Saturday, 31 January 2004 12:00 AM
By Michael Tsoukalis
A Kristian Sarkies inspired South Melbourne have comfortably defeated cross-town rivals the Melbourne Knights in the final meeting between the two stalwarts of Victorian football in NSL competition.
Unaware of where their futures lie, the Knights players appeared flat throughout the encounter. That said one can take nothing away from the accomplished performance of the Lakeside club, especially the new centre-midfield combination of young-guns Massimo Murdocca and Kristian Sarkies, who defied their tender years and dominated the middle.
With such a gap in the club’s fortunes it didn’t take long for South to assert their intentions. In only the 2nd minute of play South striker Michael Curcija found himself in some space in the Knight’s box, Curcija’s shot on the turn was decent but unfortunately for the home side, strayed wide.
The game then went through a semi-lull period where the home side seemed to be expecting something to happen as opposed to dictating the play and hence making sure something did happen. A goal was needed to kick-start the South onslaught and Curcija was on hand to provide the inspiration, after being fed the ball on the edge of the South area, Curcija shielded the ball well and made space for a powerful strike, the South faithful were soon up in the air celebrating the game’s opener after Curcija’s strike took a wicked deflection off Knight’s defender Adrian Leijer and ballooned over Knight’s custodian Vilson Knezevic in the 23rd minute.
South then went on rampage creating a guilt-edged chance in the 27th minute after great work from midfield dynamo Murdocca found Vince Lia in acres of space down the right flank; Lia’s subsequent cross was inch perfect for Curcija who failed to make decent contact, miscuing his header and failing to test Knezevic.
A minute later the preciseness of Kristian Sarkies’s passing picked out Curcija on the edge of the Knight’s defensive area, sensing Knezevic was off his line, Curcija attempted an intuitive lob that narrowly sailed over the goalmouth and finally rested on the top of the net.
By now South were comfortably on top, enjoying the lion’s share of possession and looking dangerous at all times. Ever increasing in confidence one could sense a genuine buzz every time young sensation Kristian Sarkies touched the ball. The 40th minute saw the VIS product stamp his arrival on the NSL stage with a wonder-strike. Receiving the ball deep in the Knight’s defensive area, Sarkies put his head down, rounded a defender and at the same time created enough space to unleash a dipping and curling 25 yard effort that sailed over a helpless Knezevic and nestled in the bottom right hand corner. It was a goal of instinctive brilliance and even more astonishing when one considers Sarkies at only 17, has the confidence in his own ability to grab a game by the scruff of the neck.
South came out in the 2nd half keen to add to the score-line and with only 52 minutes gone, Sarkies added an assist to his sterling display after brilliantly feeding Curcija on the edge of the box, the South marksman controlled once and then calmly stroked past Knezevic to make it 3-0.
Searching for a fourth, the mercurial Con Boustianis was unlucky not to add one of his trademark free-kicks to the scoreline after his 67th minute effort was parried by Knezevic onto the left upright.
Deflated after clearly been outplayed, Tom Razov provided the Knights with their best moment of the derby, unleashing a stinging 70th minute drive that narrowly whistled past South keeper Michael Theoklitos’s upright.
After coming on at half time, South striker Scott Tunbridge was bristling with enthusiasm and busting to prove a point to coach Stuart Munro in the hope of securing a starting position, Tunbridge had been unlucky in the 72nd minute after a cross from the right from Ante Kovacevic saw the him rise amazingly well to head just wide. Tunbridge’s persistence and hard working qualities were rewarded right at the death when a Boutsianis strike from outside the box was parried by Knezevic into the path of the ex-Adelaide City forward who was on hand to tap home a much deserved goal and to put the icing on a sterling South display.