Knights v Carlton

Round 30 report by Alan Clark
Melbourne Knights v Carlton

There was a surreal atmosphere to this match - keenly fought out by the players of both sides at least for the first half, and of interest to the respective teams' supporters - but the focus was really elsewhere at other grounds around the nation. Many at the ground were as interested in the outcome of a match 800 kilometres away between a Sydney side and an Adelaide one as they were in the game being played out in front of them. Everyone knew that regardless of the result here, neither side could finish above tenth in the fifteen-team league, and the outcome would have no bearing on the shape of the Finals Series.

The match was effectively the last contractual playing obligation for this year for both Melbourne Knights and Carlton, and a sad end to seasons both sides and their supporters would have expected more from.

It would be a test of pride, a last opportunity for both teams to give their respective sets of fans hope for a better season next time around, and - for some players - a final chance to impress their clubs' committees deliberating which players to retain and which to discard.

There was action which brought three goals - all very skilfully despatched - which arose in the first half, and so there seemed promise for more of the same following the interval.

But as it happened, Carlton's opening goal from returned Young Socceroo star Simon Colosimo who bent a 20 metre shot past a startled Martin John in the sixth minute, and Knights' equally skilful equaliser by Ante Kovacevic nine minutes later, followed by the Knights taking the lead through Ivan Jolic midway through the half was to be the end of the scoring action.

All three goals would have adorned a game where the stakes were greater - Colosimo's came out of nothing as the Knights' defence backed off, allowing him to send in a left-foot shot which found the net to the surprise of all but the Carlton youngster.

As if to show that two can play that game, Knights equalised after Kutlesovski bent one around Dean Anastasiadis from equal distance but to greater acclaim. What proved to be the winner was also worthy of a place in the season's list of better goals. Ransford Banini - seemingly playing with an injury that considerably reduced his mobility, made good progress up the left as Carlton defenders conceded ground, sending forward a perfect through-ball to the hard-running Tom Pondeljak. Pondeljak squared to Ivan Jolic who blasted home from outside the area.

The second-half paled by comparison, perhaps due to the players of both sides altering the focus of their attentions to post-season activities. Certainly Zeljko Susa's attention drifted as he made his run-up to take an injury-time penalty resulting from a foul by returning Knights' old-boy and current Carlton captain Andrew Marth.

Susa's shot hit the base of the post and rebounded clear.

Knights' coach Josip Biskic said that he'd spoken with the players before the game to mention that a win was to be important for the club. "Because it was our last game, winning it to finish the season well was our aim. When I took over (midway through the season after the resignation of Vid Horvat), I said our goal was to finish above three clubs at least - Canberra Cosmos, Gippsland Falcons, and Adelaide Sharks. We've done it. It least we've done something this season."

Carlton coach Eddie Krncevic took some time locked in the rooms with his players before he was able to speak to the media. When he came out, shortly after Carlton General Manager had departed the area grim-faced, Krncevic was careful in his choice of words, outlining Carlton's plans for the future, but being unspecific about whether he was likely to be part of it.

When asked where he fitted in to those plans, he said "I don't know yet. I'm not too sure.

"We're all disappointed to finish the year off like that. It's been a disappointing second half of the season for us. We're missing a little bit of quality and we need to bolster up those areas for next season."