Olympic v Wolves

Round 29 report by Charles Pickett
Sydney Olympic v Wollongong City

Like all of Olympic's recent home games, this was another must-win game. Their hopeless away form - still only two wins - has made for a fairly agonising season's spectating at Belmore. This game was worse than most, given some unconvincing defending at both ends of the park.

The first half was not memorable. Olympic had most of the possession and a few half-chances, especially from corners. The outstanding feature of the half was a woeful performance by a linesman who twice ruled Olympic forwards offside although the Wolves had inadvertently played the ball to them. Brett Hugo over-ruled this guy a couple of times, but unfortunately not on these occasions.

The second half got away to a good start with a goal by Cardozo. There didn't look to be much on when he received the ball with his back to goal on the edge of the area. But Pablo chested it down, swivelled and struck the sweetest of volleys into the corner of the net. It was a goal to savour, and not just because Pablo hadn't scored for weeks.

The nerves of players and fans - very evident during the first half - should have been settled by the goal. But as the game opened up, so did Olympic's midfield. Wollongong created a string of chances, with Paul Reid running the show in midfield, while on their left flank Scott Chipperfield had apparently been granted exemption from any marking attention. Several times he galloped into metres of space, unattended until he arrived at the Olympic area.

Wollongong's first goal came from a corner. George Bouhoutsas looked to have things under control but the ball rebounded around before finding Anthony Surjan's knee and then the net. A few minutes later the Wolves were in front via another quick break and a good finish from Esala Masi. Olympic's season looked all but over.

That it isn't is due partly to a bit of luck, as Robert Stanton headed a Kalantzis cross into his own net. It's also due to a good game from George, who made a string of saves in the second half. Indeed, the goalies were the stars of a truly end-to-end half. In the Wolves goal Daniel Beltrame looked as if only a brilliant strike a la Pablo, or a howler a la Stanton could beat him. Certainly he dealt capably with a string of Olympic corners, plus a pile-driver strike from Ante Juric and a wild challenge from Nick Carle. The latter had the Wolves players very fired up. Beltrame spilled the ball just once, but Baillie's header was ruled to have not quite crossed the line.

So it ended in a draw, which is effectively as good as a win for Olympic. Marconi's win over Adelaide City means that we'd still have needed at least a draw next week in Adelaide, given City's better goal difference.

The inconsistent form of both Olympic and Adelaide make the deciding game very tough to predict. Olympic will presumably stick to the recent pattern of using Kalantzis as a striker, while the return of Emerton and Culina is certainly a plus. At this time last year, Emerton was in blazing form, which he hasn't quite recaptured this season. Although he did make one perfect cross for Norman to head over the bar. As for the leaky midfield, I see no salvation. Hopefully Scott Thomas will again do the job on Damien Mori.

Given the away form it's tempting to discount Olympic's chances in the finals, even if they make it. But a point in their favour could be the presence in the finals of the three other Sydney clubs. I suspect Olympic's chances will be better if they don't have to travel to Perth or Melbourne. Anyway, three years without a finals appearance would be just too depressing.