Wollongong Wolves came to league leader South Melbourne's Bob Jane Stadium on Saturday evening and left with all three points in a three-two victory that gives Wolves recent wins against each of the top three sides in the competition, despite its own lowly ranking.
Wolves had never been behind in a high-excitement game where goalkeeper and man-of-the match Andrew Crews brought off a number of game-winning saves as South piled on the pressure throughout.
Nahuel Arrarte and Chimaobi Nwaogazi had each given Wolves the lead whilst goals from Con Boutsianis and Vaughan Coveny were each South equalisers, before substitute Tanju Balabanel scored the winner as regulation time expired.
"Once we led," said Wolves' coach John Turner, "We were always going to sit in and cop the pressure. (South) had umpteen more chances, (but) we took ours."
"(It) was a game we dominated," said South coach Stuart Munro after the game. "We made a lot of chances. But their goalkeeper has been outstanding once again. The number of times Andrew Crews has been outstanding this season for Wollongong is just unbelievable."
Wolves had disposed of Perth Glory and Parramatta Power in consecutive weeks only last month, and arrived at Bob Jane on the back of an impressive six-game unbeaten run, so Wollongong's win was scarcely a shock despite the two teams' relative positions on the ladder.
Arrarte opened the scoring twelve minutes in from a free-kick which he bent around the wall. A foolish foul had been given away by Michael Panopoulos and Steve Laurie who made an untidy double-challenge on the edge of the penalty-area directly in front.
"We were very na´ve in giving away the free-kick," said Munro. "Very very na´ve."
Just two minutes later the Bob Jane crowd erupted in what proved temporary celebration when a Boutsianis corner crashed into the net after it came through a crowd of players. The goal was correctly disallowed on the advice of the stand-side assistant referee as the ball had been assisted in its path across the line by the hand of Coveny. The lanky Kiwi was subsequently booked for the offence.
Coveny had the opportunity to equalise legitimately a mere six minutes later from the penalty-spot after a Wolves hand-ball in the box. Although Coveny's first effort found the net, it required re-taking as a number of his team-mates had entered the area before the ball had been kicked. Coveny's second effort was palmed over the bar by Crews who held his nerve.
South pressed constantly throughout the balance of the half in search of the equaliser, but the Wolves' defence held firm. Wing-backs Simon Storey and Sam Poutakidis saw as much of the ball as they ever would have this season as they linked with the relentless attacks.
Shortly before the interval, Storey crafted two excellent chances - one a solo effort long-range shot from 30 metres after cutting in from the left which whistled by Crews' right hand post.
Storey's second was as supplier which surely deserved a more productive finish than befell it. Massimo Murdocca fed a pass to Storey on the left-wing. Storey's cross was lofted to the edge of the six-yard box where Coveny rose highest to head across the face of goal to Boutsianis. Boutsianis' header flashed just over the bar with Crews well beaten.
The second half continued in a similar vein, but with Wolves compelled to make an early substitution.
Stewart van Bentum had to leave the field with a wrist fracture. Replacing van Bentum was the experienced Jason van Blerk, returning to Australia after more then ten years plying his trade in the professional leagues of Europe.
Waves of South pressure eventually told just before the second half's mid-point. A high-ball played into the forward edge of the six-yard box was nodded on by Coveny to Boutsianis whose header found the top corner of the net.
South had some useful chances to take the lead, notably through Michael Curcija, and it seemed only a matter of time before the inevitable goal came. But South's efforts at the attacking end of the ground left resources scarce at the back, and a quick Wolves' break earnt the visitors a corner, taken by Arrarte.
Arrarte found Nigerian import Nwaogazi inexplicably in space just beyond the penalty-spot. His volley crashed into the net to give the striker a club record of six consecutive games in which he has scored. "He works hard off the ball," said Turner. "But he's got a very clever head and takes his chances when he gets in front of goal."
South again pressed and Crews pulled off a series of fine saves - perhaps the best from a Coveny header after a Storey cross.
But the drama was not yet over. South equalised yet again with just ten minutes left to play. A cross from the right was finally converted by a Coveny header to set up a cliff-hanger conclusion.
As South continued to press, Wolves' coach decided to withdraw Nwaogazi and replace him with Balabanel a speedier front-man who Turner thought could exploit defensive gaps left by South.
The move paid off. As the game went into its final minutes, a swift Wolves break had the ball played rapidly to Balabanel who ran direct on goal, chased by South defenders. As Balabanel shot, it took a deflection, wrong-footing South goalkeeper Eugene Galekovic, and finding the net at the near post.
"It's a sore way to lose a game," said Munro. "But we did our job as far as creating goal-scoring opportunities - (but) we didn't get them."
It was to prove the final goal of the game, although South can feel lucky to have escaped an added-time goal from a van Blerk free-kick 30 metres out which hit the back of the net but was disallowed as the referee had not signalled the kick to be taken after having asked for the kick to be delayed until his signal.