Sunday, 11 January 2004 12:00 AM
By Michael Tsoukalis
Vaughn Coveny made amends for his penalty miss against the Wollongong Wolves by firing home a 65th minute spot-kick to give South a hard-fought – yet priceless – victory against a gallant Sydney United.
Coveny collected his 100th NSL career goal in a game that also celebrated South legend Paul Trimboli’s rise into second position for the all-time NSL games played.
The opening 20 minutes saw Stuart Munro’s men play a great brand of cohesive and attacking football. Con Boutsianis signalled the home team’s intentions early on with a great free kick attempt from 30 yards out. Sydney United custodian Liam Reddy clearly hampered by glare, did well to clutch the ball.
South’s attacking pressure resulted in another great opportunity in the 13th minute, a deep ball from the South midfield saw South striker Michael Curcija contest the high ball on the edge of the United defensive area. The ball fell to Young Socceroo Vince Lia who from outside the box – and on his non favoured left side – unleashed a brilliant curling effort that was destined for Reddy’s right-hand top corner only for the Ex-Parramatta Power keeper to pull off a wonderful save at full stretch.
Two minutes later Lia once again found himself in a great attacking position on the right, Boutsianis with great vision played a great through ball to the South starlet who’s first touch took him reasonably deep into the United area and his subsequent outside-of-the-foot right-foot rocket curled just wide with Reddy well beaten.
With South feasting on attacking adrenalin, another chance went begging in the 16th minute. Right wingback Simon Storey sent in a deep cross for Captain Coveny to head across Reddy’s goalmouth, the ball fell to Boustianis who unfortunately couldn’t keep his half volleyed attempt down.
United’s first genuine impact came in the 21st minute, with seemingly tons of time to clear the ball Ante Kovacevic hesitated with the ever-alert Zeljko Babic stealing the ball from the South defender and honing in on goal, the United marksmen found made his way into the box and with only South debutant Michael Theoklitos – who came in due to the international commitments of usual South number 1 Eugene Galekovic – to beat, Babic’s attempt was foiled by a great save – with his feet – by Theoklitos.
The 28th minute saw South waste a golden opportunity, midfield stalwart Michael Panopoulos played a brilliant through ball in behind the Sydney United defence and unleashed Curcija tête-à-tête with United custodian Reddy, thundering in on goal Curcija opted for power but seemingly forgot about placement resulting in his strike cannoning off Reddy for a corner.
Curcija’s miss was to be the last golden opportunity for quite a spell, both sides went into the dressing rooms at half time knowing that a positive result was still achievable, however, with the guilt edged chances that South had wasted in the first period Stuart Munro would’ve no doubt been grilling his men about their composure in front of goal.
The second stanza started with United’s defensive strength firmly in gear, South continued to have large chunks of the ball but the chances were simply not being created.
Then in the 55th minute seemingly against play, United striker Brendan Santalab – with his back to goal – found the ball at his feet deep into the South defensive area, Santalab shielded the ball well for a good 15 seconds before deciding to turn only to be met with a mistimed lunge from South defender Mehmet Durakovic that gave referee Eddie Lennie no choice but to point to the spot. With the South faithful dejected and fearing that another loss would largely harm their current campaign, and unlikely hero emerged. As Brendan Santalab approached the ball to convert the penalty, Theoklitos chose correctly and pulled off a wonder-save down low to his right, it was a moment to savour for the ex-Blackpool keeper who has been very patient in waiting for his opportunity and grasped it with a season-turning save.
With South thankful for the heroics of Theoklitos, up stepped another young-gun to provide much needed inspiration. The 64th minute saw Vince Lia play a superb delicate ball from the right over the United defence to release South captain Vaughn Coveny, Coveny knocked the ball past Reddy who in the process brought down the South captain with the consistent Lennie on hand to whistle for his second spot kick of the evening. Up stepped Coveny to smash home his 100th NSL career goal as well as to give South a much needed boost.
Not content with one goal as insurance South pressed for a second, the 69th minute saw a deep Boustianis free kick find its way to the United back-post where Curcija was on hand to meet thunderously with a volley that unfortunately for home side went straight a Reddy who gloved well.
With the game entering the last 20 minutes, United began to up their tempo and dominate possession in the hope of pushing for an equaliser. The chance the “Bravehearts” had been building towards arrived in the 85th minute when a quality cross from the right, was met 6 yards out by an attacking United player who made great headed contact only to be foiled by another world class point blank save by the brilliant Theoklitos. Theoklitos’s save capped off a great debut for the South custodian and ensured South’s push for a top three position remains firmly in tact.