A combination of a Vaughan Coveny treble, and a ten-man Newcastle United, gave South a convincing win at Bob Jane Stadium on Sunday afternoon. Coveny's opener came from the spot-kick awarded in the same incident that saw Newcastle United captain Peter Tsekenis dismissed mid-way through the first half.
A quick reply by Greg Owens brought United back into the game, but the handicap of being a player short exposed Newcastle, allowing Coveny to net again just before the break.
Newcastle goalkeeper John Perosh committed a calamitous error, turning in an otherwise benign Sam Poutakidis cross within ten minutes of the re-start taking the game out of Newcastle's reach. Coveny's hat-trick came up with fifteen minutes to play when he netted, again with his head, this time from a Michael Curcija cross.
"After last week's performance, I knew we could (do) better," said a happy Stuart Munro after the match."
"I'm very pleased we showed confidence and patience," he said.
Newcastle was playing its second game in as many days after bringing forward its Round 13 encounter with Wollongong Wolves to Friday night.
According to Newcastle coach Ian Crook, the bringing forward of that game was at Newcastle's initiative, feeling it would be better to play the game on a Friday night, rather than the Wednesday evening as scheduled for that round.
"It was a tough weekend, backing-up 48 hours later," said Crook after the game. "I thought we were right in it up until the penalty."
"I can't fault our boys' effort," he said. "I thought it was excellent, and full credit to South Melbourne for a good win."
South Melbourne had made two changes in its starting eleven after a sub-standard performance against Brisbane, leaving out Michael Panopoulos and Levent Osman. Into the side came veteran defender Mehmet Durakovic, and youngster Kristian Sarkies - still 16 and so less than half Durakovic's age - who made his debut after transferring in from the VIS.
Despite his youth, Sarkies was played in the engine-room of central midfield by Munro and acquitted himself superbly from the first stages of the game, and ending up one of South's better players. He was the architect of a fine move inside the first quarter-hour, finding Coveny in space wide on the right. Con Boutsianis had galloped up the opposite wing and received Coveny's cross-field pass before shooting powerfully, but over.
"(Sarkies) never looked out of place (in midfield). He's a terrific player. I had no problems (selecting) him there," said Munro.
The Coveny-Boutsianis combination came into effect again mid-way through the half after Curcija had dummied a ball that ran to the South captain who sped up the right. Coveny whipped in a cross that just eluded the head of Scott Tunbridge but also drew Perosh off his line. Boutsianis controlled the loose ball, then attempted an audacious lob which went just wide.
Within a minute though, the complexion of the contest was to change dramatically. Curcija was first to respond to an ineffective clearance, and most Newcastle defenders were on the wrong side. Perosh came beyond the edge of the penalty-area to close down some of the options, but Curcija weaved around him, only to attract a clumsy challenge from behind by Tsekenis which brought him down.
As Tsekenis was the last defender and Curcija heading unchallenged direct on goal, referee Brett Hugo had no option but to dismiss him.
Although Crook had no difficulty accepting the dismissal, he was convinced the penalty award was unjustified. "If that was a penalty, I'm a Dutchman," he said. "The challenge was a yard outside (the penalty-area) - it was never inside."
Coveny took the resultant spot-kick after a short delay and easily converted.
But Newcastle took only six minutes to level. A quick break from defence saw a ball played straight up the middle to Fijian Esala Masi who faced only a frantically back-pedalling and under-strength South defence. Masi held off an ineffective challenge from behind by Sarkies before finding Owens to his right. Owens let loose a thunderbolt right-foot shot rifling past Eugene Galekovic and into the far corner.
The goal seemed to act only to spur South on to increase the level of pressure, and it was little surprise when Coveny regained the lead five minutes before the break when he rose to send a glancing header past Perosh after a cross from Simon Storey on the left.
Perosh could not have been faulted for either of South's goals to that point, but was the sole cause of South's third. A sweeping South move had moved the ball wide to the right and Poutakidis crossed in regulation fashion, perhaps a little too close to Perosh. But Perosh failed to cleanly gather the ball as it came to him low. It hit his shoulder, but before he could re-gather, it had crossed the line by more than a metre.
Much of the rest of the game was South's, despite Newcastle coach Crook's overhaul of his midfield midway through the second half.
Ryan Griffiths almost reduced the deficit when Masi sent over a fine diagonal ball on a fast break. Griffiths rose, getting good purchase on his header, but it went narrowly wide.
Coveny's next header brought up his hat-trick, converting Curcija's far-post cross from the right which fell perfectly for the tall Kiwi.
"I think we've (still) got a long way to go as a team," said Munro. "We will get better."