Branko Culina didn't say it at the press conference, but this game could be summarised as 3 minutes of madness, to borrow a saying of South coach Ange Postecoglou.
Before the game, the critics of South were saying that a hard blow into the crack opened by Marconi would shatter the composure and confidence of the league champs.
The South side was undermanned and inexperienced, maybe even brittle and Olympic would have felt that, even without Emmerton, Culina and others, they had the tools to deliver the hammer blow to break South and expose the character flaws in South.
To make it worse, substiute Cuzzupe rolled his ankle in the warmup leaving even less options for South.
Olympic started red hot, and after the third touch, earned a free about 30 metres from goal. South , not yet with it sort of set up a wall, which was irrelevant as Poric slammed a shot into the net leaving Petkovic and nearly everyone at BJS paralysed in unbelieving shock. 1-0 to Olympic. The clock showed only 25 seconds !
Although it was only Round 5, one could sense that the season for South would be decided in the next 45 minutes. South would have to dig deep like never before, but Olympic were on fire and charging forward again.
Then, only 2 minutes later Goutzioulis and Kalantzis clashed, Kalantzis must have retaliated, Goutzioulis was on the ground holding his head, and to the thunderous cheers of the BJS Grandstand, Kalantzis was shown the red card without any hesitation whatsoever by Eddie Lennie. Kalantzis was booed from the ground with more gusto than I have heard in a long time.
The gods had smiled on South Melbourne.
Branko described it as a 'minor scratch', but didn't make any excuses saying that as a senior player and with years of experience playing in the NSL & Greece, Kalantzis should have known better.
But to South it was the get out of jail free card. Immediately, the old arrogance returned to the South team and the crowd were all of a sudden in a festive mood. Not one spectator had any doubt that it was only a matter of time before the equaliser, and from there, anything. A yellow card to Clarkson at the 4th minute only spurred South on, and wound the crowd up more.
South weren' t in any hurry and totally dominated against the 10 utterly dumfounded Olympic players with about 5 shots on goal to one Olympic which was another shot by Poric which was intercepted by Petkovic from about 10 metres from goal. Numerous forward lunges by South were wasted as DeAmicis, Orlic, Clarkson and Coveny fumbled excellent forward moves.
But Olympic were flagging as South grew in confidence and Taliadoros was injured in the 37 th minute and had to be substituted, and at 40 minutes Anastasiadis, standing 10 metres in front of goal, received a pass from DeAmicis which he headed into the net. 1-1.
3 miutes later from a Clarkson corner, Orlic lifts the ball, and from vitrually the same spot, Anastasiadis scores with what seemed an identical loping header. 43 minutes, 2-1 to South Melbourne.
Just 5 minutes previously, Anastasiadis had completly messup a promising cross, and someone yelled ' Yianni ( john ),what are you doing ?' Someone else replied 'he's not fit and never will be, Anastasiadis is FINISHED' . As the players came off for half time, that same spectator yelled out 'Yianni you are THE BEST' .
South had turned the blow torch back on Olympic, and unlike Olympic, South would make them pay.
The second half was a procession as Olympic went into damage control. It took only 11 minutes for Polak to find a way through the defence from about 15 metres, his first shot was blocked but incredibly rebounded back on to his ( left foot I think ), which he promptly slotted past Kourtis to make it 3-1. Luck's a fortune !
From then on Clarkson, Tsekinis, and Coveny shared in about 9 forward moves which deserved 3 goals, the last coming in the 45th minute when that man Anastasiadis passed the ball into space to Coveny who drew the keeper and shot, I don't know how, 1/2 a metre to the right ot the goal. Coveny was so close all he would have seen would have been net.
In the second half, all Olympic could manage was one shot on goal which was easily handled by Petkovic. He was even confident enough to hold the ball in the air a little longer than normal, but by then the fight had gone out of Cardozo who didn't even attempt to step forward, and the ref had in any case waved for play to go on.
At the press conference afterwards, Branko Culina, impeccably dressed as always, was a very dissapointed couch and his normally husky voice had that added rasp to it. Things weren't made easier for poor Branko by the sound of victory yells drifting from the South changing rooms. Ange Postecoglou didn't say much about 'the incident' or anything for that matter and most of the questions involved endless analysis of the send off and the goals.
The most interesting question came from Alan Clark who asked which players would be dropped from this side to make way for those returning from injury and the international. Ange's face lit up and a smile spread from ear to ear and he said that it was a problem he was happy to have. Then, as if he realised he was going to give too much away, he clammed up and mentioned injuries, see how the team pulls up and a number of other coaching platitudes. Very ominous for opposition teams. Apart from the likes of Trimboli, Baser, Panopoulos, etc, opposing defences will have to deal with the Anastasiadis/Coveny partnership. The two found each other far too often to suggest, as Anastasiadis said, 'what we do in the game is what we practise at training'. Their seems to be a chemistry that could produce a winning formula, especially when Coveny converts some of the goals that are handed to him on a platter.
Afterwards, I asked Paul Trimboli if the players were worried that the loss against Marconi had exposed character flaws in the South team. Without stopping his autograph signing, and with complete conviction, Paul said that wasn't the case and none of the players believed that, and put the loss at Marconi down to 'one of those nights'.
Before today, one would have had cause to doubt that. Now South can't wait for next week's clash in Perth. As Trimboli said, nothing brings out the best in him than a big game and a big crowd, and he rates his chances of being fit as 'pretty good'.
What can one say about Olympic ? They were lucky to lose by only 2 goals. No system up forward, defenders giving known dangermen like Coveny, and after the first goal, Anastasiadis far too much latitude. Morale must be low and next week's game at home to the resurgent Falcons will not be easy.
As for South, In March/April Ange may well look back at this game and regard it as the one of the most important games he has ever been involved in. The team has been given a new lease of life and an uncertain lineup has been moulded into a very capable unit confident of being able to withstand the worst of situations.
Man of the match. I'll take the easy option and say Anastasiadis, although it could well have been any of 7 others.
Thanks to Alan Clark for allowing me to accompany him to the after match press conference.