Wollongong coach John Turner got it right: this was embarrassing. With Wollongong 3-0 down half way through the second half, I thought, South aren't a three goal better team, they're just a three goal more experienced team.
But by the time Sam Poutakidis sounded the death knell with the fourth goal, yes, South were a four goal better team. And some of their more experienced big guns were missing! Of course experience comes into it - even South's young players have NSL experience - but this sort of abject capitulation isn't the result of immaturity.
Wolves started brightly, however, with Tanju Balabanel and John Majurovski offering plenty of movement up front. Majurovski forced a clearance out over the sideline early and Shane Lyons hit a low swerving shot to keeper Eugene Galekovic from the left just outside the penalty area.
Then twice Max Lohy repeated a similar move at the other end. The first was held by Andrew Crews, the second blocked by Mirko Jurilj.
Balabanel got into the South penalty area trying to bring down a ball bobbing up and around over his head. Levent Osman finally made a rushed clearance.
Mehmet Durakovic headed clear from the line with Majurovski closing in on a cross from the right.
All the while Balabanel's pace was causing the South defence some disturbance. Balabanel fought through a cross in from the right, leading to another hasty clearance; a lobbed shot by Majurovski almost caught Galekovic off his line; and pressure from Adam Hughes forced another clearance over the sideline from Galekovic.
In the 13th minute Wolves conceded a corner from a free kick but Jacob Timpano was up well and headed clear to Majurovski, who took off up the left but was run down by Ante Kovacevic.
Nahuel Arrarte almost played Balabanel into the box and Timpano drew applause from the crowd for a delightful tackle on Scott Tunbridge who was making good ground up South's left flank.
Steven DeGiovianniello from the middle played left to Majurovski who fed Lyons who worked a one-two with Balabanel. Balabanel's ball back in for Lyons wasn't quite right and the ball was sent down the other end where four defenders watched Vaughan Coveny collect the ball and put away what the Wolves fans beside me described as a cheap goal. The finish was immaculate: from the left of the box low into the back right corner of the net. Crews had Buckley's.
That was it for Wolves. South had awakened. Wolves' legs were already spent.
Timpano copped a yellow for a silly trip on Lohy and Tunbridge got one for tackling into the back of the skilful DeGiovianniello. DeGiovianniello was my favourite when I saw Wolves play Sydney United. But South didn't let him create as much space for himself. Some credit for that goes to Massimo Murdocca, my favourite in this game. He controlled much of the game in midfield, slowed Wollongong down, and made all the right passes.
A slow Wolves build-up was ruined by Balabanel falling over. Vince Lia hit a good cross from deep in the right corner. Michael Hawrysiuk hit a good ball up Wolves' right to Balabanel who again did wonderfully to beat his opponent, but again ruined it by falling over.
In the 24th minute Lia lobbed a high shot over the bar. Five minutes later, from outside the penalty area, he hit one low, just wide of the right upright.
I noted again how impressive Murdocca was but he was caught in one of two good tackles by Hughes. Hughes played a good long ball through the middle to Majurovski, who was offside. Hawrysiuk played for a foul from Simon Storey and got it. The free kick went harmlessly through to Galekovic.
Tunbridge and Coveny, showing good understanding, almost got through a series of incomplete tackles from the Wolves defence. Ten minutes to go until half time and Wolves looked less like scoring. Osman was good on Balabanel.
In the 38th minute Balabanel got a good ball in front of goal, outside the area. With Lyons in a dangerous position to his left, he tried a shot himself, wide to the left of goal. I don't think Balabanel has an NSL goal. And I wouldn't hold my breath waiting for one.
Tunbridge and Coveny again combined well and it looked like Timpano had made a good intercept, but Wollongong still conceded a corner.
Kovacevic fell over Majurovski giving Wollongong a free kick. Arrarte tried a shot from 35 metres out. Galekovic probably had it covered, but it was only just wide of the right post.
DeGiovianniello bundled over Tunbridge and South had a free kick five metres outside the Wollongong penalty area. Marcus Stergiopoulos took the kick but Wolves headed clear.
A dipping shot from Hawrysiuk from 35 metres was just over. Hawrysiuk does look like someone who might score. One day.
Durakovic was replaced by Sam Poutakidis at half time. Again Wolves started well, winning a corner. Except no-one was at the front where the ball was delivered. In the 47th minute Majurovski had a swipe on target and Osman cleared off the line - probably Wolves' best chance denied. It just got more pitiful for the home side. Long balls through to a tiring Balabanel with always three or four South defenders for company.
South were better organised. In the 53rd minute Lia delivered a great ball from the right sideline, finding Coveny in front of goal. Crews saved well at Coveny's first attempt, but Coveny followed through to touch in from the right post.
