Image: Frank Khamees
When Milos Lujic seized upon a Nick Epifano long ball, the striker had only one thing in sight. Having spotted Melbourne Knights goalkeeper Fraser Chalmers off his line, the reigning four-time NPL Golden Boot decided to try his luck from range by placing a lobbed shot which ultimately sailed over the former Brisbane Roar shot-stopper and into the back of the net.
Such was the precision and quality of the strike that you’d have been forgiven for thinking the 27-year-old had not been in the midst of a nine-game goal drought from open play.
A player often maligned for his lack of mobility outside the box, Lujic’s finish will surely be seen in highlights reels for years to come, and the former Young Socceroo is hoping the derby victory over the Knights can kick-start South’s stop-start season.
“I’m used to scoring tap-ins,” joked the South striker. “But it was a really good goal and I’m just happy to get off the mark from open play, and to be honest I am more happy with the three points.
“It’s been a tough year so far but I believe this win can get us going for the rest of the year. Hopefully I score more goals and help the team to get more points so we can sneak into the finals.”
The AIS graduate is no stranger to scoring against the Melbourne Knights. Since 2012, the marksman has netted 13 goals in 13 competitive outings against the two-time NSL Champions, with his duels against the likes of Tomislav Uskok and Milan Batur always hotly contested battles.
While one may argue that his prolific nature against South’s great rivals runs in the family – given his father Zdravko was a legend for Melbourne Croatia’s fierce adversaries Footscray JUST in the 1980s, Lujic junior believes his great form against the North Sunshine-based outfit stems from confidence.
“In the last four or so years I always tend to find the back of the net against them. It might be a confidence factor playing up against those defenders but I’m not really sure what it is,” he said.
“They have been in good form lately and we knew from the start that it being a derby game always brings the best out of them. Having played in many of these games before you know what to expect as it is always very physical with something always happening, including plenty of yellows and red cards,” Lujic noted.
“While there were no reds today, it was still very physical and credit to them as they are a great team and we knew that we were lucky to be 2-0 up at the break. But credit to our defence as in the second half we just held firm and collected all three points.”
Having commenced the season with seven consecutive away games, South’s title defence appeared in tatters having collected just five points from their opening seven fixtures. Their star forward is confident that the run of 13 home games from their next 19 will see Hellas make a march up the table – so far, their opening two games at Lakeside Stadium have yielded six points.
“It’s been tough as we have been training away from our home ground for the last eight to ten weeks, which I think a lot of people aren’t aware of. This has made it hard to come to training and have a really good session but now we’re back at Lakeside and had some good sessions in the lead-up to the derby and that paid off today so we’re happy,” Lujic commented.
“We know that we need to pick up as many points as possible in this home run and while we’ve had an up-and-down start to the campaign, we are confident that we can get right back up there near the top of the ladder,” he added.
Having won the Golden Boot in each of the last four seasons, Lujic finds himself in an unfamiliar position on the goal charts, looking up at ex-Richmond teammate Davey van’t Schip who has hit the back of the net 10 times in nine league games.
A modest Lujic admitted that he has not been paying too much attention to the goal standings and is determined to start scoring more frequently in order to aid the team’s cause.
“I’ve got four under my belt already but to be honest I haven’t even checked out the goal standings. Obviously I know that Davey has been doing really well at Paco but my concerns lay right here with doing well with the team and scoring as many goals as possible.
“If it wins me another Golden Boot then so be it but if not that it is fine by as me, as long as the team does really well. But usually when I’m scoring goals the team is doing well, so hopefully I kick on and score a few more goals and give other opponents a bit more to worry about.”
While a return to the top six is on the agenda in the league, Lujic and his teammates are not hiding away from the fact that the club has made success in the FFA Cup a key goal for 2017. Having only made the national round of 32 once from three attempts, the men from Albert Park are hoping to bring a home tie to Lakeside Stadium at a time when the Oceania Club of the Century is pushing hard in its attempts to join the A-League.
“The FFA Cup is really important to the club and we are going to give everything we’ve got against Box Hill and whoever we come up against if we make the later rounds.
“It is really important to many around the club to get back into the national spotlight as that’s what has been missing in the last three or four years. We have been very successful in the NPL but haven’t made too much of an impact in the cup so we’ll definitely be aiming to do that this year.”
Lujic and South Melbourne will be hoping to make it three wins from their last three matches when they entertain second-placed Hume City on Sunday afternoon 4.30 at Lakeside Stadium, who themselves are on a four-game winning run – each via a scoreline of 1-0.