Souths v Marconi

Round 21 report by Alan Clark
South Melbourne v Marconi-Fairfield

South Melbourne stretched its lead at the top of the table for the second week in a row, defeating top six aspirants Marconi 2-0 at Bob Jane Stadium on Sunday.

The win means South is the only team to hold an undefeated home record this campaign, providing a strong base upon which to build a second Championship attempt.

In a round where the goals were a penny a dozen, all it took was for South to net twice in the opening 36 minutes and then soak up Marconi pressure from then on.

The two goals had arisen in similar circumstances. South coach Ange Postecoglou had counted on absences in Marconi's usual defence meaning not only would there be an unfamiliar defensive combination, it was giving away centimetres in height if South's tall defenders could be brought into the attack.

After ten minutes the plan was evident. Steve Panopoulos sent in a long cross teasing Ante Covic into attempting a punch. Covic missed, leaving his goal then exposed as Nick Orlic headed narrowly over.

The lesson wasn't learnt, and seven minutes later the presence of Con Blatsis and Nick Orlic up for a corner was enough for Panopoulos' corner to be headed on by Vaughan Coveny to where Paul Trimboli awaited and gleefully headed home.

Marconi coach Frank Farina acknowledged the ploy after the game saying: "I think Ange (Postecoglou) exploited it quite well. We didn't have a real lot of height at the back. Since losing Babic and Longo - our two centre-halves - it takes a lot of our height away, and we struggled. (South) troubled us from nearly every set-piece that they had."

Francis Awaritefe made a return to one of the clubs on his playing resume, and was involved in most Marconi thrusts of substance. He celebrated his return with a strong challenge on South's keeper Jason Petkovic mid-way through the half that threatened to develop into a nasty incident involving players of both sides, but the impressive Mark Shield was quickly in to settle ruffled tempers.

Corners and set-pieces were always likely to be the undoing of Marconi, and the defensive panic was palpable.

Michael Curcija had a goal disallowed as he swept the ball into the net from a corner - the referee seeing Covic had been hindered.

But the second was not long coming. Blatsis had again linked up with the attack, carrying the ball wide down the right before launching a far-post cross that completely cut out the defenders, perfectly falling for Coveny to head goalwards.

Marconi's first attempt of not for the half took until the 40th minute when Vlado Zoric struck a screamer from distance but watched it go over.

Just before the half ended, a South corner again caused havoc being scrambled clear after it looked certain to result in the third.

Blatsis' involvement in the game ceased suddenly just before the half ended when it looked like he suffered a recurrence of his hamstring injury which caused him to miss much of the first part of the season. South's depth was to be tested once again.

The second period was dissatisfying for the large crowd, as South was content to soak up the pressure and hit on the break.

Robbie Hooker had been substituted and Marconi had dispensed with a sweeper, bringing on an extra midfielder. "We were 2-0 down, and I decided that we'd go with a different line-up. It was just a tactical thing and Robbie was the one who had to make way," said Farina.

Marconi was allowed back into the game, even if penetration was still beyond them. Marcus Phillips had the most noteworthy effort with a 35 metre shot which flew just wide of Petkovic's right post.

Just before the game concluded, 99-game Jason Polak - who had come on for captain Paul Trimboli with ten minutes remaining - had found himself through on Covic after Coveny's flick-header had split the Marconi defence. Polak was unable to convert as Covic raced out to block.

"We knew that they'd come here and throw everything at us, so it was a bit of a danger game for us," said Postecoglou. "We won the game in the first 45 minutes. But if were a little bit smarter in the second half we could have capitalised, and maybe got another goal or two. But I can't complain."