Close to 6,000 South Melbourne supporters, players, and members turned out at Lakeside on Wednesday evening to witness South Melbourne play in their first ever FFA Cup semifinal and first match against A-League opposition.
Playing against Sydney FC, arguably the best A-League side in the land, the NPL part-timers faced a full-strength Sky Blues outfit. Lakeside was awash with blue and white and the home fans cheered their team at every opportunity and booed the opposition every chance they got, providing the sort of atmosphere and spectacle the club hopes will impress the FFA in their bid for admission into a national competition.
Two quick fire goals soon after the start of the match to the visitors through David Carney and Brazilian striker Bobo, were greeted with stony silence, apart from the cries of off side for the first goal by Carney when a Brosque pass put him in behind a flat-footed South defence for the opener after just three minutes.
South created a few chances in the first half, the best of which fell to striker Lujic, which encouraged its supporters. But it was a fine Leigh Minopoulos goal just after the break which raised the roof and buoyed the home team. For twenty minutes in the second half, South looked threatening with Millar causing problems down Sydney’s right flank.
The heavens opened 20 minutes into that half forcing many spectators to scramble for cover. Sydney’s possession game with Milos Ninkovic providing the fulcrum eventually wore the home team down and the visitors struck three more unanswered goals in the final 25 minutes through Bobo, Seb Ryall and sub Matt Simon to ease into their second consecutive grand final and end the Lakesiders’ season.
After the match, South Melbourne coach Chris Taylor commented, “We’re proud to have got to this round. It was a goal for us. Any team that gets to the semifinal is a major achievement in itself. We would have liked to put on a better show but in these games you need a little bit of luck and I don’t think we had too much of that tonight. We would’ve liked the scoreline to be a bit more respectable. Five-one looks like an absolute drubbing, but there were passages of the game where we competed quite well considering they’re the best team in Australia.”
Taylor said he didn’t believe the gap between A-League clubs and NPL clubs was immense, but a bigger factor is the difference in preparation between the two teams going into the game.
“The big thing is we’ve only played one game in seven weeks. That’s not ideal prep for probably the biggest game we’ve played in four to five years,” he said.
“I think the two [NPL and A-League] seasons should run concurrently and then the A-League could benefit because you’ve got players playing competitive fixtures at the same time, that can get called as an injury replacement. I think that’s the ideal thing. That way you’ve got an automatic feed into the A-League.”