Monday, 7 October 2013 10:46 AM
By John Kyrou (Photo by Cindy Nitsos)
South Melbourne FC is through to the 2013 Victorian Premier League Preliminary Final following the hard-fought 0-1 victory against the Melbourne Knights at Somers Street in the Minor Semi Final on Friday night. Trent Rixon’s goal after 67 minutes was the difference as the crowd of 4750 saw South prevail and the Knights exit the finals series in straight sets.
Both sides came into the match in contrasting form, with the Knights having lost consecutive home matches (2-4 against Oakleigh Cannons on the final day of the regular season and 2-4 against Bentleigh Greens in the Qualifying Final), whilst South had won two in a row (4-0 against Port Melbourne on the final day and 1-0 against Green Gully in the Elimination Final). It was also the first time that the Knights and South had faced each other in a finals match since Sunday 4 May 1997, when South defeated the Knights 3-0 at Lakeside Stadium in the 1996/97 Elimination Final second leg. In the previous week of that finals series, South travelled to Somers Street on Sunday 27 April 1997 and defeated the Knights 1-4 in the first leg.
The first half of Friday night’s game was largely dominated by the Melbourne Knights, as the home side created several chances to score but could not do so. Shayan Alinejad caused South’s defence all sorts of problems on the right side and he almost had an assist when his pinpoint cross was headed over South goalkeeper Peter Gavalas’ crossbar by Andrew Barisic. Alinejad then held the ball up and laid it off for Anthony Colosimo to shoot but Gavalas made an important block at his near post to deny the Knights again. South left-back Alan Kearney then accidently allowed the ball to slip past him, putting Alinejad through on goal, however the South defence recovered and scrambled Alinejad’s shot over the crossbar for a corner. Luke Hopper wasted the away side’s best chance of the half when he turned his defender and fired just wide of Knights goalkeeper Chris May’s far post.
Tim Mala almost gifted the Knights the lead early in the second half when his mis-timed header back to his goalkeeper was intercepted by Barisic, however once again Gavalas denied the Knights by blocking Barisic’s shot to keep the score locked at 0-0. Since arriving at the Club in early July, South coach Chris Taylor had been stressing the importance of clean sheets and Gavalas’ timely saves were able to keep the away side in the match and give it a chance of pinching a goal at the other end to win the game. The away side was slowly getting on top of the Knights in midfield and almost took the lead when Tyson Holmes’ thunderbolt strike from outside the area hit the crossbar, bounced on the line and stayed out, with Rixon unable to put the ball in the back of the net on the follow-up. Rixon did not make the same mistake shortly after when he ghosted in at the back post unmarked to tap Holmes’ cross into the back of the net and give the away side the lead. It was Rixon’s tenth goal of the season and definitely his most important as South now held a slender but crucial lead.
The Knights threw everything at South in the final twenty minutes of the game but could not break through the stubborn and resilient defence expertly led by centre-halves Bryan Bran and Shaun Kelly. Gavalas also stood tall and made sure he held onto the ball after every cross launched into the box by the Knights. The one time his goal was breached was when Barisic headed past him after combining with Tomi Uksok but the goal was disallowed for what appeared to be a clear offside call against Barisic. The final whistle sparked wild celebrations by the 1000+ South fans on the far corner of the terraces opposite the grandstand and many more in the main grandstand. It was a cruel way for the Knights to bow out of the finals and they deserve congratulations for finishing second on the ladder after the regular season, however it was South’s night on Friday night as they beat their old rivals to progress through at the Knights’ expense.
South plays in the VPL Preliminary Final for the first time since 2005 when it faces Northcote City next Sunday 13 October at SS Anderson Reserve. Kick-off is at 3PM.
FINAL SCORE: MELBOURNE KNIGHTS 0-1 SOUTH MELBOURNE (HT: 0-0)
0-1: Trent Rixon (67′)
Christopher May (GK), Tomislav Uksok, Milan Batur, Sam Torrens (Jacob Colosimo 80′), Andrew Barisic, Ben Surey, James McGarry, William McLachlan, Shayan Alinejad, Marijan Cvitkovic (Adam Zilic 90′), Anthony Colosimo (Christopher Talajic 67′)
South Melbourne FC:
1. Peter GAVALAS (GK), 2. Tim MALA, 4. Bryan BRAN, 5. Nick EPIFANO (12. Rhys MEREDITH 66′), 7. Luke HOPPER, 9. Trent RIXON (C), 10. Tyson HOLMES, 13. Iqi JAWADI, 16. Alan KEARNEY, 17. Nick SOOLSMA, 19. Shaun KELLY
SMFC Man of the Match: Bryan Bran
Venue: Knights Stadium
Date: Friday 4 October 2013