Thursday, 8 January 2004 12:00 AM
By Michael Tsoukalis
This Sunday’s encounter looms as an extremely important fixture for both Sydney United and the home side South Melbourne.
With South having opened up a 4 point lead atop the NSL just 3 weeks ago, Stuart Munro’s men looked in a great position to comfortably make the finals. Two narrow successive losses to the Wollongong Wolves and the Brisbane Strikers have put South in a somewhat uncomfortable 3rd position with the teams behind them having games in hand.
Sydney United may have the league’s best defence – having only conceded an astonishing 7 goals thus far (though midweek the United defence leaked 5 against the Power) – however, their lack of productivity in front of goals sees them clinging on the edge of the final’s race in 6th position.
Rookie NSL Coach Grant Lee has managed to form a very competitive unit with a defensive emphasis on – like many clubs in the NSL this season – a very low budget. Makeshift defender Damon Collina has done a superb job linking with experienced NSL campaigners Mark Rudan and Joe Vrkic to form the league’s best defence. United’s defensive strength was also boosted pre-season with the acquisition of ex-Parramatta Power custodian Liam Reddy who has re-affirmed the belief that he is one the best young keepers in the country with a great start to his career as a “Braveheart”.
The nippy roaming presence of influential midfielder Anthony Doumanis is always a concern for the opposition as is the sheer pace and acceleration that forward Zeljko Babic brings to the line-up. Babic has been vastly out of form this season having only scored once, however, this fact alone should make the South defence weary as Babic’s immense work rate always presents a danger to the opposition.
Conversely, South will be hoping that Marcus Stergiopoulos pulls up fit after missing the past two encounters with an injured ankle. Stergiopoulos’s presence has been vastly missed as his holding role in front of the defence has been of great importance in South’s tremendous first half of the season. Furthermore the late withdrawal – to injury – of left wingback Sam Poutakidis in last week’s encounter against the Strikers also saw South loose one of their most consistent performers to date. The South faithful and coaching staff will be hoping that Poutakidis returns as soon as possible.
South’s squad depth is well known across the league and the challenge will once again be left up to Coach Munro to find his best 11. With a vast array of experienced campaigners and talented youth players at his disposal, it shall be interesting to see if the former Glasgow Rangers stalwart can find the right mix.