Wednesday, 23 April 2008 10:26 AM
By John Kyrou
This week the segment takes us back to 1999. South Melbourne had won its third National Soccer League championship in 1997/98 and were aiming for back-to-back championships, something the club had not achieved in the NSL.
In 1998/99, South began its title defence reasonably well and the club continued to maintain a strong home record as well as grind out results away from home. As a result, South consistently remained in the upper regions of the NSL ladder, along with its main challengers for the season in Sydney United and Perth Glory.
South was due to play Perth Glory on Sunday March 8 at Bob Jane Stadium in a round 23 clash. However thanks to an error in the Soccer Australia fixturing, the match had to be postponed to a later date due to the Formula One Grand Prix taking place in Albert Park over that weekend. The new date set for the match was Wednesday March 31.
The timing of this mid-week fixture against Perth could not have been any worse for the two clubs. Both were pushing for a top two finish on the ladder to enable a double-chance in the finals series. Perth had just come off an extremely difficult 2-2 draw against Sydney Olympic in very hot conditions at Perth Oval and had to travel across the country to face South only days later in cool, wet Melbourne conditions. South were not much better off, having come off a demoralising 1-0 loss to newcomers Northern Spirit at North Sydney Oval in front of 16,543 fans. The blues had to face a very strong Perth side mid-week before backing it up with another game the following Sunday against the Brisbane Strikers. Perth were fortunate to have a bye following their fixture with South.
Such a big match for two of the most outstanding teams for that season deserved a huge crowd. The experts weren’t sure how many would show to lend their support due to the cold and wet period that Melbourne had experienced leading up to the mid-week fixture. However the fact that the Easter break and school holidays were approaching meant that it was also possible that the turnout would be healthy. South’s supporters have always been well known for making their entrance at the last minute and thus even until minutes before the scheduled start of the Perth game the eventual attendance could still have been anything.
However the South supporters rose to the occasion and they poured through the Bob Jane Stadium turnstiles in huge numbers to show their support for their team. The attendance was recorded as 11,861 which was an excellent turn-out and showed the passion of the blue and white army on the terraces. What was in prospect for the fans was a clash between two teams that had built their reputations on their respective prolific attacks that wore down their opposition by outscoring them rather than out-defending them.
Although the Glory were only in their third season of competition in the NSL, they had shown themselves to be leaders both on and off the field. Even though South had only lost once at home in two seasons, Perth had belief that they could get a result at Bob Jane Stadium. In the corresponding fixture the season before, South had jumped to a 3-0 lead before Vas Kalogeracos scored a hat trick to earn Perth a shock 3-3 draw. These fighting qualities were what Glory coach Bernd Stange was after again.
The first half saw an unusual South performance, with the players resorting to playing the long ball instead of retaining possession and playing the short pass. Perth was playing a very smart game and was dangerous when hitting South on the counter attack. The Glory had also spotted a defensive mis-match down their attacking right hand side and they set about exploiting it. In the 36th minute this was achieved when Robert Trajkovski moved onto a long ball sent forward by Scott Miller and from the right crossed to Alastair Edwards, whose flick shot flew past Michael Petkovic’s near post and into the goal to give the Glory a 0-1 lead.
Perth began to get on top of South and the home support was not liking the fact that their team were possibly on their way to a first home defeat in the 1998/99 campaign. What was more frustrating for the supporters was the fact that South continued to persevere with the long ball option right until half time. However the positives going into the halftime break were that the Perth team would surely tire in the second half after such a long and demanding trip and that if the tactics could be switched around then South were a big chance to get back into the match in the second half.
Coach Ange Postecoglou made changes, encouraging his players to cease with the long ball and start playing their normal game of keeping possession of the ball and waiting for the right opportunities to arrive. Postecoglou knew the possession game would take its toll on his players but he also knew it would mentally and physically drain the Perth side even more. In the 70th minute, Postecoglou made two vital substitutions in George Goutzioulis and John Anastasiadis, who replaced Steve Panopoulos and Michael Curcija respectively. Even though Anastasiadis had not been regularly playing for South leading up to the fixture, Postecoglou felt that the veteran and club legend was experienced and deadly enough in front of goals to have an immediate influence on the contest.
The move was ingenious and was a decision that resulted in making this game one of the classic South matches. Just over five minutes had passed after the substitutions were made when a pass from midfield found Goutzioulis in space. He played the ball to Anastasiadis, who shrugged off the attention of Paul Strudwick and fired in the equaliser past Tony Franken to spark wild scenes on the terraces. The change of tactics and the introduction of fresh players had worked and with 15 minutes left there was still plenty of time for the home side to get a winner.
South needed just over a minute. From the re-start, the ball was turned over and ended up with Paul Trimboli. The captain decided to take a shot himself from just outside the area. The ball crashed off the crossbar and back into play to David Clarkson, whose header across the face of goal found Vaughan Coveny steaming in at the near post. With Franken in no-mans land, Coveny headed the ball into the back of the net to complete a remarkable comeback for the home side, with two goals in just over a minute. The fans who had packed into the ground were beside themselves with joy. The loud and passionate chanting and scenes of madness during the goals showed just why the Bob Jane Stadium was such an intimidating venue to visit and why nobody was able to beat South there.
The full time whistle sounded and South had completed a memorable and important win. The 2-1 result put South firmly in the top two with three matches to go in the season. South also remained undefeated at Bob Jane Stadium throughout the entire season, which had not been achieved before and has not been equaled since. A league loss to Sydney United at Edensor Park a fortnight later was a major blow to South, who finished second in the league behind them. However history shows that South beat their Sydney rivals over two legs in the Major Semi Final to set up a Grand Final re-match in Melbourne, where a 3-2 victory gave the club back-to-back titles. Perth finished a very credible third and went one step further the following season, making the 1999/00 Grand Final.
Many South supporters agree that the match known as the ‘2-1 Wednesday night game against Perth’ was the beginning of a fantastic sporting rivalry between two of the biggest and best Australian football clubs and one of the most memorable South matches in the last 10 years.
Round 23, 1998/99
Wednesday, March 31, 1999
Venue: Bob Jane Stadium
Referee: Brett Hugo
SOUTH MELBOURNE 2-1 PERTH GLORY
(Anastasiadis 76′, Coveny 77′) (Edwards 36′)
Michael Petkovic, Steve Iosifidis, Fausto De Amicis, Nick Orlic, David Clarkson, Steve Panopoulos (George Goutzioulis 70′), Vaughan Coveny, Paul Trimboli (Jim Tsekinis 84′), Michael Curcija (John Anastasiadis 70′), Goran Lozanovski, Robert Liparoti.
Coach: Ange Postecoglou
Tony Franken, Robert Trajkovski, Scott Miller, Gianfranco Circati, Paul Strudwick, Craig Deans (Jamie Harnwell 46′), Gareth Naven, Michael Garcia (Slobodan Despotovski 80′), Alistair Edwards, Vas Kalogeracos, Con Boutsianis (Troy Halpin 63′).
Coach: Bernd Stange