Andy Vlahos scored all three South Melbourne goals in the Lakesiders' three-nil win over a luckless Brisbane Strikers in hot and steamy conditions at Bob Jane Stadium last Sunday.
Although the score indicates an emphatic South win that sees the club climb to third place in the table, the game's balance was much more even.
"That's the story of our life lately - missing chances," said disappointed Strikers' coach John Kosmina. "Goals win games. We make enough opportunities - we just don't take them."
"We could have been one or two up before they got a look-in."
South coach Mickey Petersen agreed with Kosmina's assessment. "It took us a while to get going," said Petersen. "If it were a boxing match - the first sixty minutes (Brisbane) was up on points. Our forward structure kicked-in the last thirty minutes, and punished Brisbane in the end."
South Melbourne has been playing with two orthodox wide players up front for most of this season, and did so again this game. However, the players chosen for the various wide and central roles have been rotated. This time Vlahos was brought inside to partner Paul Trimboli as twin spear-heads, whilst Con Boutsianis and Kiwi Vaughan Coveny took to the touchlines.
"(Assistant coach) Jeff (Olver) and I are still learning about combinations - it's experimental at times. We have that quality. We can bring on Goran Lozanovski or Boutsianis. We can swing around Coveny and Vlahos. They can all rotate pretty well. It causes opposition teams some problems."
For most of the early part of the contest, Brisbane's well-marshalled back-line kept the South foursome well in check, playing an aggressive off-side game South failed to cope with. Strikers' captain Stuart McLaren and Matt Bell nullified South forays up the centre, a task their wider defenders, Andrew Davidson and Shane Stefanutto, also capably managed.
The game was open throughout. Both sides committed players to attack when in possession, even though Kosmina recognised his team was understrength because of illness and injury. "Jeromy Harris (substituted at half-time) has been sick. He probably would have been on the bench but Jade North got injured during the week at training. We've (also) got a bad dose of the 'flu running through the club at the moment."
Eventually, the combination of constant South pressure, and their own depleted squad told on the Strikers. Vlahos benefitted from some excellent vision from the impressive Zeljko Susa - surely an early-season candidate for player honours. Just before the break, Susa spotted Coveny in a position of menace wide to his right, and passed directly into his path. Coveny quickly made ground reaching the bye-line before sending a low cross which Vlahos met inside the six-yard box to volley home.
It took South until well after the hour to extend this fragile lead, and again Susa was at its heart. A ball was won deep in South's left-side defence, and played to Susa whose vision and skills spotted the opportunity afforded by Boutsianis wide on the left. Boutsianis accepted the pass and broke quickly into space from the half-way line, sending in a cross to Coveny. Coveny needed time to control, but successfully did so, setting up a simple close-range header for Vlahos' second.
Just five minutes later Vlahos netted his and South's third, once again with a header from close-range, this time set up from a Trimboli cross.
Speaking after the match, Kosmina was especially disappointed that a player of Vlahos' short stature was able to net twice with headers.
For the hard-done by Strikers, Paul Foster and Fernando Rech both had good opportunities - perhaps the best of them falling to Foster mid-way through the first half. Rech had played a clever cut-back from wide into the path of Nick Meredith. Meredith sent in a cross that curved into Foster's path, but Foster's header went narrowly wide with Michael Petkovic well beaten.
Shortly after, Wayne Srhoj had an effort from just outside the box which went narrowly past Petkovic's post.
But Strikers' will surely rue a missed opportunity just before Vlahos' first, when Meredith - the ball at his feet - sprinted into the South half facing only three outfield defenders, and with five Strikers in supporting positions. Incredibly, the charismatic Striker passed to Fausto De Amicis, and the chance had vanished.