Souths v Syd Utd

Round 26 report by Alan Clark
South Melbourne v Sydney United

South Melbourne waited out a shakey start to run out three-one winners at Bob Jane, against a resilient Sydney United in a Round 26 game brought forward to Wednesday evening because of the South Socceroo contingent's international call up effective that weekend.

South's margin of victory could have been more but for some excellent goalkeeping from United's Brett Hughes, who at one point, danced a jig of delight and celebration at one audacious point-blank save, that even the South support had to acknowledge.

"Ahh - well, you've got to enjoy yourself," he told me after the game.

Hughes had also pulled off a penalty save from acting captain Steve Panopoulos to crown a marvellous evening for the evergreen keeper - one of only a diminishing number of ex-Sydney City players still in the NSL.

But despite Hughes performance, South's win through first-half goals from Andy Vlahos, and best-on-ground Con Boutsianis, together with an early second-half conversion from Vas Kalogeracos himself, was enough for South's tenth home win in fourteen games there.

United's solo reply was from Commins Menapi, who bravely battled away up front and more than held his own against the South defence.

"All up I thought we were value for our three points," said South coach Mickey Petersen after the game.

Petersen was uncritical of the chances not converted, taking heart in the number of chances created. "I think that's the most important thing. Teams all around the world find it hard to create - we are creating. I suppose our challenge is to take the next step and start putting them away."

South Melbourne had been forced to wait until late-on in their recent games before finding the net, but this time the opener came early.

With just seven minutes gone, Simon Colosimo, drafted in at left-back to cover for the rested Fausto De Amicis, sent forward a defence-splitting diagonal ball to Vas Kalogeracos who had run into a position wide on the right. With the United defence scrambling to cover, Kalogeracos had time to see that Andy Vlahos and Con Boutsianis had sprinted to positions inside the penalty area with only the barest of cover.

Kagogeracos' cross fell perfectly for Vlahos to volley home.

United levelled just after the mid-point of the half, and were unlucky not to take the lead in their very next attack.

Richard Plesa was awarded a free-kick some 30 metres from goal which he powered in. It took a deflection on the way from which Nahuel Arrarte benefited, racing through to face only South goalkeeper Michael Petkovic. Arrarte's shot was blocked by Petkovic, but rebounded handily for Menapi only two metres out from goal and offering the Solomon Islander an unspurnable chance.

If the equaliser had stunned the home crowd, it scarcely bears thinking about how their mood would have been affected had United taken their very next opportunity, not more than a minute later.

Goran Talevski had outmuscled Patrick Kisnorbo at the heart of the South back-line to win a ball on the edge of the area. Talevski had been forced a little to the left in the tussle, but his shot across goal beat Petkovic's dive but scraped the outside of the far post.

For most of the balance of the half, the balance of the game had tipped United's way to the extent that the next goal seemed more likely to come from a United, rather than South player.

So it was with some surprise when South regained the lead late in the half, following a free-kick taken by Goran Lozanovski after he had been brought down by Shane Webb wide on the right. Webb earnt a booking for his troubles, but the penalty for United was greater.

Lozanovski's bending kick into the six-yard box was inadequately dealt with by the United defence. A failed attempt at a clearance changed the direction of the ball only marginally, and Boutsianis gleefully met the falling ball with a powerful header past Hughes to cap off what had been an extraordinary week for the South player.

"After we scored we started to play," said United coach Velimir Kupresak after the game. "But they scored again from our mistake, but I think (South) deserved its win."

But if the goal had been cruel recognition of United's endeavours, South's third - five minutes after the break - was a true reflection of South's new control of the game which was held until the final whistle.

After rarely losing possession thanks mainly to the influence of the returning Zeljko Susa into the heart of midfield, South had worked the ball to the edge of the United penalty-area. A cleverly worked interchange between Kalogeracos and Boutsianis set Kalogeracos free directly in front of goal and with only Hughes in the way. Kalogeracos' shot went under Hughes who had done his best to close down the diminutive South striker.

United's attacks continued, with Menapi having an excellent shot on the turn which required Petkovic to deflect, and Menapi and United captain Aytek Genc combined well before Genc's shot was deflected by Mehmet Durakovic at the last.

South too were to threaten, with substitute John Anastasiadis having the best opportunity from open play when he sent an unchallenged header wide from six yards with the goal at his mercy, after good work from Vlahos to send in a glorious cross.

Vlahos's crossing ability resulted in another chance, this time when Boutsianis had a free header at the far post, brilliantly saved by Hughes, who then danced his jig of celebration which Boutsianis ruefully acknowledged.

But the best chance to stretch the lead came after United substitute Milan Bosnar brought down Vlahos in the penalty-area and referee Gerry Connolly had no hesitation in pointing to the spot. Acting captain Steve Panopoulos elected to take it, but the curse of the combination of the captain's armband and the penalty struck again, for the third time in as many awards this season. Panopoulos' kick was parried onto the post by Hughes, and rebounded to Vaughan Coveny whose follow-up shot went into the side-netting.

Hughes made another magnificent save deep into stoppage time from an Anastasiadis header that had the veteran striker leaping in a dance of frustration of his own.

United coach Velimir Kupresak was disappointed at the loss, but still optimistic that his team can make the Finals. "I think we still have a chance, but now we must all our (remaining) four games," he said after the match.

Petersen believes South's position is much more assured. "For a top two (position) we probably need one more win out of (our) four (remaining games), and probably two to secure the Minor Premiership," he assessed.