What began as a rout, ended as a massacre as South Melbourne were a class above Marconi Stallions at Bob Jane on Sunday, running up a 6-1 victory which would not have surprised were it a greater margin. Con Boutsianis scored a hat-trick - his third goal coming in added time.
"I thought we played some entertaining stuff, and scored some great goals," said South Assistant coach Jeff Olver - deputising for Mickey Petersen in the post-match media conference.
South did enough in the first half to see off the Stallions' challenge setting up a 3-0 half-time lead, and using that platform for the win that continues their run as NSL pace-setters.
Boutsianis opened the scoring after seven minutes with one of the season's more unlikely goals. Vaughan Coveny won possession up the left and crossed. Stallions' goalkeeper David Aceski went for the catch but was impeded by his own full-backs. Boutsianis had already dived in anticipation of the header, and the ball ricoched from the top of his head and into the net.
But it was two goals in two minutes that swung the game comprehensively South Melbourne's way, racking up a three-goal lead ten minutes before half-time, which in the hot and trying conditions of play, was never likely to be overhauled.
The first of the pair came from a move started by Fausto De Amicis. With his Socceroo call-up papers still fresh, De Amicis took possession of the ball mid-pitch, then ran forward unchallenged before slipping a pass outside to Boutsianis. Boutsianis then sent in a perfect cross for Andy Vlahos to convert unchallenged close-in.
The brace's second came from a tenacious bit of work from Goran Lozanovski - recently returned to a South starting eleven. Lozanovski took the ball to the edge of the penalty-area near the bye-line, rode a challenge, then laid the ball back to the unmarked Paul Trimboli at the 18 yard line, directly in front of goal. Trimboli had time to place his shot wide of Aceski's despairing dive.
Marconi made a triple substitution early in the second half which paid immediate dividends. Sasa Radulovic, a replacement for a quiet Chris Zoric, out-paced the square South defence chasing a through-ball from Archie Thompson. Radulovic tucked the ball neatly past Michael Petkovic, giving the visitors a glimmer of hope.
But Coveny scored a mirror-image goal for South eight minutes later, springing Marconi's trap to advance on the exposed Aceski, and restoring the three-goal cushion.
South's fifth was another which had its genesis on the flank. This time it was Coveny who raced down the right, crossing to the far post where both Boutsianis and John Anastasiadis lay in wait. Boutsianis was the better placed and headed in - this time more convincingly - from close-range.
"Wollongong (Marconi's last opponents) punished them wide as well. We worked on that all week and we felt that we could hurt them, and as it turned out that was the case," said Olver.
By this time Marconi was effectively down to ten players, as Radulovic was hardly mobile, needing to leave the field for lengthy treatment at one stage. As all three substitutes had been used, there were no reinforcements from which to draw.
Boutsianis earnt the match-ball with his third, scored in added time. Simon Colosimo - still to start in a South eleven such is the depth of the South squad - showed his touch with a precise pass from centre-pitch out to De Amicis who made up ground on the left. De Amicis drove towards the bye-line, then crossed low into the crowded six-yard box where Boutsianis was first to react to a scramble.
"To say I'm disappointed obviously is an understatement," said Stallions' coach Eddie Krncevic. "Regardless if you get beaten, you want a bit of heart and you want them to go to the end. I personally am very disappointed in a lot of my players today on the effort they've put in."
"It's not the end of the world, but we need to regroup this week," he said.