Souths v Knights

Round 19 report by Alan Clark
South Melbourne v Melbourne Knights

South Melbourne's hot streak of form continued after overcoming home-town rivals Melbourne Knights 3-1 on the weekend to record its seventh win in eight games and stretch its lead at the top of the table to be a game clear of second-placed Sydney United.

But the victory was assured only as late as the 73rd minute when Vaughan Coveny - moved to striker at half-time after starting in midfield - netted his second in five minutes for the home team's third.

Until then, both sides had been wasteful with their opportunities - Ivan Kelic had started that course of action with a wildly inaccurate ninth minute penalty, and few others seemed to know how to stop the rot.

The early chances were to fall to the visiting Knights, Michael Reda set out on a productive run and crossed for Ice Kutlesovski to head, only to see Michael Petkovic make the save.

But the first goal was South's. Following a throw to Trimboli on the bye-line, he then cut it back for George Goutzioulis. Goutzioulis struck from 20 metres out and Curcija managed to win a striker's deflection to send it past the Knights' Olyroo goalkeeper Joe Didulica. When I asked him if the ball would otherwise have gone wide, Curcija told me: "Yes, it was going well wide. I think it might have hit the corner-flag!"

Steve Panopoulos, returning to the South formation after a number of weeks absence, will surely rue his miss on the half-hour that would make the list of top ten striking bloopers. Facing only Didulica after Curcija's clever back-heel in the area, Panopoulos managed to put the ball wide from just six metres.

Curcija, not to be outdone, also went wide after good set-up work by Coveny and Jim Tsekinis, in which Panopoulos was also involved. Indeed, it was not in the creating of chances South was to be found wanting - something which may have been excused given the absence of a string of first-team regulars. Goran Lozanovski is still a few weeks away from returning, David Clarkson's ankle break will keep him out for many weeks yet, Steve Orlic and Robert Liparoti were suspended, and John Anastasiadis was left out at his request because of a family bereavement.

Within two minutes of the restart, Knights had levelled, and deservedly so. Full-back Paul Magdic made ground only to watch as South's defence backed off him. Feeling that he was now in range, Magdic loosed a low drive from 22 metres which beat Petkovic low to his left and inside the post.

The penalty award seemed to sting South into first-half action, and now the equaliser again reminded them of the keen nature of the contest.

Following a sustained period of South pressure but with little goalmouth action, Coveny added to the chances squandered when he managed to get onto the end of a long Con Blatsis throw to the edge of the six-yard box only to put the ball narrowly wide.

Knights could have taken the lead midway through the half after the South defence stood and appealed for a handball while Ice Kutlesovski, undaunted, ran though unopposed on Petkovic. Petkovic blocked the first, then Kutlesovski sent his follow-up over.

It was fitting though that it would be Coveny who would regain the lead for South in the 68th minute with Curcija's assistance, then extend it five minutes later when following-up a Tsekinis shot blocked but not stopped by Didulica. When Coveny has the ball and is running-in on goal the South fans know the ball could as easily hit the back of the net as the top of the scoreboard, and although many of his earlier efforts had gone extravagantly over, with these two goals the victory was guaranteed.

Knights goalscorer Magdic finished his game earlier than most after a second cautionable offence, but his loss was too late to have had much bearing on the result.

New Knights coach Josip Biskic - one of the game's toughest competitors as a player - was especially critical of defender Ransford Banini's performance "If something goes wrong in the team, he is always the one who is whinging - trying to find some excuses. I don't like that, and I told him that."

South coach Ange Postecoglou, not surprisingly was delighted with his players and their commitment. "Things like (today's win) aren't luck. Things like that happen because you've got quality players on the park."