Sunday, 27 May 2007 9:28 PM
By George Kouroumalis
South Melbourne has come back from the dead, overturning a two goal deficit to earn a hard-fought point against the impressive and high flying Preston Lions at Bob Jane Stadium on Sunday.
Preston, who had come into this game on a nine game unbeaten run, was eying off first position on the Foxtel Cup table and began the match like a side on a mission. They pressed forward immediately, when a lovely ball by Marinos Gasparis found Johnny Sapazovski in open space, with the veteran hitting the ball wide of the target.
Preston continued to assert their early dominance on the game and were rewarded in the 5th minute, when a horrific pass by Arthur Tsonis was delivered straight into the feet of the speedy Gasparis, who then launched a low driving cross to the back post and directly into the path of the advancing Zoran Petrevski, who slammed the ball into the back of the net to give his side a 0-1 advantage.
South almost went two behind only 3 minutes later, when a blistering run and drive by Sapazovski swung outside the upright and away for a harmless goal kick.
After being dominated and barely having any midfield possession in the game, South rallied and through their first real attacking move of the contest got back on level terms. The ball was brought forward quickly from the defence and played into a central position to the feet of Nick Curtis, who then turned and hit an opportunistic strike past the outstretched Lupce Acevski in the Preston goal, to bring his side back on level terms.
South continued to push forward at every opportunity thereafter and won a free kick just outside the area, after a sloppy foul by Preston defender Les Anastasiou.
From the resultant free-kick, Ricky Diaco stepped up and hit a wicked shot directly at the target, only to be foiled by the experienced Acevski in goals.
Just before the half time break, South came closest to breaking the deadlock once again, when a sublime run and cross by Gianni De Nittis found the unmarked Diaco on the edge of the area. Diaco then turned and hit an amazing effort straight onto the post with a curling right foot bullet, which had Acevski rooted to the spot.
Both teams came out in a more subdued frame of mind in the second half, both content with ensuring that they would not leak anymore goals and also try and attack the opposition on the counter attack at every opportunity.
Preston had the first real chance of the half in the 60th minute, after a blistering run by Gasparis saw the winger once again dash past a host of South defenders and play an inviting ball into the area where it seemingly looked to be covered by the keeper.
In an unlucky twist for the young keeper Tosic, he saw the ball slip straight through his hands and to the waiting Tony Sterjovski, who smacked the ball into the back of the net, to send coach Lozanovski in delirium mode in the technical area.
The Lions continued to push forward to try and ice the game and looked to have done so in the 71st minute, after a short corner was knocked into the path of Gasparis, who hit a screaming shot over Tosic and into the back of the net from 25 yards and also from a wicked angle near the corner post.
With South 1-3 down and looking at slipping further down the table, coach John Anastasiadis threw caution into the wind, sending on two attacking minded players in Trent Waterson and Yusef Yusef in place of Arthur Tsonis and Tansel Baser.
The gutsy move paid off immediately, when a magnificent swinging cross was hit by Waterson into the back post and onto the head of Yusef, who hit a driving header on target and into Acevski, who made a great save. However from the resulting deflection, the ball fell into the path another substitute Bill Natsioulas, who was left with a simple tap-in to bring his side back within a solitary goal.
South continued to push forward in numbers and was denied by Acevski in goals. Another brilliant ball by Waterson once again found the unmarked Yusef in space in the six yard box. From nowhere, Acevski made what was close to the save of the season and denied Yusef from point blank range, keeping his side in front for the moment.
Sensing that an equaliser would come, South, with a home crowd behind them, continued to push forward, even though at times they left themselves with nobody at the back. The move paid off in the 85 th minute, when Waterson once again played in an inch perfect pass into the feet of unmarked Natsioulas. He buried home his chance from five yards out and sent the home fans into raptures and the Preston defence into total disbelief as to how they could allow Natsioulas with such space inside the area.
South put further pressure on the Preston goal, with Acevski making a routine save in the 92nd minute from a Yusef shot, ensuring at least that his side would hold on for a point, when at one stage it looked like his side was destined to take all three.
South defender Dino Djulbic, in his final game for South before heading to Perth Glory in the A-League, was disappointed with the errors his side made, saying that “we were unlucky, but we only have ourselves to blame after giving away the two points, after some crucial errors gifted Preston some goals early.”
Preston coach Goran Lozanovski was also disappointed with the outcome, noting how “we started off so well and had a two goal advantage, but I was very disappointed to concede two goals so late in the game, but that’s football”.
South will face Kingston City away next Sunday at 3pm.