in the terraces, a game to remember.

"It was an important win for us," said South coach Eddie Krncevic. Speaking of Boutsianis' influence on the game, Krncevic said "He's a clever player, and he's obviously dangerous at set-pieces. If he doesn't score, he'll set something up. He'll only get better."