Monday, 26 January 2004 12:00 AM
By Michael Tsoukalis
The Australia day affair that promised much, delivered on many of the promises bar delivering a goal and hence a victor. The inaugural SEN cup saw both South and Perth battle gallantly with the Glory looking dangerous on the counter; whilst the home side carved out the majority of the chances and went on to rue a host of missed first half opportunities. Opportunities which ensured the cup will remain at SEN headquarters until perhaps next season.
With the biggest crowd at Bob Jane of the season, South came out looking to dictate the play early on with young-gun Vince Lia going close on two occasions within the first 15 minutes. Lia’s first chance came when left wingback Simon Storey proceeded dangerously into the Glory area and whipped in a dangerous cross/shot that Perth custodian Jason Petkovic parried into the path of Lia, with Glory defenders hurriedly swarming back, Lia chose to shoot at goal and saw his strike cleared off the line by a Glory defender with South striker Michael Curcija brilliantly placed and waiting for the cutback.
Soon after Lia was at it again, with the ball appearing to be heading out, Con Boustianis cheekily back-heeled and kept the ball in play, fortunately for South the ball fell to Lia who composed himself and took the ball around his direct defender and then fired a stinging drive that Petkovic did well to save.
The 24th minute saw brilliant interplay between Lia and Boutsianis lead to Boutsianis breaking towards goal, with defensive pressure behind him, Boutsianis managed a decent shot that Petkovic did well to save once again.
With South buzzing and searching for the opener, midfield general Michael Panopoulos decided to take matters into his own hands, with the ball falling to the ex-Greek Under 21 international, Panopoulos’s first touch took him cleanly past his direct marker, with the South faithful urging him to shoot, Panopoulos sent a 29th minute deflected strike – from just outside the box – onto the roof of Petkovic’s net. Petkovic appeared to have been fooled by the deflection and hence was helpless as he watched the ball dip just over.
Having weathered the South barrage in the first 30 minutes, the Glory started to settle and went on to create some chances late on in the first half. Firstly, offensive danger-man Bobby Despotovski saw a 30th minute free-kick – from edge of the South defensive area – curl narrowly wide. Then 3 minutes later, dangerous midfield dynamo Tom Pondeljak found some space deep in South’s defensive half; taking one touch to put the ball on his right foot, the ex-Olympic favourite struck solidly and forced South keeper Michael Theoklitos into a sharpish palm over the goalmouth.
South’s final attacking move before half time saw Lia who was having a glorious first half, once again send in a teasing early lowball to the Glory back-post that evaded everyone bar South captain Vaughn Coveny, who intelligently cut inside and let loose with a cleanly hit 44th minute right footed strike that Perth stalwart Petkovic once again did well to save.
With South seemingly toying with the Glory in the opening half, Perth came out in the second half with a far tighter approach and as a result, limited the home side’s attacking effectiveness. South received a wakeup call almost immediately after the re-start, the ever-dangerous Pondeljak whipped in a dangerous ball from the right that was met by ex-Adelaide City Striker Brad Hassell, Hassell made decent headed contact but rising star Theoklitos was on hand to react brilliantly and palm over in the 47th minute.
South started to deviate from their attacking menace throughout the second half, perhaps tiredness had started to set in after a monumental first half showing, perhaps frustration at not being able to get that much deserved goal had begun to bite at the player’s psyche, whatever the rationale, South started playing the long ball far too often and as a result rarely got behind the Perth defence again. However, the 52nd minute saw Con Boutsianis find that much needed space down the left hand side, Boutsianis weaved his way into a good crossing position and then sharply squared for an incoming Curcija who with the crowd waiting in anticipation, failed to get decent headed contact – after immense defensive pressure – and the chance was lost.
Perhaps South’s best opportunity arrived in the 58th minute when the enigmatic Boutsianis quickly took a free kick from the right close to the Glory box, Boutsianis’s low bumbling ball into the Glory area seemed to evade and mislead players from both sides and eventually fell to an unsuspecting Ante Kovacevic who must not have been expecting the ball to fall his way, picking it up late, Kovacevic toe poked wide from 4 yards out with Petkovic stranded and an open goal begging.
With the home side clearly tiring, chances became few and far between and the Glory started to gain confidence culminating in a 74th minute break down the right by Perth forward Despotovski, who scrambled his way into some space and squared for the incoming Pondeljak who was slightly off balanced and hence saw his attempted chip go over Theoklitos’s goalmouth.
South’s final opportunity arrived in the 84th minute after substitute Scott Tunbridge whipped in a quality centre from the left, Coveny rose and sent a looping header towards goal only to see the outstanding Petkovic on hand to once again palm over.