Sunday, 16 November 2003 12:00 AM
By Michael Tsoukalis
An all-round superb team display has catapulted South Melbourne back into the top 4 and gone a long way in confirming their championship credentials.
Inspired by the breathtaking play of star centre-man Michael Panopoulos and the experience of Paul Trimboli; South have managed to come away from Somers St with a sterling 5-0 victory.
From the onset the Albert-Park based club asserted their dominant influence, possession was heavily in favour of Stuart Munro’s men with the side playing with an all-round cohesion that South supporters haven’t seen for quite a few years.
After early season reports that gun recruit Michael Panopoulos was underdone from a fitness perspective, the former Greek under 21 international silenced all his critics with a commanding display in the centre of the park and a breathtaking goal worthy of high accolade.
With both sides still deadlocked, a surging run through the middle of the field by Marcus Stergiopoulos released Panopoulos who – with a heavy wind behind him – unleashed 30 yard pile-driver that Knight’s custodian Tomich could do nothing about.
Panopoulos’s goal was exactly what the Lakesiders needed, their confidence skyrocketed and soon they found themselves two up. A superb overlapping run by South wingback Sam Poutakidis saw the former Port Melbourne stalwart whip in a glorious low cross that evaded everyone except South legend Paul Trimboli who was on hand to slam into the roof of the net.
South had only just begun with their third following soon after, Con Boutsianis found himself with some space on the right, he whipped in a far post cross to Trimboli, Trimboli’s brilliant chest control enabled him to evade his man and with only Tomich to beat, the South legend calmly lifted the ball over Tomich to send South three ahead.
With South buzzing and playing the type of football that can only serve to fill its supporters with joy, a fourth before half time was almost inevitable. Nearing the end of the half Boutsianis again found some space, he unleashed a low yet powerful left-foot drive the Tomich failed to glove, the inspirational Vaughn Coveny was first on hand to clean up the scraps and tuck away his 7th of the season and more importantly, South’s fourth of the derby.
Munro’s men went in at half time to a thunderous applause from the many hundred South supporters who had made the trip to Sunshine. South put on a relentless first half display that took full advantage of the relatively inexperienced Knights’ line-up.
The second stanza saw South take a more relaxed approach, with the points firmly in the bag Munro’s men looked to avoid injury and if possible pinch a goal or two to add some further insult to a greatly outclassed Melbourne Knights.
All hope of a decent second half showing was virtually immediately eliminated after Knight’s creative midfielder Andy Vargas was shown the red card for an unnecessary nudge on a South player, it was Vargas’s second yellow of the evening and served to destroy the Knight’s spirit.
Coach Munro chose to take precausive measures with the substitution of the highly influential Michael Panopoulos and slightly later, Con Boutsianis, both players had received hard knocks to their legs and were substituted with the view of retaining their fitness for next week’s bumper encounter against Adelaide United.
The Knight’s only clear opening came when South defender Steve Laurie misplaced a pass in the backline, Knight’s forward Ante Pelikan pounced on the error and agonisingly sent his low vicious drive just wide of Galekovic’s upright.
Near the end South had a goal disallowed, captain Coveny was released down the right wing and did superbly well to keep his feet, the Kiwi international proceeded to raid in on Tomich’s goal and whipped a ball across the goal-face, Curcija was on hand to meet on the volley and tuck away, however, was deemed by the linesman to have strayed offside.
Substitute Scott Tunbridge, Coveny and Curcija again had shots well saved by Tomich, but the under-fire Curcija scored perhaps the night’s classiest goal. Having won a free kick about 20-25 yards out and with Con Boutsianis having been subbed off, Curcija stepped up to end his goal-scoring drought with a stunning free kick that curled gloriously over the Knight’s wall and dipped past Tomich’s left. The South striker ran to the South bench and leapt into the arms of Michael Panopoulos, every other player on the pitch proceeded to follow, it was a glorious moment which summed up the entire South performance, one not only of elegance and style, but of extreme camaraderie.