Blue skies, thirty-two degrees, a setting sun and the lush pastures of the Mornington Peninsula were the conditions on Wednesday evening as South Melbourne FC played its fourth friendly of the 2015 NPL Victoria pre-season. Milos Lujic scored twice in the first half but NPL 1’s Kingston City showed determination, pulling a goal back in the second half as the final whistle confirmed a 2-1 South Melbourne win.
The size of South’s squad is dwindling as Head Coach Chris Taylor gets closer to finalising his list. It was almost a full-strength line-up that made its way onto the Centenary Park pitch to take on Kingston City. Anchored through the midfield with the likes of Iqi Jawadi, Nick Epifano and Nejc Kolman, South demonstrated solid possession and attacking flair through the early stages of the match. Opportunities presented themselves in the opening fifteen minutes, however the back of Kingston City’s net was left uninterrupted.
In the eighteenth minute, Lujic climbed high near the back post to head the ball back across Kingston goalkeeper George Malliaras and over the line for the opening goal. The tall centre forward, who scored 22 NPL Victoria goals last season to equal the South Melbourne League record also held by Jimmy Armstrong (1974) and Doug Brown (1984), wasn’t finished with the scorecard either.
A few minutes later, Andy Brennan made a blistering run down the left side into the area. He had options inside but instead he took on two defenders and dragged them all the way to the by-line before cutting the ball back to the penalty spot. Lujic was there waiting and he twisted around before putting his left boot through the ball and into the open net to make the score 2-0 in South’s favour.
Prior the half hour mark, the first of the substitutions were made. Taylor continues to actively use the pre-season friendlies to see how the trial players and the new players fit in with the established line-up, as well as assess different structures and combinations. On this occasion, it was Dane Milovanovic gracing the playing surface for the first time in a South Melbourne jersey.
Milovanovic’s preparation for the season sees him still working to get fully fit and it is encouraging to see him now ready for game time considering he had an operation only six weeks ago. Mentally he is match ready and this was evident when it took him just ten seconds after entering play to take charge of the midfield and start issuing instructions. His commanding presence and experience in the midfield will deliver strength to the team and give further options for Taylor throughout 2015.
After the halftime break, fresh faces came on for South to meet an energised Kingston City. Kingston pressed high, putting pressure on South’s back four and their efforts were rewarded when an error presented them with an opportunity. Thanks to a quick response and chip over the onrushing goalkeeper, Kingston found the back of the net to halve South Melbourne’s lead. Whilst Kingston would continue to pressure and hold more controlling possession in the second half, there would be no further addition to the score line as South ran out 2-1 winners.
After the match, smfc.com.au spoke with the double-goal scoring Lujic about the friendly. “It was a good first half, it was pretty hot out there. I think both teams worked hard, it was good to get minutes under the belt and it was just a nice pre-season game,” he said. A consistent theme among the players is their confidence in pre-season readiness, especially compared to last year. Lujic shared his thoughts, saying “there’s been a lot of games which has been good, the boys are loving that. Less running at training and more games. We’re happy. The core of the group from last year stayed and I think we’re gelling a bit better as a team than at this point in time last year. The new boys are quality players and have slotted right in. We’re looking pretty good for the season.”
South Melbourne FC is on the road for one more pre-season friendly before finally returning to Lakeside Stadium. This coming Saturday 24 January the team travels to White Eagles Stadium to meet Springvale White Eagles. The Under 20s kick-off is at 4PM and the Seniors begin at 6PM.
Match Photos: http://on.fb.me/1zyiXhg