In a real 'arm-wrestle' at Pittwater Park tonight four class goals lifted the game, and Northern Spirit lifted the three points from league leaders South Melbourne.
South came north following good wins, including the local Melbourne derby and a 6-0 win over the Football Kingz, sitting on top of the ladder, but with a thin squad to pick from through injuries, suspensions and U20 international duty reducing his numbers to just 15 players.
Spirit also was continuing with the loss of Alex Tobin (injury) and Alex Wilkinson (Oz U20) at the back and Jonty Richter (Oz U20) in the middle. Suspension of Dylan Macallister meant playing with one of the team's out of form fringe strikers, starting with Adam Kwasnik and Brent Fisher on the bench.
The game started with Northern Spirit pressuring South but almost from the kick-off Ian Ferguson, returning from injury, started to hobble. In the 3rd minute there was a call for handball in the box as John Hutchinson played the ball into a defenders arm, but this was turned down. Wayne O'Sulllivan, playing a more defensive role still got forward and put in a shot, which went wide on the right.
In the 8th minute Vaughan Coveny bustled through and the defence failed to close him down. His shot was weak however and Paul Henderson was down to cover well. One minute later Michael Curcija got up on the right but Henderson smartly cut out his cross. Spirit continued to press and Osman put over a fine cross from the right to Adam Kwasnik who headed back to Brad Groves, but the midfielder shot wide.
The first half showed two very committed teams, but there were a few too many 'man on man' contests that could have boiled over. Chances did come to both teams. Con Boutsianis got in a 29' great header which grazed the crossbar, and two minutes later Groves couldn't get more than a touch on a Petrie corner and South 'keeper Eugene Galekovic held easily. In the 32' Vuko Tomasevic put forward a sweet ball that came down at the edge of the box, which was side-foot volleyed by Matthew Osman just past the right past.
In injury time of the first half Stewart Petrie at last found a bit of space, and smartly curled the ball from 20m out into the top left hand corner of the net.
After the break Spirit continued to press, but in the 54th minuted outstanding youngster Sam Poutakidis who had made John Hutchinson's life hell most of the game, slotted a perfect ball over the defence to a waiting Michael Curcija, whose header was superbly placed and weighted to beat Henderson.
Spirit struck back almost immediately when in the 56th minute Tomasevic knocked in a ball to Petrie in the area, but the experienced player was hemmed in on all sides. As he turned away from goal, he swivelled and slammed the ball into the top left side of the goal. A class act deserving TV coverage.
A torrid battle played out during the rest of the half, with Spirit having the better chances. Kwasnik came alive with a shot passing just over the bar and then in the 60th minute he hit one from 25m on the right that cannoned off the corner angle of the posts on the left. The game was sealed for Spirit in the 88th minute when substitute striker Brent Fisher celebrated his selection in the NZ Olympic squad with a class goal of his own. He was put through and finding himself one on two 25m out, he stepped right and slotted the ball past the diving 'keeper and into the left side of the goal.
After the game Spirit coach Laurie McKinna said he was "very happy with the commitment all over the park", and indicated that the team had got too cocky after their three week winning streak and alas had learned through two losses that they needed to be committed and work hard every week. "Last week (vs Power) we stood off them too much".
South coach Stuart Munro said that with the size of their squad they were going to come unstuck sometime and "tonight we came unstuck to two fantastic strikes to Stewart Petrie."
Northern Spirit was best served by Stewart Petrie, Wayne O'Sullivan, Vuko Tomasevic, Matthew Osman, and credit to Steve Baveas coming to replace the experienced Ian Ferguson after only 23 minutes and marking Vaughan Coveny who played deep.
South's best were Sam Poutakidis, Marcus Stergiopoulos, and Ante Kovacevic.