Sunday, 7 March 2004 12:00 AM
By Michael Tsoukalis
South Melbourne has turned on a gritty defensive display to grind out a nil-all draw at Marconi Stadium. South now go into next week’s second leg assured that a home victory will secure their passage to the next round of the final’s series.
Coach Stuart Munro surprised with his tactics from the onset choosing to mirror Marconi’s 4-42 formation in the hope of numbing the presence of influential centre-man Nick Carle. Selection wise Munro also pulled a few surprises leaving the mercurial Con Boutsianis on the bench and preferring Massimo Murdocca and Scott Tunbridge to Kristian Sarkies and Michael Curcija.
From the onset it was clear that South would be happy to try and absorb pressure whilst limiting Marconi’s ability to get in behind their defence, a tactic that would force the Stallions to shoot from long range. Both sides started somewhat tentatively just happy to knock the ball around and settle into the game. 9 minutes in Marconi carved out their first opportunity when the dangerous Brendan Renaud whipped in a stinging near post cross from the left that Marconi starlet Alex Brosque headed over.
South failed to take notice of the first Renaud-Brosque linkage and where subject to similar interplay between the two after 15 minutes. Renaud again found space down the left but somewhat mishit his cross, the ball bobbled low to Brosque who fired a decent strike straight at South custodian Eugene Galekovic who saved easily.
Marconi dominated possession throughout the first half but continually failed to carve out a clear cut opportunity. Frustrated by his side’s lack of attacking menace, Marcus Stergiopoulos sent a booming – though always rising – strike from 25 yards just over Marconi keeper Michael Turnbull’s goalmouth. Stergiopoulos’s shot was a timely reminder to the Stallions that even though South was content to soak up the pressure, they were equally as keen to offer something going forward.
The 27th minute saw South go painstakingly close to scoring the opener, Stergiopoulos fired in a menacing corner from the right that eluded everyone right in the heart of the Marconi box, including a desperate lunging attempt from South defender Steve Lawrie, who just failed to get his toe onto the ball.
39 minutes in and South once again gave Marconi a scare after brilliant work down the left from wingback Simon Storey saw the ex-Green Gully defender skate away from his man, Storey then played a quick one-two with Michael Panopoulos that released Storey deep into the Marconi box, with Storey approaching the goalmouth a calm head and a fierce strike was needed but unfortunately for South Storey chose to try and square the ball, a decision that the Marconi defence were well placed to handle and subsequently cleared.
The 2nd stanza began with an aura of expectation coming out of the South dressing room, just before half time Stergiopoulos had been substituted after picking up in a knock during a 50/50 challenge and was replaced by Con Boutsianis. Boutsianis is renowned for being a big-game player and his influence in the 2nd half was immediate. The 49th minute saw “Boutsi” win the ball in the centre, the ball fell to South captain Vaughn Coveny who strode well towards the Marconi goal before firing a decent shot from just outside the box that Turnbull was quickly down to save.
Suddenly the game became more open with half chances consistently being created. Joe Spiteri who was being marked by ex-Melbourne Knights team-mate Ante Kovacevic turned sharply and fired a powerful low drive that whistled just past Galekovic’s right-hand post in the 60th minute. Galekovic appeared to be struggling and was thankful the ball wasn’t hit on target. Then a minute or so later, Spiteri was played in behind the South defence, just as Spiteri was about to unleash Scott Tunbridge produced an inspirational piece of defensive work by throwing his body into the path of Marconi Striker’s shot and subsequently deflecting it away. It was no doubt a moment which typified South’s commitment to get a result, that a Striker was willing to trek all the way to opposition’s box and throw himself at the ball was inspirational for the Albert Park based club.
Marconi sensed they needed to get a goal and in the 65th minute perhaps their best chance arrived. South midfielder Sam Poutakidis lost the ball near the middle of the park with the ball eventually breaking to Brosque who was bearing down on goal with South defender Levent Osman rapidly trailing him, Brosque attempted to lob South keeper Galekovic but his attempt was going wide the moment it was struck.
Then in the 68th minute a lovely piece of interplay by Nick Carle and Brosque saw Carle presented with a decent striking opportunity, unfortunately for the home side, under pressure, Carle fired wide.
Long range shooting seemed to dominate the crux of the chances throughout the game with South’s Michael Panopoulos seeing a well-hit 70th minute drive from a decent distance outside the box sail over.
83 minutes in Carle had his best effort on goal saved at the second attempt by Galekovic. After making space for himself on the edge of the South defensive area, Carle unleashed a stinging drive towards Galekovic that the South custodian fumbled at his first attempt but did well to quickly react and glove at his second.
With the sides destined to remain at a stalemate South nearly grabbed a winner at the death when the intuitive Con Boustianis unleashed a classy searching 86th minute ball from the centre of the park that Captain Coveny only needed to touch to steer home. Luckily for the Stallions Coveny’s outstretched foot just failed to make contact with the ball and one must also mention that the South skipper was under constant pressure from a Marconi defender.
So all in all a great result for South, a win next week will see the Lakesiders progress to the next stage of the finals and to no doubt maximise our chances of success the onus will be directed out our supporters to not only get out in force, but to also offer parochial support.