Two goals inside seven minutes mid-way through the second-half was enough to give South Melbourne the win in an otherwise tight contest against Marconi Stallions at Bob Jane Stadium on Sunday night.
The first was a sickening blow for Stallions as it came from what seemed an innocuous cross by Con Boutsianis that evaded a touch from a player of either side on its way into the net. League top-scorer Vaughan Coveny rose highest at the far post to convert a corner for the second.
"I thought we were very good today," said South coach Stuart Munro, who saw his side climb to third position following the victory. "Other then the last ten minutes of the first half, I though we did ever so well."
"I'm delighted for the players because that was a good solid performance for us, and a good result."
It was a disappointing end to a difficult week for Stallions coach Jean-Paul de Marigny, although he was relatively upbeat in the after-match media conference. "I'm disappointed in the result. But I'm not disappointed in the way the boys applied themselves," he said.
"Their work-rate is superb - and even when we went (behind) we kept on playing."
Nothing had separated the teams in a scoreless first half, although the more promising chances had fallen in South's favour, with Michael Curcija playing a leading role in most. His dipping volley after eleven minutes only just cleared the bar with Stallions' keeper Michael Turnbull stranded.
Two minutes later Turnbull made an excellent save from Curcija, who had volleyed a Vaughan Coveny cross from close-range. Scott Tunbridge followed-up, but could only hit the side-netting.
Just after the quarter hour Jeromy Harris and Steve Laurie crashed heads contesting a cross from Brendan Renaud in the first dangerous Stallions' attack. Both had to leave the field for treatment, Harris returning to the fray looking more like a Rugby World Cup forward after requiring a head-bandage to cover a cut to his eyebrow.
Marcus Stergiopoulos had a long-range shot midway through the half through a crowd of players and which Con Boutsianis attempted to deflect with a back-heel, but the combined effort went just wide.
There had been a spate of bookings, perhaps coloured a little by the adverse publicity given to the incident involving Stallions' captain Brad Maloney the previous round. Referee Mark Shield was quick to respond to any late or dangerous tackle, and Renaud and Chad Gibson found their names taken on this policy.
The sporadic nature of the game continued in the second half until Boutsianis' goal, just after the hour. In what was surely a cross played into space from a position 30 metres out and wide on the right. Tunbridge broke through and stooped to attempt a diving header but failed to make contact. This wrong-footed Turnbull, causing him to lose his footing, and the ball bounced into the net at the far-post.
South's second was no fluke and came a mere seven minutes later. Boutsianis took a regulation corner, sending in a high far-post ball where Coveny outjumped Casserly to head home.
"I spoke to the boys at half-time," said de Marigny. "I said if we can keep South at bay for the first fifteen minutes (we'd be in good shape). South Melbourne is renowned for coming out in the first fifteen, and they scored right on that time, so that was difficult to swallow."
Immediately in response to South's opening goal, de Marigny had readied a double substitution, swapping Gibson and Brice Anabalon for Todd Brodie and Shane Webb. But it was not until South's second goal that they could take the field.
"We just needed some fresh legs," said de Marigny.
Nick Carle had been involved in some of Marconi's better moments, but he will rue the opportunity he squandered ten minutes from time to bring the Stallions back into the contest. Joe Spiteri, who had a quiet game by his standards, set Carle free directly in front at the edge of the penalty-area. Carle's shot on the turn went wide.
Spiteri himself had a more difficult, but makeable, chance five minutes from time when he was one-on-one with Steve Laurie and heading directly goalwards. Laurie however was not foxed by Spiteri's attempt to step inside, and took the ball off Spiteri's feet.
But South ended the stronger, and Tunbridge could have netted a third in the dying seconds, only to see his side foot placed effort crash off the post and back into the arms of Turnbull.
"The one good thing I've got in my team is that they will play it right to the very end," said Munro.