Wednesday, 21 January 2004 12:00 AM
By Michael Tsoukalis
Australia Day looms as the date for perhaps the biggest encounter of the NSL season. Reigning champions the Perth Glory come to Bob Jane Stadium looking to all but secure the minor premiership, whereas a victory for the home side could see Stuart Munro’s men get a stranglehold on a coveted top two position.
The Glory are in ominous form and after a tough first half of the season where they played an unprecedented amount of away games – due to the construction of the newly built Members Equity Stadium – now face a consistent run of home games which has seen them skyrocket 5 points clear and with a game in hand.
Conversely South are locked in a battle with the Parramatta Power in the race for the coveted second spot, both sides are locked on 32 points and have a goal difference of +20.
The past month has seen South go through a somewhat patchy run of form, an unlucky result against the Wolves at home followed by a disappointing loss to the Northern Spirit away saw Stuart Munro’s men desperately in need of a result against Sydney United. Fortunately for the Lakesiders a Vaughn Coveny penalty was enough to earn them a crucial victory and get their finals push back on track.
Perth Glory’s roster depth is revered throughout the league; most notably their ability to spread the goal-scoring load should make any defence extremely weary. Potential threats loom in players such as Tom Pondeljak, Nick Mrdja and the ever-dangerous attacking duo of Bobby Despotovski and Damian Mori, these 4 players have contributed 28 of the 39 goals the Glory have scored to date and as such a positive result for South Melbourne could potential lie in nullifying the effectiveness of this high-flying quartet.
The attacking prowess of the Glory has been well documented, however, a consistent balance can be found right throughout their squad. Custodian Jason Petkovic has been one of the leagues marquee goalkeepers for many seasons, in front of him the experience of Sean Murphy and Matthew Bingley provide a solid base for defensive resistance, their presence is well complemented by the youth of up-and-coming defenders Mark Byrnes and Jade North (who will be missing on Olyroo duty). The recent return of Glory defensive favourite Jamie Harnwell only further seeks to solidify the Glory’s backline.
Conversely South will be keen for a positive showing and result to regain the tag of genuine championship contenders. The side has recently been boosted by the superb form of youngsters Vince Lia and Kristian Sarkies. Lia has shown amazing maturity down both flanks, choosing the right moment to attack and finishing his elusiveness down the wing with superb delivery. On the other hand Sarkies has defied all expectations, after making his debut at 16, the now 17 year old midfield workhorse has gone on to play at a level that defies his tender age, his confidence on the ball coupled with his immense self belief has seen the VIS graduate establish himself as one of the best talents in the country.
Coach Munro will have a near full squad to choose from as Marcus Stergiopoulos appears to have recovered from a recent ankle injury. With depth to be found all over the park, Munro will no doubt be stretched when selection time arrives, finding the right balance will be crucial, however, with both sides desperate for victory what is for certain is that a great spectacle of football awaits.