Monday, 12 May 2008 10:06 AM
By Michal Skrodzki and John Kyrou | Image by George Kouroumalis
South Melbourne enjoyed a hard-fought 0-1 win over an honourable Whittlesea Zebras outfit on Sunday evening. The Zebras were shocked during the week when coach Peter Ollerton handed in his resignation and thus caretaker Paul Harris took charge against South. In contrast, South entered the match in good form, with a great 1-0 win against Richmond at Bob Jane Stadium the previous round and were looking to string two wins in a row for the first time in 2008.
The match at Epping Stadium was always going to be a passionate affair, with both teams locked on 12 points and needing to win to stay out of the relegation zone, whilst also pushing for a spot in the top six.
The game got off to a tight start, with both teams desperate to keep a clean sheet. South’s defenders were constantly under pressure by Zebras forward Jerry Karpeh, as the former Floreat Athena player made dazzling runs and looked dangerous with the ball at his feet. Whittlesea constantly tried to push the ball out wide to be crossed in, as South’s veteran goalkeeper Dean Anastasiadis looked uncomfortable in dealing with the crosses.
However South looked the more likely to score, and right on halftime they thought they had opened the scoring. A great header hit the bar and Gianni De Nittis smashed the rebound home, but his celebrations were cut short when the linesman incorrectly signaled for offside and therefore the goal was disallowed.
South came out in the second half determined to take the lead. Goran Zoric’s runs were starting to really trouble the Whittlesea defenders but he failed to take advantage of his opportunities. His best chance fell early in the second half when he ran onto a good ball played through and found himself one on one with Zebras goalkeeper Simeoni. However instead of shooting, Zoric tried setting up a shot for Ricky Diaco, who was ambushed by a Zebras defender and the ball was subsequently cleared.
Hamlet Armenian was also having a good game against his former side, so much so that even the Zebras fans chanted his name. South kept pushing and defensively were very strong, suffocating the Zebra forwards. South finally got their deserved winning goal when young midfielder Tony La Verde shot from outside the box, brilliantly placing his shot into the bottom right hand corner, beating Simeoni and sending the traveling South fans into delirium.
South searched for a second goal but despite the opportunities, Armenian, Zoric and Diaco all failed to punish the Zebras further. The Zebras themselves pushed late in the game and almost scored a last-minute equaliser when a shot took a wicked deflection and flat-footed Anastasiadis before hitting the side netting. Whittlesea had one final chance with a free kick just outside the area in the last minute of injury time, however the ball was cleared by Shane Nunes to ensure that the 0-1 scoreline was final and that the South fans could celebrate by singing “the Great Escape.”
South coach Michael Michalakopoulos was obviously pleased with the result and thought the consecutive wins was due to the fact that “defensively we’ve worked better as a unit….and we’re working harder at training, the intensity has been phenomenal.” Michalakopoulos also believed that South were still real contenders for the finals, as well as confirming that the club is looking for another keeper to replace Nik Jelic (who returns to Sydney) and another experienced midfielder.
With the three points gained at Epping, South only sit 5 points outside of the top six and face league cellar-dwellers Frankston Pines at Bob Jane Stadium next week. In contrast, Whittlesea remains in the relegation zone and face a tough assignment out at Jack Edwards Reserve against the Oakleigh Cannons, with the signs not good for the 2007 grand finalists.