Souths v Glory

Round 23 report by Alan Clark
South Melbourne v Perth Glory

South Melbourne regained outright league leadership and held its unbeaten home record this season after defeating Perth Glory 2-1 in their deferred Round 23 game on Wednesday 31 March.

The win required South to come from behind, as the season's largest crowd at Bob Jane was stunned into silence such that you could hear the sun's reflection from the rising full moon following Alistair Edwards' 36th minute opener for Perth.

Last time these two sides met at Bob Jane, Perth's Vas Kalogeracos was introduced as a late substitute and then netted three times to claw back a 0-3 deficit to earn Glory a 3-3 draw.

This time however, it was to be the introduction of a South pair - John Anastasiadis and George Goutzioulis - which was to be the catalyst for a change to the game's destiny. Shortly after they stepped onto the park as a pair in the 70th minute as substitutes for Michael Curcija and Steve Panopoulos, they had combined for the leveller. Their presence had unsettled Glory's defence to the extent that South's very next foray after equalising concluded with Vaughan Coveny grabbing the winner that all but confirmed South's tenure of a vital top two position and the prize of a Finals' double chance.

The partisan home support, which had been anxious at the potential for disaster had South lost, erupted into joyous celebration which lasted beyond the final whistle.

But this was the end of a story which should be started as most do, with the outcome uncertain.

The first thing that was uncertain was the spectator turn-out. It had been a cold and wet period leading up to the mid-week fixture, with the Easter break and school holidays impending. The South support has a habit of making its entrance at the last minute, and so fifteen minutes before the scheduled start there is always little clue as to the eventual attendance.

But pour through the turnstiles they did - in season's record numbers for this highly anticipated show-down.

What was in prospect was a clash between two teams that had built their reputations on their respective prolific attacks and which wore down their oppositions by outscoring, rather than out-defending them.

Added to this contest was the eagerly awaited return of once South favourite Con Boutsianis, now playing for Perth. His last appearance in a South shirt was in the winning Grand Final game last year in which he scored the goal that provided the silverware, but he was gone before the season had re-started.

South's coach Ange Postecoglou's tactical advice to his side on handling Boutsianis was "Don't give away any free-kicks in our half," such was his aptitude - well known to ex team-mate and fan alike.

But Boutsianis was not to have a disproportionately influential effect on the game, and was substituted midway through the second period, having exhausted himself playing in a central midfield role not previously his at Bob Jane.

For those familiar with South's playing style for the last several seasons, something odd was apparent during the first half. South's normal tactics involve retaining possession, playing the short pass, and allowing the ball to make an indirect path to the scoring zone, drawing out the opponent's defensive shield. Against Perth, South was playing long through balls.

This was a result of player anxiousness and Perth's ability to close down space, according to Postecoglou. "I thought Perth played very well in the first half - hit us on the counter-attack. We struggled to cope with that. We seemed to be second best with everything. They made it very hard for us to find space: the only space we could find was behind their back four and (we) got sucked in, playing balls into those areas (which is) foreign to our game."

South's unusual new style resulted in the ball being delivered quickly to the forward line, but at a pace and into areas where the supporting links could not quickly arrive. As a consequence, although it seemed South was frequently in positions of potential, the threat was capably met by Perth's competent defence bolstered by the impressive Italian import Gianfranco Circati, and counter-attacks quickly ensued.

Scott Miller and Kalogeracos had separate attempts worthy of a goal by midway through the half. Paul Trimboli, Curcija, and Panopoulos had gone close for South.

Glory had spotted a defensive mis-match down its attacking right side and set out to exploit it. From one such exploration came Glory's crowd-silencing 26th minute goal.

After a number of false but encouraging starts, Glory rampaged once again up the right. Robert Trajkovski had moved onto a long ball sent forward by Miller and crossed to Alastair Edwards at the near post whose flicked shot sped past Michael Petkovic.

The goal seemed to spur South to more frequently adopting their long ball play, despite the best endeavours of David Clarkson, Panopoulos, and Trimboli to get the engine-room active again.

Perth almost stole a second after Kalogeracos attempted a lob of Petkovic which just cleared the bar. Petkovic was required to race from his line following uncharacteristic defensive inattention from Goran Lozanovski.

But Glory players tired after their first-half efforts. Last Sunday's game in 30 degree Perth heat combined with the long trip east to their disadvantage. South also re-engineered their play to a more familiar style, and began to take the initiative. "In the first half we tried to play too many long balls - doing things that we don't usually do. I told them at half-time to settle down and play our game which is to keep possession of the ball and wait for the right opportunity. We did that a lot better in the second half," said Postecoglou.

The possession game takes its toll on players' physical and mental abilities, and in the 70th minute it required the introduction of Anastasiadis and Goutzioulis to replace the exhausted Curcija and Panopoulos. Anastasiadis had not played for South for a month, but his reputation as a goalscorer and chance-maker is soundly based.

The pay-off was instant for South and its chances of retaining the national championship. A mere six minutes had passed before Goutzioulis found himself in space and played a ball to Anastasiadis who shrugged off the attentions of Paul Strudwick, firing in the equaliser.

From the ensuing kick-off, the ball was turned over and ended up with Trimboli, this time deciding to strike himself from just outside the area. The ball crashed off the cross-bar back into play to Clarkson who found Liparoti at the far post. Liparoti's header was across the face of goal and Coveny bravely headed in from close-in low down.

"That gives us a five point break on (Perth in third place) with three games to go. It means if we win one game and get a draw we sew up a top-two spot which is so important. That gives us the confidence to go on with the next three games and try to win top spot, which has always been our aim," said Postecoglou.

Glory coach Bernd Stange was not unduly concerned at the loss: "We played a good first half. We were well organised and played good counter attacks. But in the second half we were not fit enough for such a (fast moving) game. A lot of players are not able to play Sunday/Wednesday.

"I'm not disappointed - I'm very relaxed because Perth Glory is a young club - we are three years old - and I think we are in the Finals this year which is a big, big success. We have a (gap) to South Melbourne and Sydney United, but maybe we are able to close it next year."

A meeting of these two sides in a Grand Final match-up with both sides at their strongest would be a contest to be savoured.