Knights v Sharks

Round 20 report by Alan Clark
Melbourne Knights v Sydney Olympic

Sydney Olympic almost protected an early goal to take all three points against Melbourne Knights at Knights Stadium in bright sunshine on Sunday afternoon, but a late equaliser from the penalty-spot shared the spoils.

Zenon Caravell's third minute opener seemed destined to win the game for the visitors, until a late foul by George Souris on Nicholas Marinos resulted in referee Perry Mur pointing to the spot with just two minutes of regulation time to play. Andrew Marth converted although Olympic goalkeeper Brett Hughes was able to get a hand to it.

"I'm totally disappointed with the result," said Olympic coach Peter Papanikitis making a brief appearance at the post-match media conference before heading off to an early flight out of Melbourne after the game. "We needed the three points. With a win, (we had) a chance to be in the Top Six. Now it's difficult."

The draw suits neither side, but whereas Olympic can still reasonably hold slim hopes of playing in March, Knights' season will finish in February.

"Our season with regard to finishing in the Top Six is totally finished with, (but) we'll try to pick up as many points as possible," said Knights' coach Ian Dobson. "We had a couple of good opportunities in the first half, and on another day we might have got the three points."

Sydney Olympic opened the scoring from a short corner played to Caravella. Caravella took a touch to steady then let loose a shot which took a deflection from Marth at the edge of the six-yard area, wrong-footing Knights' goalkeeper Vilson Knezevic on its way into the net.

Often, an early goal will cause a match to flare into life from its beginning. Sadly, on this occasion, it was not the case, although the drama of the last two minutes will cause most to forget the turgid nature of the eighty-five in between.

This was a poor game. These two clubs' league positions this season are both significantly more modest than in the recent past, and the quality of their team-lists are in similarly reduced circumstances. To add to the desultory nature of the contest, Knights is now nearing the end of its contractual obligations to the national competition.

"What goes on at the moment, hurts," said Dobson, who had also been coach during a period where Knights' teams were at the top of the league. "I've seen the Championship team and players, but circumstances are dictating where we are at the moment - lack of funds. We are where we are and we just have to remain positive with what we're trying to achieve here."

Unsurprisingly, the quality of the game was at the lower end of the scale, with neither side able to craft consistent passages of football.

After the shock of the early opening goal, Knights had an opportunity to level just before the quarter-hour with a header from the edge of the six-yard box from a well-flighted Andrew Vargas cross, but he steered it directly to Olympic goalkeeper Brett Hughes with the whole goal on view.

Andrew Vargas also headed directly at Hughes when he'd ghosted into a good position behind the defence at the far-post to meet a free-kick taken by his brother.

Other than that, there was little to trouble long-serving Olympic central defender and captain Ante Juric, celebrating his double-century of NSL appearances, with perhaps his least-pressured first-half ever, easily dealing with Knights' fitful forays.

In an attempt to shake things up, Dobson pushed Marth into the forward line in the second-half. At the very least, it gave Juric a more interesting second forty-five, as the sheer physical presence of the Knights' captain in and around the penalty-area gives defenders pause for thought.

"Andrew is an intimidating character," said Dobson. "With his physical presence in the box, he can put pressure on teams, and that was shown (tonight)."

But despite Marth's appearance, there was little tangible effect on the direction of the game, or even the pressure on goalkeepers as both had little to do to earn their match fees.

Hughes' sole involvements came late in the game - the first when he was sharply down to a shot from outside the 18-yard area from Billy Natsioulas after an Andrew Vargas cross was only partly-cleared. Within a minute he caused the home support to rise in expectation when he mis-timed a punch in a challenge with Marth, but the ball rolled gently wide of the now vacant goal.

Then, with most in the crowd trying to remember where they parked their cars, Souris fouled Marinos, making contact with a foot to Marinos' face, resulting in the only caution of the game, and the penalty from which Marth obtained the unlikely equaliser.

"I was totally wrapped with the fact that we never gave the game away," said Dobson. "And we got the just reward at the end of the day."