Majurovski was now looking flat, but he wasn't the first to be replaced. A good free kick by Hawrysiuk came through for Balabanel, who again was offside. This was the South backline doing their job well, of course. But after the game Turner commented on Balabanel's propensity for not making the right runs.
Arrarte dropped in a bomb on the roof of the South net (Wolves' chances resorted to: if only it had fallen a bit shorter, if only it had slipped through Galekovic's hands, if only it had freakishly squeezed under the crossbar )
The home fans had started cheering for club captain Stuart Young to be brought on (hang that he was still recovering from surgery, he was needed). And with 30 minutes to go Young was introduced. And it almost paid off immediately.
Wolves had a free kick on the left, just inside the South half. Young, standing on the edge of the South penalty area, called for the ball on his chest. He got the ball on his chest. He turned the ball over his right shoulder and volleyed with his left foot. All the way to goal it looked like a miracle was happening. But. The ball sailed just wide of the left post.
Stergiopoulos was good rounding up Young on a run into the South box.
And poor Wollongong passing was making it easier for South to launch counter attacks. And when Michael Curcija was brought on for Lohy there were too many South options for the Wollongong defence to contemplate. Let alone act on.
In the 68th minute South were on a break, three versus two. Coveny was free. Again. But Curcija struck himself. Very well. From an angle. But on target. Crews pulled off a wonderful save.
To enable the crowd to compare the difference in finishing ability, Wolves took the ball to South's penalty area. Young looked to have a chance to unleash as he ran the ball to the left of the box, but he wasn't allowed the room. Instead, he backheeled to Hughes who crossed to the middle for Balabanel who attempted an overhead kick, way, way wide to the right.
South now only had to push long balls on the counter. The third goal looked so likely. Crews kicked clear under pressure from Tunbridge. Young sprayed a free kick, very wide to the left. Then a good turn by Young almost played Balabanel on goal. And another Balabanel run was ruined by Osman pushing the ball away for a corner.
Galekovic, safe all night apart from a couple of dubious punches, held another long speculation shot.
Then came the third South goal, so easy it was beautiful. Coveny easily outpaced Jurilj down the left and crossed with precision to Tunbridge on the right. Tunbridge knocked it in to Curcija who had no trouble adding his name to the score sheet.
Some of the Wollongong players were still trying to play football. But South were setting a better example. Curcija, Stergiopoulos, Coveny and Tunbridge were pushing the ball around like it was a training game - at least that's what the Wolves fans next to me thought.
Someone hit a lovely ball through to Lia who didn't hit it first time and allowed Wolves to shut him down. His shot was high.
Here I noted the obvious - something confirmed by Turner at the media conference - Wolves' defence didn't pick up.
Substitute Michael Panopoulos had a long high shot.
In time added on, with South players in total control and breaking down the pitch in a blue wave, Sam Poutakidis scored from another beautiful cross in from the right - this time by Lia? Or was it Curcija? If Poutakidis hadn't scored someone else would have put it away.
John Turner said the first goal was heartbreaking. ³We attacked for 14 of the first 15 minutes of the game. And nearly got one at the other end. That hurts. And I think we were nearly non-existent at the other end, in terms of picking up. Coveny just destroyed us out there. It was his show. And we were that naïve that we didnıt even pick him up. You could see it coming a mile off.
³And we came back out in the second half and we turned it on again. And then we copped the second one. But just prior to that they had one cleared off the line from Majurovski. If that had gone it would have turned the game around. Unfortunately it didnıt.
³But I was extremely disappointed in the last quarter of an hour when they dropped their heads when it was 2-0 down. And thatıs just not on.² He said, ³We just have to improve.²
He said it was always going to be hard. ³We knew that with the players we had. We had a lot of boys, a lot of inexperienced players. We knew it was going to be that way. But we didnıt expect to get a smacking like we got tonight. We didnıt expect to get nothing out of the first three games. I donıt believe we deserved to get nothing out of the first game. And itıs going to be tougher from here on in.²
South coach Stuart Monro said, ³The end result was fantastic for us though the start of the game was not all that pleasing. We defended quite well but put ourselves under a lot of pressure in the first half. I thought we gave the ball away far too much.
³I thought we played very well in the second half. I thought our pace up front and in the wide areas eventually took its toll. And if you look at the counter attacking, the way the goals were scored, I thought it was just terrific for us. They were good quality goals.²
He said South were playing 4-4-2 this year and it would take a little time to get used to it. The wide players werenıt sure when to push forward and when to track runners. ³Almost every team in the league has had a change in personnel and some teams are going to take longer than others to settle.
³Iım fortunate in that, although Iıve got a lot of newcomers, Iıve still got an element of hard core national league players Even our young players have experience in the national league And it counts for a lot. Eventually, similar to tonight, it takes its toll and quality will always come through in the end of the day.²