In what was a thrilling contest worthy of its top of the table billing, a stirring comeback saw South Melbourne FC record a 2-2 draw with the Bentleigh Greens at Kingston Heath last Friday night.
South came back from two goals down at the half-time break, with second half goals from Milos Lujic and Nick Epifano maintaining the defending PlayStation 4 NPL Victoria Champions’ unbeaten start to the 2015 season.
In a clash that embodied the old phrase ‘a game of two halves’, Bentleigh started the brighter of the two sides and opened the scoring after 30 minutes through Queensland recruit Matt Thurtell. Minutes later South conceded again, when Chris Lucas slotted home to make the score 2-0 to the hosts. Bentleigh were physically and technically superior in the first half and the half time interval couldn’t have come quickly enough in order for Chris Taylor’s men to regroup.
Taylor brought on Andy Brennan and Cody Martindale at the start of the second half to replace David Stirton and Bonel Obradovic respectively. The changes brought immediate dividends, with the away side looking a completely different team in the second half.
A slick move after 53 minutes finished with Milos Lujic going down in the box and the 2014 Golden Boot winner duly converted the resulting penalty to halve the deficit and put his side back in the game.
With a more physical presence on the field, South began to win control over the midfield battle, with the likes of Epifano enjoying more influence as the game went on. Having barely seen the ball in the first half, Epifano suddenly looked like the most threatening man on the pitch and was creating space for his teammates with several delightful touches and dummies.
With just over ten minutes to play, the midfielder raced onto a flick-on by Lujic before chipping the ball over the advancing Greens keeper Alistair Bray and into the unguarded net to level the scores and send the South Melbourne fans on the far hill into raptures.
The goal set up a grandstand finish and both sides might have won it in the dying minutes.
Firstly the Bentleigh players claimed that the ball had crossed the line in a mad goal line scramble that eventually resulted in a corner kick being given. Following a clearance from the corner, the ball went up the other end and fell to Lujic for the chance to snatch a memorable victory for South. In what was the last action of the match, the centre forward scuffed his chance and the full-time whistle moments later ended what was a thrilling contest.
Post-match, South coach Chris Taylor said that a draw was the correct result. “We were totally outplayed in the first half. We made some changes at the break, came home with a wet sail and even though we could have won it there at the end, I think that a draw was probably a fair result.”
Vice-Captain Brad Norton said that the players were told to keep calm at the half-time break. “We were in sixes and sevens in the first half; we weren’t really sure what was going on. [At halftime] CT told us that we were good enough to get back into a game like this. We knew that if we played to our style then we would be able to get back into the game and credit to the boys, that’s what we did.”
The Under 20s also played out a draw with Bentleigh with the score finishing 1-1. Nashir Hussainy scored South’s goal.
It’s another huge fixture for South Melbourne FC next week, with a derby clash against old rivals Heidelberg United on Sunday afternoon at the Olympic Village. Kick-off is at 4pm.
<h3>FINAL SCORE: BENTLEIGH GREENS 2-2 SOUTH MELBOURNE (HT: 2-0) </h3>
1-0: Matt Thurtell (30’)
2-0: Chris Lucas (35’)
2-1: Milos Lujic (53’p)
2-2: Nick Epifano (79’)
21. Alistair Bray (GK), 2. Tom Matthews, 4. Troy Ruthven (6. Liam McCormick 81’), 5. Jack Webster, 8. Wayne Wallace, 9. Chris Lucas, 10. Tyson Holmes, 18. Matt Thurtell, 19. Daniel Visevic (7. Jamie de Abreu 71’), 24. Luke Pilkington, 36. Steven Topalovic.
Unused Subs: 1. Ryan Scott (GK), 11. Dion Kirk, 15. Kobbie Boahene.
South Melbourne FC:
1. Nikola Roganovic (GK), 2. Tim Mala, 4. Michael Eagar (C), 5. Luke Adams, 6. Bonel Obradovic (15. Cody Martindale 46’), 7. Nick Epifano (27. Leigh Minopoulos 89’), 8. Mathew Theodore, 9. Milos Lujic, 10. David Stirton (17. Andy Brennan 46’), 11. Brad Norton, 12. Iqi Jawadi.
Unused Subs: 13. Dane Milovanovic, 23. Andy Kecojevic.
Fix Hellas Man of the Match: Brad Norton
Venue: Kingston Heath Soccer Complex
Date: Friday 20 March 2015