Friday, 4 October 2013 9:03 AM
By John Kyrou
Two giants of Victorian football clash in the Victorian Premier League Minor Semi Final on Friday night when the Melbourne Knights host South Melbourne FC at Knights Stadium. The losing team will be eliminated from the 2013 VPL finals series, whilst the winner will progress to play the loser of Northcote City and Bentleigh Greens in the Preliminary Final next Saturday 12 October.
The Melbourne Knights head into Friday’s game having lost 2-4 against the Bentleigh Greens in the Qualifying Final at Somers Street last Sunday afternoon. It was the second game in a row that the Knights had lost 2-4 at home, having also lost to the Oakleigh Cannons by the same score only a week earlier in the final round of the regular season. In fairness, that match meant very little as the Knights had already secured second spot on the VPL ladder no matter what the result on the day. In contrast to the Knights’ two match losing streak, South goes into the game having won their last two matches, including the last-gasp 1-0 victory against Green Gully in the Elimination Final last Sunday evening. The match looked like heading for extra time after Keiran Gonzalez saved substitute Brad Norton’s 85th minute penalty, however in the 91st minute Nick Soolsma laid the ball off for Tyson Holmes to fire past Gonzalez from outside the area to seal a remarkable victory and spark wild celebrations in the grandstand.
The Knights have had the better of South throughout the 2013 derbies thus far, earning a 2-2 draw at Lakeside Stadium on Sunday 16 June before winning 2-1 at Somers Street on Sunday 1 September. Andrew Barisic scored the winning goal for the Knights after 67 minutes in that match and is definitely the key man for South to shut down on Friday night, having scored eight goals in the Knights’ last 10 League matches. South has enjoyed two clean sheets in a row but it will take another big effort from Peter Gavalas and his defence to keep Barisic and his Knights side scoreless. At the other end of the park, Trent Rixon and Luke Hopper have scored a combined 15 League goals between them (Rixon with 9, Hopper with 6) in the second half of the season. Both worked hard against Green Gully last Sunday but could not put away their chances; Friday night presents another opportunity for both of them to start scoring goals again.
Considering the rich histories of both clubs, it is an amazing statistic that this is the first time that both the Knights and South have featured in the same VPL finals series since they both joined the League in 2005. In fact, the last time both clubs featured (but did not play each other) in a finals series was back in the 2001/02 National Soccer League season. It has been over 16 years since the Knights and South actually played each other in a finals match, when South defeated the Knights 3-0 at Lakeside Stadium on Sunday 4 May 1997 in the 1996/97 NSL Elimination Final second leg. A week earlier on Sunday 27 April 1997, South travelled to Somers Street for the first leg of the tie and defeated the Knights 1-4. South coach Chris Taylor will be more than delighted if a similar score line is repeated on Friday night.
A possible omen for South is the fact that the last time it won a VPL Championship (2006), it hosted and defeated Green Gully in an Elimination Final at Lakeside Stadium (Friday 1 September 2006) before travelling to Somers Street the following week and winning again (2-1 against Altona Magic on Sunday 10 September 2006). South will be hoping that history can repeat itself once more.
Friday night’s match kicks off at 7:30PM at Knights Stadium. All South fans are strongly encouraged to attend and lend crucial support to the side as it strives to defeat its old rivals and book a place in the 2013 VPL Preliminary Final.