Souths v Syd Utd

Round 13 report by Alan Clark
South Melbourne v Sydney United

Sydney United player-coach David Mitchell was a very unhappy man at the post-match media conference, following his team's defeat at the hands of South Melbourne courtesy of Vaughan Coveny's 52nd minute goal. "I'd like the statistics about how many get sent off at South Melbourne this and the past seasons - they just milk it. And it's a pity because they're a good team."

What had irked him so was that four Sydney United player had been booked within the first 34 minutes leading to referee Mark Shield and United's experienced captain Velimir Kupresak having a mid-pitch conference following which Kupresak had returned to his defensive position urging his players to settle down. With so many booked so early, you'd never back the game to end with the full complement of players.

The captain's words had some effect, or at least until the 67th minute, at which time the inevitable occurred: one of the four - midfielder David Bennett - managed to earn a second yellow to conclude his further participation in this enthralling game between two of the league's pedigree and form sides.

Jacob Burns, another to be cautioned in this early flurry, also saw the referee's red card but in the game's added time. Although that dismissal had little direct effect on this game, he will be suspended for next week's tussle against Gippsland Falcons

"We've had the best disciplinary record all season. We've had two or three players booked all season, and we've had two sent off today," said Mitchell, who had himself been cautioned just seven minutes after bringing himself on to add firepower to United's attack.

The five United players booked, and two dismissed, were joined in the referee's notebook by four from South Melbourne - all in the last half-hour as what had been a fast-paced game got positively frantic.

But it wasn't a dirty game - full-blooded certainly. Quick, clever, and value for money for those in attendance, as the game was in balance from the first to the last.

The teams were separated by Coveny's 52nd minute headed goal after Paul Trimboli had picked up a David Clarkson ball which sent him wide to the right and at the edge of the penalty-area. The only crossing option open was to the edge of the six-yard box where Coveny rose high to head home past the otherwise faultless Andrew Crews.

As the sides were evenly matched, it was always likely that if the game were to be won, it would be by this narrowest of margins. From the very beginning, both teams were committed to midfield possession, working hard off the ball to create some space, probing for the ball that would set their speedy front players free - Coveny and Michael Curcija for South Melbourne, Joel Griffiths and Michael Sterjovski for Sydney United.

Kuprsesak used all his experience and his marshalling of Richard Plesa and Joe Vrkic to keep Coveny and Curcija at bay, looking only slightly at the disadvantage when asked to match them in a footrace. But there was no passing him in the air, nor the merest hint of possibility of winning a face-to-face duel.

Slighter in frame than Kupresak, giving away centimetres as well as kilos was South Melbourne's Fausto De Amicis. What he lacks in physical presence, De Amicis has in football craft - an ability to read the play, organise his marking defenders, spot the potential for danger, and recognise the positioning of his supporting players. He too became next to impassable.

Clarkson had shot wide in the early period, Curcija and Jason Polak also had chances before the first half ended for South, and Bennett had United's best effort well saved by Michael Petkovic after Michael Santalab had beaten Goran Lozanovski down the left.

Lozanovski did not take the field after the break and was replaced by Robert Liparoti.

Two minutes into the second half, Clarkson gave himself the opportunity to repeat his net-bursting goal against Wollongong, but despite it being on target, Crews made an athletic diving save.

Then came Coveney's goal, and rather than dishearten Sydney United, it seemed to act as a spur. Wave after wave of United attack ensued as the Sydney-siders committed to the equaliser. In contrast, South rather lost their way - a fact which caused South coach Ange Postecoglou some discomfort. "We were one-nil up, we had an extra man, we should have just controlled the game. I just wasn't happy with the way we dealt with it."

Just as the pressure looked as if it might cause South to crack, Peter Bennett drew his second yellow card for a rash tackle near the player's tunnel, and so didn't have far to walk to leave the game. But still United's mind was on the equaliser. In the 69th minute, Griffiths had finally managed to outrun De Amicis and cut the ball back to Sterjovski. Petkovic came bravely out and managed to block the shot when a goal seemed the more likely outcome.

Griffiths had another opportunity after beating Nick Orlic but his subsequent shot earnt the meagre reward of a corner.

By this stage, Mitchell had brought himself on and was making a telling contribution to the attack, but he too exhausted the referee's patience and had his name taken. What had so incensed Mitchell was an earlier incident involving him and Petkovic when Mitchell's foot was caught by Petkovic, sending Mitchell sprawling in the penalty-area.

George Goutzioulis had a late long-range effort saved by Crews, John Anastasiadis - coming on again as a late substitute - thought he scored only to see the assistant's flag raised and the goal disallowed.