Carlton v Marconi

Round 26 report by Alan Clark
Carlton v Marconi-Fairfield

This was a match where the prize for the winner was a meagre one, but failure to win it would be deadly.

Carlton and Marconi - for most of the season each a hot tip for a long run in the Finals - had sunk to positions on the ladder from where it was more likely their seasons would cease on Anzac Day. A sustained run of victories would rehabilitate their chances, but cruel fate meant that their head-to-head meeting in this game must lead to the extinguishment of hope for one.

At the whistle it was Marconi players who were jubilant, and Carlton heads downcast as Marconi had managed to come from behind to win 2-1.

Since Christmas, when things had seemed bright for then fourth-placed Marconi, the pedigree Sydney side had garnered only 12 of the 42 points on offer. Carlton - then third - had managed but eleven of their 39. Both sides then were only one win from league leadership.

If the EC ladder comprised only the games since Christmas, Marconi and Carlton would languish in 11th and 12th places respectively, and have the league's leakiest and second leakiest defences.

Both teams' aspirations were for something significantly better.

Now needing to make up a two-win gap for sixth place, Marconi's plight was desperate. Carlton, chasing a gap exceeding two wins, were surely on their last chance.

But for such a game where there was plenty at stake, the first half was mostly a turgid and uninspiring exhibition, with little desire or passion evident on the park. Maybe there was too much at stake.

Carlton were, once again, compelled to blood young players, as established ones were absent through injury and national youth team obligations. Steve Martin was one newcomer who impressed - in the 20th minute he brought down a diagonal ball supplied by Marcus Stergiopoulos from his chest and managed a shot from the corner of the penalty area which whistled over.

Two minutes later Martin was again just off-target when a pass from Carlton captain Andrew Marth managed to find the youngster after Buddy Farah missed an opportunity to intercede.

Newcomer Archie Thompson had an opportunity from an Alex Moreira pass, but Thompson's shot was smothered by Ante Covic. Just before the half ended, Thompson provided what turned out to be a cameo of the influence he would exert in the second half. He made a swerving run past four defenders, leaving two on the ground in his wake, before loosing a shot which was caught by Covic.

Marconi too had opportunities - skipper Brad Moloney had started well and exerted his influence throughout. He had been flattened by Carlton keeper Dean Anastasiadis in a tackle which if performed by an outfielder would have warranted a penalty and an early finish for the tackler, and which required him to spend some minutes off the park under treatment. Just before the end of the half, Kris Trajanovski was just centimeters from converting a ball on the slide, played in by Francis Awaratefe.

Nine minutes into the second half - with the game temperature rising for a period - Thompson was released and broke strongly for goal. After making considerable ground and being in a threatening position but wider than he preferred, he elected to attempt to turn with the ball and open the width of his target. By doing so, he allowed the Marconi defence to catch up and bustle him out of possession.

It was building, but few expected the avalanche of incident arising in a quarter-hour period starting with the game's opening goal from Thompson in the 72nd minute.

Thompson had exchanged a pass with Moreira mid-pitch and ran with the Brazilian as he homed-in on goal. At the edge of the penalty-area Dominic Longo and Mike Smith made ineffectual tackles allowing Moreira to shoot. Covic palmed the ball only to Thompson who gleefully netted.

Two minutes after, David Cervinski was to rue a foul that put Moloney over the free-kick midway into attacking territory. Moloney played a square ball to Chad Gibson who had moved up un-noticed and so un-marked. Gibson's shot from fully 30 metres screamed past Anastasiadis for the equaliser.

Moloney and Smith nearly combined just moments later for another, and Gibson's long-range shot from a wide position was gratefully touched over by Anastasiadis.

Both sides now launched their final efforts to keep their seasons alive. Thompson had a shot ten minutes from time which Covic deflected over, and a Marth header to Cervinski was cut back to Moreira who was wide from close-in.

But it was Moloney's free-kick from 25 metres, taking a slight deflection off the defensive wall and flying past Anastasiadis that proved to be the winner.

When asked if the loss effectively ends Carlton's season, a dejected coach Eddie Krncevic said: "Absolutely."

"It's very disappointing for everyone concerned. I thought we could have got a result today."

It was a different story in the visitors' rooms - the players' singing of "We are alive!" could be heard through the change-room walls. Coach Frank Farina - happy at the come-from-behind win said, "I thought the boys fought back well. I was reasonably happy with the way we played tonight. It was always going to be a game decided by one goal. We're still alive."