Sunday, 21 April 2013 11:53 PM
By John Kyrou
South Melbourne FC continued its excellent start to the 2013 Victorian Premier League season when it defeated the Bentleigh Greens 2-1 in a tight affair at Kingston Heath Soccer Complex. Renco Van Eeken’s late header proved to be the difference between the two sides in what was an end-to-end match.
Both sides entered the game with 100% winning records in the opening two rounds of the season. Peter Tsolakis’ South side had enjoyed two 3-0 away wins against Green Gully and Southern Stars whilst the Greens backed up their 1-0 home win against Richmond in the first round with a resounding 3-0 away victory against defending Champions Dandenong Thunder.
Both sides began the game at a furious pace and played an end-to-end attacking style of football that the fans in attendance were delighted to see. South goalkeeper Peter Gavalas was called upon to make a strong save in the opening ten minutes when he rushed out and blocked David Stirton’s shot. Tyson Holmes had South’s best chance to open the scoring after being put through one-on-one with Bentleigh goalkeeper Alistair Bray however the custodian made a good save from the resultant shot.
The first goal of the match arrived just shy of the half hour mark and it was South’s left-back Brad Norton that took the honours by sneaking in at the back post to head Rhys Meredith’s cross into the net. It was Norton’s second goal for the season following his opening-day header against Green Gully.
The away side’s lead was only to last for a few minutes as Bentleigh equalised via a cloud of controversy. South Captain and centre-half Luke Byles bravely headed away a dangerous cross from the right wing but in doing so injured himself (it was revealed post-match that Byles had actually dislocated his shoulder and kneecap during the match, however he bravely kept playing until eventually being substituted late in the second half). Despite Byles lying on the ground injured near the penalty spot, referee Shaun Evans allowed play to continue and as a result Byles kept most of the Greens players onside. South failed to properly clear the danger and subsequently the ball was played in for Luke Sherbon to score. Max Etheridge nearly scored the goal of the season with an overhead kick shortly before the halftime break, however the shot cannoned off the crossbar and South was let off the hook.
The second half was just as enjoyable as the first, as both sides attacked in search of the winning goal. Bentleigh came close a couple of times but it was again Gavalas – a former Green himself – that stood up and made some strong saves to keep South level. With Byles and Dimi Tsiaras both off substituted (the latter with cramp) and with Shaun Kelly on a yellow card, South were stretched somewhat defensively; however the away side continued to attack, with Van Eeken, Holmes, Meredith and Joe Keenan all immense. The winning goal arrived on 82 minutes when Meredith flicked a header for Dimi Hatzimouratis to run onto down the right side before firing an inch-perfect cross for Van Eeken to head past a stranded Bray.
Tsolakis was delighted with the three points, noting that it was “character building, especially to defeat a side like Bentleigh who will be right up there…thankfully we put our chances away.”
It was further good news in the Under-21s, as two Anthony Giannopoulos penalties gave South a 2-1 victory against the Bentleigh Greens.
South can create history next weekend if it defeats Dandenong Thunder at George Andrews Reserve. Should South Melbourne win, it will be the most consecutive away wins achieved at the start of a season by a South side in its entire 54 year history. In fact, its best start to a season was recorded in its inaugural season in 1960 when it won its first six matches in the Metropolitan League Division One. South has also won five away games in a row in the Victorian Premier League, a run that began on 26 August 2012 when it defeated Northcote City at John Cain Memorial Park. South has not lost an away game in the VPL since Bentleigh defeated the Blues on 15 June 2012.
FINAL SCORE: BENTLEIGH GREENS 1-2 SOUTH MELBOURNE (HT: 1-1)
0-1: Brad Norton (28′)
1-1: Luke Sherbon (31′)
1-2: Renco Van Eeken (82′)
Key Stats (provided by Steven Orchard):
Total shots: Bentleigh Greens (19) – South Melbourne (14)
Shots on target: Bentleigh Greens (10) – South Melbourne (8)
Corners: Bentleigh Greens (8) – South Melbourne (7)
Saves made: Bentleigh Greens (6) – South Melbourne (9)
21. Alistair BRAY (GK), 2. Dominic D’ANGELO, 5. Jack WEBSTER, 11. Kris KIOUSSIS, 12. Max ETHERIDGE, 14. Aron WILFORD, 17. Jamie DE ABREU, 19. Liam MCCORMICK, 20. Luke SHERBON, 35. David STIRTON, 77. Steve HATZIKOSTAS
SUBS: 1. Stuart WEBSTER (GK), 9. Evan BATSIS, 23. Danny KELLY, 24. Luke PILKINGTON, 25. Luke FITZPATRICK
South Melbourne FC:
1. Peter GAVALAS (GK), 6. Dimi TSIARAS (8. Fernando DE MORAES 73’), 7. Joe KEENAN, 10. Tyson HOLMES, 11. Brad NORTON, 12. Rhys MEREDITH (14. Andy VLAHOS 90+1’), 13. Luke BYLES (C) (5. Phil PETRESKI 78’), 15. Dimi HATZIMOURATIS, 18. Marinos GASPARIS, 19. Shaun KELLY, 23. Renco VAN EEKEN
SMFC Man of the Match: Tyson Holmes
Venue: Kingston Heath Soccer Complex
Date: Friday 19 April 2013