Pride v Souths

Round 13 report by Alan Clark
Eastern Pride v South Melbourne

When attempting to leave Eastern Pride's Mobil Park last Saturday evening, the luxuriously-appointed South Melbourne team bus found its path blocked by an altogether more modestly-equipped vehicle.

The players on the bus would have wryly acknowledged the symbolism, as the game which had just concluded was encapsulated in that instant.

Despite a frantic last quarter-hour, South Melbourne's fully-professional squad, most of whom have a proud pedigree at top level, failed to get past Pride's mix of youthful and well-matured part-timers who doggedly stuck to their task against the league leaders. Indeed, Pride can think itself unfortunate not to have won.

"It was an important game for both teams," said Pride coach Jeff Hopkins after the game. "(South) could have kicked away (at the top of the league), we've got to get off the bottom."

"I was pleased with the effort, but a point isn't that good for us to be honest. In the position we're in, we needed three."

South had upped the pressure in the last quarter-hour in search of the goal which would break the scoreless deadlock, but Eastern Pride refused to concede.

True the visitors had been reduced to ten men, but the alleged gap in class between the sides should have been sufficient for that handicap to have been overcome.

South Melbourne midfielder Con Boutsianis ended his game only fifteen minutes in after a scything tackle on Dong Ki Kim. Boutsianis had himself been clattered just seconds before. His subsequent challenge was likely a red-mist reaction, most surely regretted on his long walk across field to the dressing-rooms, and the even longer ride home in the delayed bus.

South assistant coach Jeff Olver was sent out to deputise for Mickey Petersen at the after-match media conference, apparently because Petersen was worried his comments would draw the ire of Soccer Australia.

A disappointed Olver said, "We think it's two points thrown away, but there's things out there that we can't control, and we've just got to deal with it. Eastern Pride made it difficult for us."

Speaking of the Boutsianis send-off, Olver said, "It was a little bit harsh. I thought there were a couple of other tackles that were very similar (but) weren't punished in the same way. The 75 minutes we played with ten men showed that our fitness is good, and the full-time environment is paying off for us."

Certainly, a period of ungenerous play followed the dismissal. Players of both sides seemed willing to continue their contests well after the ball had left the vicinity. Fausto De Amicis found his name taken, but others were fortunate to escape a similar fate in this frenzied period.

Daniel Watkins had to leave the field for treatment to a bleeding mouth and nose in an incident that was not seen by any official, but which drew loud side-line protests from Hopkins. Watkins resumed after half-time, but with his nose stuffed with tissue-paper, and six stitches inside his mouth.

Hopkins was angry at the incident. "I think there were a few elbows missed in that first half," he said.

Boutsianis' departure caused South coach Mickey Petersen to re-jig his formation, bringing on playmaker Zeljko Susa and sacrificing striker Vas Kalogerakos in exchange.

Patrick Kisnorbo had what proved to be South's most promising chance of the first half when he controlled on the turn from a David Clarkson corner, before letting loose a shot which drew the best out of Pride goalkeeper Bojo Jevdjevic who tipped it over the bar.

Pride's most likely chance came on the half-hour when Neville Roach headed narrowly over after being set up from a Marcus Stergiopoulos free-kick. Late in the half, Kim went on a rampaging run up the right, sending a rasping shot from 25 metres which Michael Petkovic just managed to reach and touch onto the post.

The high-paced action from both teams was aimed at denying the opposition time and space on the ball. As a consequence, there was little free-flowing football, but plenty of solid contests. It was a scrap - sometimes spiteful, but always enthralling.

Pride can draw comfort from their endeavours in this game when considering the battles ahead.