Carlton v Olympic

Round 12 report by Alan Clark
Carlton SC v Sydney Olympic

There was bright attacking football on display from both teams at Optus Oval on Sunday as Sydney Olympic sought to improve its woeful away record so far in the league, this time against Carlton - no easy task as Carlton were the most prolific of all teams so far this season coming into the game.

Olympic's recent signing Mehemet Durakovic re-aquainted himself with Melbourne where he had last played with Carlton's rivals South Melbourne, and he seemed to revel in the combination of style and strength which pervaded the contest.

Perhaps too much so, as he drew an eighth minute caution from referee Eugene Brazzale, and hovered on the brink of an early departure from that point on. Durakovic had protested the non-award of a penalty after he had stormed into an advanced position and sent a perfectly weighted ball to Brett Emerton whose progress was abruptly halted in the penalty area.

Where Olympic had Durakovic, Carlton had Andrew Marth. Frequently these two found themselves as either direct opponents, or else occupying similar roles on the battleground. But this was just one of the combinations on display - Brett Emerton faced Marcus Stergiopoulos and that pair took it in turns to be their teams' wide attackers when in possession and defenders when not.

Stergiopoulos emerged the better in that duel.

"I'd say Emerton has played better," said Olympic coach Branko Culina after the game. "Once he starts playing well, we'll be a much better side as well. I think you'll find that a lot of the players that have played in the national team have struggled (since). Emerton was in three Australian squads - and he had no pre-season. He's playing now simply on natural stamina and endurance."

But the game's most significant moment turned out to be the contest was that created by Carlton's tireless midfield provider Marco Bresciano, and Olympic goalkeeper George Bouhoutsos in the 72nd minute.

Alex Moreira had carried the ball from a deep position and raced to the edge of the penalty area. Durakovic closed him down, Moreira punched the ball past Durakovic and then caught his foot on Durakovic's leg as he went by, tumbling in the area at the corner. Referee Brazzale whistled, and for a brief moment until he pointed to the spot it was open as to whether he was penalising Durakovic's tackle or Moreira's exuberant fall. Durakovic protested, as did most of Olympic's other players in the vicinity.

Bresciano decided to take the responsibility of the kick when Marth was another Carlton option. Bresciano had a strong tailwind assisting, but stuttered his run-in, perhaps seeking to have Bouhoutsos commit to a movement. Bouhoutsos remained focused and was able to block Bresciano's shot which was played overly close to his left. The danger was then cleared with a defensive hack away.

"That's the way football is," said Carlton coach Eddie Krncevic. "Today it was a case when it wouldn't go in for us. I thought we did really well. Good players miss penalties - the best players in the world miss penalties, including myself."

Bresciano had an opportunity to make amends ten minutes later after Joe Tricarico set him up for a shot but again found Bouhoutsos rather than the net.

Although the penalty award and the subsequent save will remain foremost in the spectators' memory of the match, there was much else of significance on display.

Both teams had sparkling periods of fast and accurate one-touch football which brought them within range of goal without often troubling it.

Just before the half came two incidents each deserving to end in a goal. In the 43rd minute Joe Tricarico - so often the avenue through which Carlton's brightest moments have come - played a ball to Marth laying in wait just outside the penalty area. Marth's powerful shot blasted off the bar. Scarcely a minute later, the hard-working Tricarico sent in a cross from the right to the near post where Andy Vlahos got a glancing touch, sending it to the far post just beyond the despairing reach of Moreira with Bouhoutsos stranded.

The end to end action continued in the second half. Vlahos set up Tricarico whose 65th minute shot from 30 metres and aided by the tailwind, arrowed goalwards only to be stopped by a fine Bouhoutsos diving save. Before the crowd's applause had died away, Olympic's giant defender Ante Juric stormed upfield and passed to Jason Culina on the left wing. Culina's cross was flighted for Pablo Cardozo, but Cardozo's header was gratefully beaten away by Carlton keeper Adrian Cagalj, once again holding his place and preventing Dean Anastasiadis returning to first-team action.

Despite Olympic's poor form away - they had taken only three points from five away games compared to 13 from five at home - the visitors continued to attack in numbers whenever the opportunity rose.

"I try to take it up to other teams. We'll go out there and just pull off something they're not ready for," said Culina. "Had that worked, I think we would have probably just managed to pinch the game."

Only one of the six substitutes was given game-time - Norman Tome came on for Olympic with just eleven minutes left, replacing Carlos Gonzalez, whereas Carlton retained its starting eleven for the full ninety minutes - the first time in Carlton's short national league history this has occurred.

Eddie Krncevic has a plan for dealing with John Markovski, now with Perth Glory after last season being a Carlton player, in next week's top of the table clash with Glory, "I'm going to try to take him out on Saturday night all night!"