Monday, 3 August 2009 9:56 AM
By John Kyrou – Photo by Craig Varty
South Melbourne FC has confirmed a position in the top three at least until next weekend following the hard-fought and at times extremely lucky 1-1 draw against the Oakleigh Cannons on Friday night at Jack Edwards Reserve. The draw leaves both clubs still fighting hard to cement a finals appearance with two rounds remaining.
South travelled to Oakleigh keen on making amends following the disastrous 0-1 home defeat against Hume City the previous round. A win against the Cannons was crucial in the quest to cement second spot at season’s end and with it a home final. Oakleigh were also keen on the three points as the home side went into the match five points behind the top five, albeit with a game in hand.
With the absence of Bill Damianos in the Cannons midfield, South’s chances were boosted significantly. As a result the away side began the match looking the more likely to score, however the closest chance created was a shot from the edge of the right side of the penalty area by Gianni De Nittis that soared comfortably over Cannons keeper Adrian Cagalj’s goal.
Former South boy Trent Waterson had been kept reasonably quiet in the first half by Shane Nunes and Rama Tavsancioglu, however it was his turn and cross that led to the opening goal. Waterson’s cross was met in the centre by Bonel Obradovic, who laid off to Alex Rojas at the edge of the penalty area. Rojas’ low left foot shot beat Tommi Tomich comfortably and nestled into the right corner of the goal to give the home side the advantage.
South lifted momentarily and were nearly back on level terms soon after when Vaughan Coveny had a shot at the near post somehow cleared over the goal by Cagalj in what was an excellent save. Moments later, there was another great save at the other end when Tomich dived low to smother a shot at his near post. There were howls of protests from the away fans as the Oakleigh player taking that shot appeared to be in a clear offside position, only for the linesman to keep his flag down.
In the second half, South coach Michael Michalakopoulos swung changes, bringing on Joseph Youssef for Nic Curtis and then moments later introducing Goran Zoric to replace Francesco Stella. Youssef made an immediate impact, winning the ball in midfield and supplying passes through for the forwards. However the Oakleigh defence held firm, frustrating South by constantly clearing any foray into the area.
At the other end, Karpeh had a goal disallowed for offside after he broke free and poked the ball past Tomich at his near post. Tomich then tipped a shot onto the post and the Cannons somehow failed to convert the rebound with an open goal at their mercy. A goal would have almost surely killed off South’s chances of a result.
South’s persistence finally paid off 20 minutes from time when some excellent link-up play saw De Nittis play an excellent through-ball to Coveny. With only Cagalj to beat, the veteran forward smashed the ball high into the net to bring South level and send the travelling contingent wild on the terraces. Michalakopoulos then made his final change, replacing De Nittis with youngster Sam Torrens.
South dominated the last 20 minutes as the substitutes ran amuck, causing all sorts of problems for the Cannons defence. South should have had a penalty awarded after Zoric was bowled over in the area however the referee waved play on. Minutes later, Torrens played a one-two with Youssef, with the youngster played through on goal. Cagalj tipped Torrens’ shot over for a corner and then made another brilliant save by getting his foot onto what should have been a simple tap-in for Youssef at the far post from a Fernando set-piece.
South’s defence had been on top in the second half however it was ironically a defensive mix-up that almost cost the away side a precious point. Tavsancioglu and Nunes both stopped in contesting a ball as Oakleigh players streamed forward in numbers. Rojas squared the ball to substitute Juan Nilo at the back post, who with an open goal gaping, somehow managed to the put the ball wide of not only the goal but of Karpeh and Ricky Diaco waiting in the centre for an easy tap-in.
South needs one more win in its final two games of the season to guarantee itself a finals appearance for the first time in three seasons. To finish in the top three South simply must win both of its remaining matches, against Altona away and Sunshine George Cross at home. Failure to do so may see South slide down the top five or even worse miss out on a finals spot completely. If Oakleigh can win their game in hand against Altona they will be only one point behind fifth spot, so both sides have much to play for in the final few weeks of the regular league season.