Monday, 21 July 2008 4:15 PM
By John Kyrou | Photo by Cindy Nitsos
Old Victorian rivals South Melbourne and the Melbourne Knights fought out an entertaining 2-2 draw at Bob Jane Stadium on Sunday afternoon, with the home side throwing three points away after squandering a two goal advantage against their old enemy. The stalemate was the first time the two teams had played out a draw at Lakeside since – ironically – the Knights came from 2-0 down to grind out a 2-2 draw against South in the second round of the 1997/98 National Soccer League season.
Both teams entered the fixture in losing form, with South losing away to Green Gully 1-0 last Saturday and the Knights losing by the same margin at Somers Street against Coburg United the next day. A win in the big derby match was important for both clubs for contrasting reasons.
South needed a win to push further away from the relegation zone as well as keep in touch with a group of clubs chasing a position in the top six, whilst the Knights needed a good away result to re-establish themselves back on top of the Foxtel Cup ladder.
South also had to avoid defeat for another reason; it could not afford another home loss at Bob Jane Stadium in 2008 as it would have confirmed their worst seasonal record at the stadium since moving there in the 1995/96 NSL season. Heading into the match, South had lost at home on five occasions in 2008, equaling the current records set in the 1996/97 NSL season and the 2007 Foxtel Cup season. A home defeat against its old National League rivals to confirm the record would have been disastrous.
South began the stronger of the two sides and missed an early opportunity to open the scoring when a lovely ball was played through to Fernando De Moraes on the left hand side of the box. The Futsalroo hit a shot that beat the Knights keeper but not the crossbar, with the ball rebounding back into play before being cleared by the Knights defence. The Knights themselves showed why they were on top of the Foxtel Cup ladder with some excellent attacking play down the wings, however their final distribution into the box was dealt with reasonably well by the South defence, marshaled by ex-Knights keeper Tommi Tomich.
Despite the Knights’ attacking play, South was not scared to venture forward and create opportunities of their own. Sam Poutakidis had a half chance to open the scoring when he rounded two Knights players from the edge of the area, however his resultant left-foot shot was hit tamely and was easily controlled by the keeper. However South did not have to wait too much longer before taking the lead. A clumsy foul inside the area saw De Moraes step up to the penalty spot. Despite the attempts of the away fans behind the Lakeside end goal to distract him, De Moraes calmly took the spot kick and placed a shot into the bottom right corner of the net to make the score 1-0.
South looked in control of the match, which frustrated the Knights. Tempers threatened to boil over when a push and shove match erupted on the half-way line after a poor challenge on Gianni De Nittis. Shane Nunes’ shove on a Knights player was seen as unacceptable to the referee, who sent the defender from the field of play with a straight red card. The home players and supporters were furious that the same colour card was not issued to the Knights only minutes later when Nathan Caldwell was kicked in the head by a Knights defender. With South down to 10 men, some desperate defending saw the Blues head into the halftime break with their lead intact.
The Knights began the second half looking to take full advantage of having the extra man on the field. However South continued to battle hard to create chances to score another goal to set up a two-goal cushion. Just when it seemed that the Knights were getting on top of the home side, Sebastian Petrovic gained possession in the midfield and fed De Nittis with an excellent through-ball, which the South forward tucked past the near post for the Blues’ second of the afternoon, sending the home supporters into raptures.
Sensing the opportunity for a third goal to completely finish the Knights off, South continued to press forward, despite having one less man. The third goal seemed inevitable when the Knights keeper failed to handle a cross, dropping the ball in front of him where De Nittis was lurking. The defining moment of the match occurred at that moment, when De Nittis’ shot hit the right post and stayed out. From the resultant clearance, the Knights worked the ball down the field and into their attacking third, where the South defence itself failed to clear the danger. The ball fell to Andrew Barisic, who hit a well-struck shot into the left corner of the net, giving Tomich no chance. Instead of sealing the game at 3-0, South had conceded and brought the Knights back into the contest.
The legendary saying that 2-0 is the most dangerous lead to have in football was proven to be right when the Knights equalised shortly after Barisic’s goal. The away side worked the ball down the left hand side, where they were able to get past Poutakidis and send a low, hard cross to the near post. James Timmons was waiting and his touch flew across Tomich’s goal and into the net, sending the Knights fans behind the goals wild with delight. After home defeats to bitter rivals Heidelberg and Preston, South fans began fearing that the Knights were about to dish the same punishment and at the same time inflict South’s worst seasonal record at the ground.
With the home side tiring with only having 10 men, Goran Zoric and Hamlet Armenian were eventually rushed on to provide some assistance to De Nittis and Caldwell up forward as the Blues held firm in defence and tried to counter-attack to try and score a third. This almost worked, when a through-ball fell just beyond Caldwell’s reach, and then a cut-back header from an Adam Van Dommele cross found Rama Tavsancioglu directly in front of goals and in a similar position to where Barisic was when he scored the Knights’ opening goal. Instead of achieving the same outcome, Rama blasted his shot over the cross-bar, ending the home side’s faint hopes of scoring an unlikely win.
The end-to-end play in the final ten minutes would have been enjoyed by the neutral spectators in the stadium, as the Knights themselves also pushed forward in numbers, sensing the opportunity to score a memorable win. However, Tomich was in excellent form and despite a few scares towards the end of the match, the home side did enough to earn a point against the top team in the competition.
South now finds itself in the unusual position of being five points from 6th spot on the table as well as being five points from the relegation zone. With other results going their way on the weekend, South simply must win their next match away against the Fawkner Blues to put more pressure on the teams just above them. The Knights can further consolidate their position at the top of the Foxtel Cup table when they host the Oakleigh Cannons at Somers Street. Both games kick off at 3pm next Sunday.