Monday, 28 February 2005 11:49 PM
By Michael Tsoukalis
In front of a packed house at the Veneto Club, South Melbourne have gone atop the Vodafone Premier league with a thoroughly professional 0-1 victory.
With the majority of the crowd travelling South Melbourne faithful, the Veneto club resembled a home away from home for the Albert Park-based club.
Coach Anastasiadis made one change to the line-up bringing in experienced centre-back Con Blatsis for the injured Steven O’Dor. The game represented Blatsis’s first game back since his overseas departure. With Dean Anastasiadis in goal, Arthur Tsonis partnering Blatsis and with Arthur Tsirtsakis and Ramazan Tavsanciouglu patrolling the right and left wingback positions respectively, South’s backline looked particular assured. In the centre of the park Evan Karavitis resumed his defensive midfield duties alongside Scot MacNicol who was playing in a more attacking, central midfield role. The left and right wings were patrolled by Ryan Dinse and Vasilios Natsioulas with Kosta Salapasidis and Vaughn Coveny once again in charge of leading the line for the visitors.
The first 10 or so minutes of the game were purely used for familiarisation; both teams failed to threaten, however, South seemed to have more of the possession. In the 14th minute skipper Coveny showed a glimpse of his tremendous pace, breaking down the right wing and sending in a far post cross, the ball fell to Salapasidis who intuitively tried to cut it back for an oncoming player, unfortunately for South no-one was following through and the Zebras cleared.
With 16 minutes played, South wingback Tavsanciouglu produced a brilliant piece of individual play that nearly put the visitors ahead. After making a solid run down the left wing, Tavasanciouglu sharply cut inside skipping past a player or two and then proceeded to unleash a well placed low drive that Bulleen and ex-South custodian Michael Theoklitos did well to parry.
After 18 minutes South had a defensive scare, Bulleen had won a free kick near the South area and chose smartly to chip the ball in behind the South defence as opposed to having a direct strike on goal. The Bulleen player – though on an angle – had a clear strike on goal and seemed to beat Anastasiadis with a scurrying South player on hand to clear off the line.
Then in 23rd minute South won the ball in defence and unleashed a brilliantly executed counter. Salapasidis found the ball in the centre of the park, with only one defender in his way and MacNicol making a superb run down the left, Salapasidis took his time and delivered an inch perfect through-ball that MacNicol controlled well and calmly slotted past the on-rushing Theoklitos. It was a well deserved lead for South who away from home had taken the contest to the hosts from the opening whistle.
With Salapasidis at the heart of South’s creative forward play, the former Parramatta Power star once again showcased his immense talents. Thirty-four minutes had been played when “Sala” found the ball at his feet 30 yards out from goal. His skilful step-over saw him easily skip past his direct marker to then unleash a darting bottom-right corner strike that Theoklitos – at full stretch – just managed to fingertip away for a corner.
The second half commenced with South having an early chance. In the 47th minute Con Blatsis made a sneaky late run in behind the Bulleen defence and was played in over the top by the South midfield. With time on his side, Blatsis seemed to miss the ball completely as the Zebras defence applied just enough pressure on the South colossus to distract his attempt.
Bulleen were struggling to break down the South backline and were largely relying on their set-piece play for a breakthrough. Forty-nine minutes had been played when South survived a genuine scare. A Zebras corner had been struck into the heart of the South defence with the Bulleen players challenging for the ball, mayhem ensued as both sides struggled to get a foot on the ball. Thankfully for South the ball was eventually cleared to safety.
As the game progressed the referee appeared to lose his hold on the game. Arthur Tsirtsakis appeared to be body-slammed after winning the ball and in the process tangling himself up with a Bulleen player. The referee missed the body-slam and then went on to award a free-kick to Bulleen for Tsirtsakis’s slight retaliation. The resulting 56th minute free-kick nearly found its way in as the Bulleen player unleashed a stinging ball into the heart of the South defence that was met by a Zebras player who couldn’t keep his contact low sending the ball whizzing over Anastasiadis’s crossbar.
Then in the 59th minute Scottish South winger Ryan Dinse was booked for what was a 50-50 ball. Dinse didn’t seem to challenge dangerously, in fact all he genuinely did was win the ball. The referee saw otherwise and showed him the yellow card. Slightly after the Dinse booking the referee was at it again, this time after copping a retaliation-based elbow to the head, Vasilios Natsioulas also found himself in the book, thankfully justice somewhat prevailed with the Bulleen player also receiving a booking.
South seemed rattled after the referee’s succession of disappointing judgements and gave away the ascendency to the home side. Sixty-one minutes in another Bulleen corner put the South defence under severe pressure, players from both sides scrambled for contact but thankfully for South the referee saw an infringement and whistled a foul against the Zebras.
In the 69th minute South were dealt a genuine blow with the dismissal of Ryan Dinse. A Bulleen player had broken through the centre of the park and had made his way – full steam ahead – to the top of the South area. Dinse instinctively stopped him in his tracks by bringing him down just outside the area. It was a clear-cut decision for the referee who had no choice but to send Dinse off.
South then re-adjusted with a more defensive emphasis hoping to keep the home side at bay and register a valuable victory. The Albert Park-based club had a scare in the 81st minute when a brilliant first time back-heel from a Bulleen player split the South defence, thankfully for South the experience of Dean Anastasiadis shone bright with the veteran custodian quickly off his line to gather.
South nearly went two ahead when in the 84th minute the brilliant Salapasidis almost outsmarted Bulleen keeper Theoklitos. Captain Vaughn Coveny had made a brilliant run down the right wing and just as he began to cut inside towards the Zebra’s box, was brought down. From the subsequent free-kick Salapasidis intelligently aimed for the near post when everybody was expecting a centre. Theoklitos was all at sea, but luckily for the Zebra’s keeper the ball crashed against the side netting.
The whistle came soon after with the South faithful in full voice. Coach Anastasiadis’s chargers pulled off a thoroughly professional display and deservedly sit in pole position after four rounds.