Thursday, 25 August 2005 11:16 PM
By Michael Tsoukalis
After a season that defied the odds South Melbourne now finds itself amongst the State’s elite with the coming weekend signalling the start of the 2005 Vodafone Premier League finals series.
A campaign that began with many neutrals not to mention passionate supporters of the club simply hoping to avoid relegation has seen John Anastasiadis’s men linger around the top of the table throughout entirety of the regular season. Two consecutive wins saw the Albert Park-based club end the season in 3rd position, just one point outside a top-two birth.
Blocking South’s progression are the Ken Murphy coached Altona Magic. During his playing days Murphy was a class player at South Melbourne and was on the coaching staff during the club’s last NSL campaign. He is an experienced VPL campaigner having been at the helm of Altona and various other sides in the state’s premier competition for many years.
Whilst managing a grand final appearance last year, Altona’s fortunes for the current campaign came down to the wire with their fate decided on the last day of the season after Preston’s heavy 5-0 loss away to Oakleigh meant that the point Altona gained in their nil-all draw with Green Gully was enough to see them sneak into 6th position.
The Magic are an extremely dangerous unit with brothers Koce and Kole Delev posing a threat at all times. The Delev brothers are complemented by Cameron Pino who is a proven performer at VPL level and has the versatility to play in many positions. Defensively, Levent Osman, Marcus Stergiopoulos and goal keeper Martin John all have NSL experience and form a strong core for the Magic.
In the South camp, injuries have come good at the right time with coach Anastasiadis practically having a full squad to choose from. Plagued by injury for the majority of the season, the likes of Con Blatsis and Vasilios Natsioulas are raring to go for the final’s campaign with George Tzirtis the one looming doubt.
Club captain Vaughn Coveny has been nursing a slight calf injury but has managed to shake it off and will line-up against the Magic.
With practically a full squad to select from, coach Anastasiadis will no doubt have some difficulties in settling on his starting 11. Pretty much every player in the senior squad has contributed towards South successful plight with injuries preventing coach Anastasiadis from fielding a consistent side week-in-week-out.
A big plus for South going into the crunch encounter is the form of NSW Premier League Player of the Year Robbie Cattanach who after a slow start to his career in the blue and white has managed to score 2 goals in his last two outings. Cattanach’s goals could just prove to be tonic that has been absent from South’s game all season, regular and consistent goal-getting.