Thursday, 14 April 2005 3:44 PM
By Michael Tsoukalis
Traditionally tense NSL rivals South Melbourne and the Preston Lions renew their rivalry this coming Sunday in the tenth round of the Vodafone Premier League.
Both sides suffered narrow losses in the previous round, with South losing its unbeaten start to the season at the hands of the Green Gully Cavaliers, going down 1-0, whilst Preston was sunk by a late Heidelberg penalty, eventually losing 1-2 to the Phil Stubbin’s coached outfit.
Rivalry aside both clubs have much to play for. With contrasting fortunes, a Preston defeat could see the Vlado Vanis-coached side enter the relegation zone, whilst a second consecutive loss for South could see its early season momentum come to a grinding halt.
The off-season for the Lions saw the departure of club captain Chris Emsovski, potent striker Naum Sekulovski, giant goalkeeper Pasi Schwalger as well as ex-Melbourne Knight’s defender Sasa Ogenovski, four major losses which have no doubt contributed to the Lion’s stuttering start to the season.
Coming into the club the Lions have looked to ex-NSL experience bringing in former South and Green Gully striker Anthony Magnacca, ex-Melbourne Knight’s youngster Serkan Oksuz as well as ex-South midfielder Stephen Pace.
Long-time Preston striker Johnny Sapazovski has started the season in good form topping the Vodafone Premier League with 4 goals thus far. Sapazovski’s lanky frame is joined up front by ex-South Melbourne youngster Steve Manceski who has proved a good foil for Sapazovski with his compact game and pace contributing 2 goals to the Preston cause. However, Manceski failed to start last week against Heidelberg with the recently signed Alex Josifovski getting the nod, meaning his contribution could be limited to an appearance off the bench.
Furthermore, Sunday signals the return to Bob Jane Stadium of ex-South right-winger Ray Sekulovski. Sekulovski was a fixture in the South starting 11 during the 2002-2003 season after then coach Eddie Krncevic had plucked him from the AIS. Finally, the Lions will be without the services of central defender Pece Dimovski after his red card against the Warriors sees him miss via suspension.
In the South camp, Coach John Anastasiadis has had his hand forced with a hamstring injury ruling out giant centre-back Arthur Tsonis for 2-3 weeks. Promising youngster Steven O’Dor who has looked at ease in his prior appearances will no doubt come straight back into the starting 11 to partner defensive colossus Con Blatsis.
Captain Vaughn Coveny – at the time of print – is still waiting on a tribunal hearing that will determine the length of his suspension after receiving a direct red against the Sunshine Georgies. If a 1 match ban is deemed to be sufficient punishment, the Kiwi international will be thrown straight back into the starting 11 at the expense of youngster Jesse Krncevic. Should Coveny have to sit the game out, Anastasiadis must decide whether to persist with the in-experience of Krncevic or perhaps assess his options and include the likes of Peter Koutsoupias to lead the line.
Exciting Brazilian signing Fernando Moraes made a solid debut in the game against Green Gully and is likely to maintain his position in the starting 11. The Brazilian brings a fluent passing game as well as sound positioning to the line-up which in the game against Gully helped balance South.
Finally, one cannot stress enough the importance of a unified supporter approach before, during and after the encounter. With a big crowd expected and many administrators as well as fans in general casting their gaze, it is crucial that the only winner is the game of football itself.