Monday, 25 July 2005 8:44 AM
By Michael Tsoukalis
South Melbourne have consolidated a place in the top 6 and are right back in the race for a top 2 finish after a battling and professional performance against bitter rivals the Preston Lions saw the Albert Park-based club escape Connor Reserve with a super sweet 0-1 victory.
South were forced to re-shuffle their defence after Arthur Tsonis was automatically suspended after accumulating 5 yellow cards with Con Blatsis missing through injury. Thrust into the centre of defence were the untried combination of Rama Tavsancioglu and Steven O’Dor, superb youngster Sammy DeVito took up the left-back role with Evan Karavitis playing in an unfamiliar right-back capacity. Dean Anastasiadis as always was in-between the uprights.
In the centre of the park Arthur Tsirtsakis was trusted with the defensive midfield role allowing for Scot MacNicol to play as an attacking central midfielder. Out-wide usual suspect Ryan Dinse took up the left flanker’s position with exciting Brazilian Fernando Moraes playing on the right. Up-front the newly-acquire Robbie Cattanach partnered skipper Vaughn Coveny.
The match started with both sides showing a lack of initiative. The historical rivalry and pure need for a positive result to maintain a comfortable spot in the top 6 meant that both sets of players were happy to slowly bed themselves in.
However, six minutes in Preston had a great opportunity to take the lead. Les Anastasiou found himself in acres of space after a corner was unconvincingly cleared by the South defence. Anastasiou with a typical defender’s touch allowed the South defence to recover and apply enough pressure to block his eventual strike.
Twelve minutes in Brazilian Moraes, who was having a solid game on the right, showed his flair, skipping past a Lion’s player with ease down the right flank but failing to produce a good enough strike to test Preston custodian Daniel Zilic. Moraes’s eventual shot went well over the bar.
In the 27th minute leading Preston marksman John Sapazovski was released into some space down the right, the 10 goal to-date striker took too long with his shot closed down by the South defence.
Four minutes later, Preston won a free-kick in an extremely dangerous position, 20 or so yards out and slightly favouring the right side of the box. Zia Younan stepped up and produced a testing – mid-height – strike that the ever-reliable Dean Anastasiadis gloved easily.
Thirty-eight minutes in Moraes was harshly tackled – from behind – right on the edge of the Preston box. Up stepped Fernando but unfortunately for South the Brazilian maestro failed to clear the wall.
The half finished with a floury with 40th and 43rd minute crosses from Dinse and MacNicol respectively, testing the Preston defence. MacNicol’s ball in particular managed to evade keeper Zilic with only a touch needed at the back post to give South the initiative. Unfortunately for the visitors there was no-one present to tuck home.
Preston immediately responded with ex-South winger Radomir Sekulovski slicing a bumbling ball well wide in the 45th minute and then a minute later managing to break down the right, skin his man and produce a deadly ball that the South defence struggled to cope with. The ball eventually fell to former South squad member Yianni Galanos who on-the-volley was closed down.
Coach Anastasiadis sent out an unchanged line-up for the second half. The makeshift South defence had been operating extremely well with Tavsancioglu and O’Dor solid in centre with DeVito and Karavitis holding their own on the defensive flanks. Karavitis in particular looked very impressive, his technique and willingness to go forward yet always retain his position made him look like a right-back natural.
Preston came out in the 2nd half determined to lift the tempo and search for a goal. Ex-Melbourne Knights striker Serkan Oksuz nearly gave the Lion’s the lead they so badly wanted when he was released with a 48th minute delicately chipped through-ball. Anastasiadis slightly misread the play and came out too early, Oksuz was aware enough to take the ball away and with Anastasiadis scurrying back, the Preston forward released a venomous strike that Anastasiadis did superbly well to turn away.
Two minutes later South nearly went ahead after MacNicol received the ball just outside the Preston box. The ex-Brechin player took a touch and unleashed a strike that took a massive deflection, leaving keeper Zilic stranded with the ball eventually going narrowly over.
An action packed 3 minute spell was completed after Yianni Galanos made some space for himself down the left flank and produced a superb cross that was met on the back post by Sapazovski with the Preston striker – slightly on the lunge – blazing over with an empty net begging.
Preston was continuing to apply attacking pressure and again went close in the 55th minute after a long and hopeful cross from the right found a player unmarked in the South box. Thankfully for South the shot sailed wide.
After 57 minutes South got the goal the South Melbourne faithful had been dreaming since the bitter 0-1 home loss earlier in the season. Tsirtsakis received the ball well advanced from the centre of the park, he attempted a through ball to try and play in Cattanach but the Preston defence intercepted unconvincingly. The ball fell to Kiwi international Coveny who without hesitation riffled a right footed-effort – from just outside the box – onto the underside of the Lion’s crossbar and into the back-of-the-net, leaving Zilic with no chance.
To Preston’s credit their response was almost immediate. A mere two minutes later after South’s goal Oksuz was released into an almost one-on-one situation with Anastasiadis. The South custodian was quick off the mark and managed to get to the ball before Oksuz who upon slight contact with Anatastasiadis fell down and pleaded for a penalty. Referee Giuseffi was correct in waving play on.
However, only a minute later Preston had genuine claims for a penalty after a Lion’s corner was unconvincingly cleared by the South defence with the subsequent strike from outside the box appearing to strike Steven O’Dor on the arm. South eventually cleared and with referee Giuseffi so near the play, perhaps the intention of O’Dor was taken into consideration upon waving play-on.
Seventy-one minutes in and South should’ve settled the tie. After soaking up the Preston barrage, Ryan Dinse escaped his marker and was released 1-1 with Zilic after a searching through ball from defence. Zilic had come out and Dinse was primed to lob. The Scottish winger did attempt a lob but unfortunately overcooked his effort with the ball going over the bar.
Two minutes later Preston again continued to attack with menace. Galanos made some space again down the left with his subsequent cross falling to an unmarked player who luckily for the visitors sliced his shot well wide.
Perhaps South most influential player of the season, keeper Dean Anastasiadis once again came to South’s saviour in the 76th minute after a through ball saw Sapazovski released 1-1. Anastasiadis spread his arms and made himself a massive barrier, smothering Sapazovki’s attempt with the confidence of a keeper at the top of his game.
Two minutes later a free-kick from a dangerous 20-25 yard range saw former South striker Anthony Magnacca step up and produce a quality low strike that the sharp Anastasiadis was onto in a flash, gloving safely when the shot was at a dangerous height that is often spilled by goalkeepers. Magnacca had another free kick effort from almost the exact position in the 84th minute, however, this time his attempt went over with Anastasiadis un-troubled.
With 88 minutes gone and the game on a knife’s-edge Sekolovski produced a great run down the right flank. The former South winger looked up and played a square low ball to Stefce Solevski, who from 10 yards out, only needed to pick his spot but somehow managed to strike the ball well over with the goal at his mercy.
The South defence scrapped for an incredible 5 extra time minutes and upon Giuseffi’s whistle came away with a memorable victory that is sure to strike joy, inspiration and belief back into the hearts of its loyal faithful.