Sunday, 9 March 2008 3:26 PM
By George Kouroumalis
A fifth minute strike by Frank Lagana was enough to see Oakleigh defeat South Melbourne in the opening game of round 4 in the Foxtel Cup.
An expectant crowd of over 2500 people crammed into Jack Edwards Reserve for one of the most anticipated derby matches of the season, with both clubs coming into the game full of confidence following solid victories in the previous round.
Oakleigh started the better of the two sides, controlling the midfield area from kick-off, with ex-South Melbourne central midfielder Bill Damianos hitting the first shot in anger from long range. With the ball flying wide of the right hand post, South were warned of the danger that the veteran would provide as the night went on.
It was only the 5th minute when the Cannons launched a foray forward, culminating in Frank Lagana capturing possession on the edge of the box. With his back facing to goal, Lagana turned his marker inside out before launching a wonderful strike past Dean Anastasiadis and into the back of the net.
South responded with a plethora of chances and came closest through Goran Zoric in the 14th minute, when a Sam Poutakidis cross was not properly dealt with by the Cannons defence. The ball dropped to Zoric outside the box, where the diminutive midfielder hit a firm drive that flew just inches over the bar and out for a goal kick.
Fernando, who had come off a two goal haul the previous weekend against Western Suburbs, then pushed forward to try and find the equaliser for his side. In the 30th minute, he found himself in space following some great lead-up work by Hamlet Armenian on the edge of the area. With the entire goal face for him to shoot at, Fernando hit the ball wide of the target, with the ball slamming into the advertising boards for a goal kick.
Oakleigh responded with an attacking move of their own, after a sublime interception in the centre of the park by Damianos culminated in the veteran playing an inch-perfect ball to Trent Waterson on the left hand side of the area. Waterson, who was being chased down quite rapidly by Poutakidis, hit a quality ball into the area, where ex-South man Tex Apostolikas latched onto the cross around the penalty spot. With only Anastasiadis to beat, Apostolikas hit a timid volley directly at the keeper to ensure the scoreline remained at 1-0.
The final chance of the opening half fell to South Melbourne, after a corner was launched to the back post. Some poor marking by the Oakleigh defence saw Shane Nunes find himself with a free header, however Cannons goalkeeper Adrian Cagalj made a superb save at the near post from close range, tipping the ball over the bar for a corner.
South started the second half intent on finding an equalising goal but could not muster a genuine opportunity until the 57th minute, when Zoric once again darted past the left hand side of the Oakleigh defence and hit a shot from just inside the area straight into the arms of Cagalj.
The away side, backed by a very large and passionate traveling contingent, continued to attack at every opportunity and in the 63rd minute some lovely work just outside the penalty box by Gianni De Nittis saw the striker acquire possession and play a superb ball past the defence and into the path of Poutakidis in space. Poutakidis then launched a powerful drive at goal, however the ball flew past the right hand goalpost and out for a goal kick.
Even though their goal was under pressure, Oakleigh still looked dangerous on the counter attack and through Damianos, who was having a great game in the centre of the park, they launched a sublime move that saw the ball played by Damianos past the two stagnant South defenders and into the path of Juan Nilo. With only Anastasiadis to beat, Nilo hit a poorly struck shot into the thankful arms of the keeper.
With 20 minutes remaining on the clock, South introduced Ricky Diaco into the action and the 2007 SMFC Most Valuable Player immediately had an impact, twice testing Cagalj from long range, with the experienced keeper making no mistake in saving both stinging drives.
With eight minutes of regulation time left, what seemed like being an innocuous clash of legs saw Yusuf Yusuf stretchered off, clutching his knee and screaming in pain. The signs did not look good for Yusuf, who had just been substituted onto the park only minutes earlier. In what was a further blow to South, because they had already used up their three substitutions only moments earlier andwere forced to try and equalise with only 10 men on the field.
Matters got even worse for South in the 89th minute, when referee Kevin Dockerty awarded a dubious yellow card to South defender Steven O’Dor, who was adjudged to have interfered with Adrian Cagalj whilst the Oakleigh keeper was trying to kick the ball out after gaining possession. This was the second yellow of the game for O’Dor, forcing him to be sent from the field of play for the remaining few minutes and thus condemning South to finishing the game with 9 men.
With the game coming to an end, Zoric found the ball at his feet and hit a ferocious shot that smashed off the crossbar and away to safety for the Cannons. South’s final chance fell to Caldwell in the 94th minute, whose turn and shot was on target, however once again Cagalj stood in the way and ensured that his side would taste derby victory against their modern day foe.
Due to the staging of the Formula 1 Grand Prix at Albert Park next weekend, South Melbourne will have a week’s break before playing the AIS on Easter Monday at 4pm at Bob Jane Stadium.