Saturday, 5 March 2005 1:15 AM
By Michael Tsoukalis
Defying even the expectations of the most enthusiastic, South Melbourne have extended their lead atop the Vodafone Premier League to 5 points defeating the Oakleigh Cannons 0-1.
In front of 5,500 spectators, the packed Jack Edwards Reserve laid witness to an epic encounter where mentality and approach played as big a role as quality and skill.
South coach John Anastasiadis made the expected change of Peter Koutsoupias as a direct replacement for the suspended Ryan Dinse. Koutsoupias aside, the team remained unchanged from the game against Bulleen on Monday. The ever-present Dean Anastasiadis lined up in goals, Arthur Tsonis and Con Blatsis formed the heart of the defence with Rama Tavasancioglu and Arthur Tsirtsakis left and right back respectively. In the middle Evan Karavitis partnered Scot Macnicol with Vasilios Natsioulas patrolling the right wing and Koutsoupias the left. Up front the familiar pairing of Kosta Salapasidis – used largely in a free roaming role – and Vaughn Coveny resumed their partnership.
The game commenced with Oakleigh bossing proceedings, whilst they were not all over South, they were knocking the ball around in more dangerous areas and looked more of a threat. As early as the 7th minute, ex-South trialist Nick Marinos was played through, with a defender closing, he took a touch and fired a decent effort – from the edge of the area – on goal, the shot was initially fumbled by Anastasiadis who then did well to recover and smother his body over the ball.
With 12 minutes played a Salapasidis corner was met by a rising Blatsis, who unmarked, misdirected his header. From the resulting play, Oakleigh played a ball forward to the tricky Juan Nilo. Nilo cleverly dummied over the ball, skinning Arthur Tsirtsakis in the process, narrowing in on goal from a tight angle and with only Anastasiadis to beat, Nilo shot agonisingly wide.
The game was beginning to take shape with both sides over their initial nerves. Openings were being created more regularly with an inspirational 17th minute Tsirtsakis run – that saw the South defender enter the Oakleigh area – well cleaned up by Oakleigh custodian Stuart Webster who raced off his line to smother. A minute later ex-South legend Steve Panopoulos saw a well hit low drive well saved by Anastasiadis with a 19th minute Coveny dash down the right wing resulting in the South captain miscuing his eventual attempt and blazing over.
South’s best opportunity of the half fell to the skilful Salapasidis who managed to get onto Koutsoupias’ slight cutback and unleash a well placed 21st minute curler, that Oakleigh keeper Webster did well to read and save easily down to his left.
Panopoulos was doing his best to control the centre of the park and almost stamped his authority on the contest when he unleashed a stinging 30 yard angled effort – in the 36th minute – that looked destined for the top right-hand corner but sailed narrowly wide.
Looking for the killer blow before half time Oakleigh saw a goal disallowed in the 37th minute. Striker Nick Marinos was brilliantly played in behind the South defence, his first touched appeared a good one and with his second he comfortably stroked the ball past the oncoming Anastasiadis. As Oakleigh broke into celebration the goal was disallowed with the linesman signalling that Marinos had controlled the ball with his hand. Nilo then had a 39th minute strike well saved by Anastasiadis with South finishing the half strongly with the slowly gaining in confidence Koutsoupias latching onto a 43rd minute release ball from Salapasidis, Koutsoupias used his immense pace to sprint down the left wing and angle an accurate shot on goal that Webster did well to parry for a corner. From the resulting corner, box mayhem ensued with Salapasidis’s cross finding an Oakleigh player who nearly turned his header into his own net.
The second half commenced with South starting to gain control, George Tzirtis was brought on at half time for Evan Karavitis and was given a nullifying role on Oakleigh striker Ante Pelikan. Oakleigh however nearly went ahead, 52 minutes in diminutive midfielder Tsouramanis made a sharp run into the heart of the South box, skipping past Blatsis Tsouramanis centred, with a simple touch all that was required for the go-ahead goal. Thankfully for South they managed to cover well and just as the Oakleigh frontline was closing in on making contact, South cleared.
South were beginning to threaten with Natsioulas producing a class 57th minute turn on the edge of the area, only for his subsequent shot to go well over. Then a minute later Salapasidis once again released Koutsoupias, his touch was slightly too powerful but the pacy South winger/striker chased down the ball and collided with the Oakleigh defence just as keeper Webster was closing in.
Having been a constant thorn in the Oakleigh defence Salapasidis was inches away from volleying South into a 67th minute lead. Receiving a deep cross from the right, Salapasidis unleashed a side snap-shot that trickled just past the right hand post. Salapasidis was again at the heart of South’s next half-chance. The ex-Parramatta striker sent a 74th minute free kick deep into the Oakleigh area, the ball fell perfectly to Blatsis who completely missed the ball when about to strike.
With Oakleigh having gone cold, Ante Pelikan nearly provided the much needed inspiration, with 78 minutes gone, Pelikan whipped in a flashing cross from the right that evaded the entire South defence and nearly sneaked in on the back post.
South continued to press and appeared to have had their reward when Coveny broke into the Oakleigh area and sharply squared across the Cannon’s goalmouth, keeper Webster got a fingertip to the ball and diverted it straight to Koutsoupias who was on hand to tuck home in the 82nd minute. Delirium broke out with South’s travelling supporters celebrating wildly, unfortunately for South, Koutsoupias’s goal was denied for a sketchy offside.
A draw seemed the likely result until Salapasidis exploded into a left sided run that saw him enter the Oakleigh area and be up-ended as he took his next touch. Referee Domenic Barba pointed to the spot immediately. Captain Coveny stepped up and placed his penalty well to the bottom left only to see the excellent Webster save at full stretch, however thankfully for South, “fox-in-the-box” Koutsoupias was on hand to pounce on the rebound and smash home the decider in the 86th minute.
With a late goal on the board South desperately tried to hang on, Con Blatsis continued to rule over anything that was in the air defensively with the visitors almost managing a second when a cross was dealt with poorly by the Oakleigh backline with the ball eventually falling to Salapasidis who lacked composure on this occasion and blazed over from the edge of the Oakleigh area in the dying minutes.
Referee Barba finally blew the whistle after a good 4-5 minutes of extra time, the South bench immediately broke into cheer and perhaps somewhat symbolically, the players made their way towards the travelling supporters and proceeded to celebrate with their adoring faithful.
Venue: Jack Edwards Reserve, Oakleigh
Referee: Domenic Barba
Oakleigh Cannons: (4-4-2) Webster, Tolios, Anthopoulos (c), Rosman (Sulemani 88), Kovacic, Poutakidis, Pelikan, Panopoulos, Tzouromanis, Marinos (Daglis 70), Nilo. Subs not used: Latinopoulos, Drossos, Kumar.
South Melbourne: (4-5-1) Dean Anastasiadis, Tsirtsakis, Blatsis, Tsonis, Tavsancioglu, Natsioulas (Krncevic 81), MacNicol (O’Dor 94), Karavitis (Tzirtis 46), Salapasidis, Koutsoupias, Coveny (c). Subs not used: De Nettis, Dimitropulos (GK).
Cautions: Coveny (SM) 25, Poutakidis (OC) 41, Salapasidis (SM) 42, Blatsis (SM) 46, Tzouromanis (OC) 53, Panopoulos (OC) 60, Tolios (OC) 71.
Red Cards: (none)