Almanac Soccer: South Melbourne Riding The Season On A High

 

 

 

 

Before I get into match reporting, South Melbourne hosted Hume City on the 1st of May, a nominated fixture to play for the perpetual Tony Clarke Memorial Cup. The curtain raiser for this game was the Tony Clarke Memorial Shield where Victoria Police “Copperoos” play against former Australian football representatives, with the likes of Mark Bresciano and Vince Grella within the squad. The match itself is organised by Victoria Police Soccer Club and the Blue Ribbon Foundation.

 

The Blue Ribbon Foundation honours police officers who have made the ultimate sacrifice in the line of duty. Tony Clarke in particular, a South Melbourne Hellas fan, was murdered in the line of duty in April 2005 after a routine traffic stop. No further details of the crime will be explained and readers are welcomed investigate of their own accord but I will remain reverent here.

 

Ultimately from the investigation and coroner’s inquest, the aftermath of Tony Clarke’s case produced an overhaul of management of general policing where there will no longer be solo patrols but rather paired officers during a shift to increase their safety and wellbeing, but also a re-development of their holsters that were deemed unfit and insufficient to secure their weapons properly.

 

The game itself ended in a 2-1 victory for South, with debutant Josh Barresi named as best on ground and awarded an accolade for the perpetual cup fixture. This game shall be footnoted where key players were rested for the upcoming fixture on the 4th of May, which demonstrated the depth of South’s squad depth and a reassurance of their worthiness as title contenders.

 

After 10 rounds of the National Premier League fixture, South remain undefeated with six wins and four draws, conceding only five goals. The second-best defensive records are held by the second and third placed teams (Avondale and Heidelberg) who have conceded nine goals and remain just one point behind South Melbourne on the table.

 

 

Tony Clarke Perptual Trophy awarded by Clarke’s son

FFA Cup Round 5: The Derby

 

With just days to recover from their league game, South drew Melbourne Knights at home on Tuesday night. This is regarded as the ‘original’ Melbourne derby between two of the biggest Victorian clubs that participated in the now defunct National Soccer League last century.

 

7.00pm kick off on a very cold Tuesday only attracted about 800-900 spectators, a somewhat underwhelming turnout. Worse still, no streaming services were facilitated by the FFA Cup organisers as it was too early in the tournament to do so and out of Football Victoria’s hands to do something about it. The only saving grace was South Melbourne’s media staff who organised a highlights package for those who missed out. This was one the most dramatic cup ties I’ve witnessed in a long time.

 

The first half was a forgettable affair with the typical passive build up as players tried to maintain their composure and nerves for such a fixture. Fans were quite vocal on both sides and the sound was amplified by the Lakeside Stadium grandstand roof to clearly reflect the disdain and anger at every tackle and referee call that went against their team.

 

 

 

 

In the second half, Knights took the lead from a cross into the box. A small scramble and errors of attempted clearances fooled defenders of the ball’s trajectory where it landed for an unmarked Knights player to smash it home and celebrate in the direction of the South fans in cheeky fashion, suggesting that they pipe down.

 

Ten minutes from full time we’ve witnessed the Knight’s assistant coach pick up the ball from the sideline and throw it towards the grandstand to “waste time” but, stupidly and hilariously,  he received a red card and his marching orders.

 

Desperation and aggression from South grew towards the end as they pressed on while the Knights parked the bus and continuously made individual mistakes, such as accidentally taking the ball out for a throw in or conceding possession from passes due to South’s discipline of high press and man marking.

 

South’s keeper Pierce Clark misplaced his pass into the Knights’ forward line – to everyone’s surprise. An open goal gaped as everyone tried to chase the ball. Women squealed in the stands, there was panicked shouting from the bench, and the Knights’ striker fluffed his shot onto the cross bar from an acute angle at close range.  It should have been game over.

 

Frustration grew as 90 minutes passed. Some assumed defeat as South struggled to create any sort of chance, having missed a one-on-one chance and dependent on their attacking play by running down the wing to cross and hoping for the best.

 

Bizarrely, South’s No. 9 Harrison Sawyer was fouled in the box and a penalty was given.

 

In the 95th minute and with virtually the last kick of the game, Jankovic, the son of Milan Jankovic who played for Real Madrid, stepped up to rescue South’s campaign. A low shot driven to the right corner flew centimetres out of reach for the Knights’ keeper, bulged the back of the net and caused utter jubilation at the formerly known Bob Jane stadium.

 

 

Celebrations after Jankovic’s equaliser

 

 

We entered another half hour of extra time where the Knights had their backs against the wall from an avalanche of attacks thrown at them by South. A looping header by Sawyer from the edge of the box made everyone believe it would go in as the keeper was off his line. But, making contact with his fingertips, he managed to stop the momentum and chase back to clear it off the line.

 

The whistle blew and it was down to a penalty shootout. By a trivial and freaky coincidence, almost to the day (by 24 hours), it would have been exactly thirty years since the fateful 1991 NSL Grand Final between South Melbourne and Melbourne Croatia (Knights) which ended all square at 1-1 when South, coached by the late Ferenc Puskas, had to equalise and win the championship via a penalty shootout.

 

In a way, history repeated itself. South Melbourne won the shootout 4-1 and the fans ran towards the fence in pandemonium to witness such a story unfolding on the pitch. Knights missed two of their shots, one on the cross bar and the second saved by Pierce Clark. The sheer joy and anxiety throughout the game was refreshing for me to experience as I have been emotional uninvested in local football teams for quite some time and haven’t experienced much of the emotional roller coaster at Melbourne City games inside AAMI Park.

 

South Melbourne’s cup campaigns live on for another round with a result that will be hard to forget.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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