By John Kyrou
South Melbourne FC’s 2014 National Premier League season begins tonight with a trip to Olympic Village to face old rivals Heidelberg United. It will be the first time that the two clubs have met each other in a proper competitive match since the final round of the 2012 Victorian Premier League season.
South Melbourne had a strong finish in 2013, ending the regular VPL season in fourth place before defeating Green Gully and Melbourne Knights (both 1-0) to reach the Preliminary Final. Unfortunately that was as close as Chris Taylor’s side came to the Championship, as Northcote defeated South before defeating the Bentleigh Greens in the Grand Final the following weekend. South finished the season in a respectable third place but Taylor wants (and expects) much better in 2014. Many players have departed from Lakeside Stadium in the off-season but have been adequately replaced, with new key signings including Jamie Reed (forward), Matthew Theodore (midfield), Andrew Mullet (defence) and Michael Eagar (defence). Eagar has impressed so much that Taylor has appointed him as Club Captain for the season, with Tyson Holmes and Brad Norton as his Vice Captains. With no finals series in 2014 and the League Champion determined by first past the post, South must get off to a winning start.
Heidelberg spent 2013 in State League One after being relegated from the VPL in 2012. They had an excellent season and won the Championship by finishing on 46 points after 22 rounds, four points ahead of Werribee City (42) and seven ahead of third-placed Sunshine George Cross (39). Key players for the Bergers in 2014 include former South Captain Luke Byles, former South midfielder Danny Vasilevski and goalkeeper Griffin McMaster. Coach George Katsakis will have his players ready for Thursday’s match as his Heidelberg sides have usually matched up well against South over the years.
Ironically, Heidelberg’s last match in Victoria’s top division was against South, at Olympic Village on Sunday 16 September 2012. There was little for both sides to play for on that day because South could not qualify for the VPL finals series and Heidelberg was already relegated. Goals from Matko Budimir (20’), Shaun Kelly (38’, 40’), Baggio Yousif (68’) and Tom Matthews (72’) sealed a very comfortable 5-2 away victory for South to end its season on a high.
Tonight’s match kicks off at 7:15PM at Olympic Village.