Image: Cindy Nitsos
A new era was ushered in at Lakeside with a maiden home game of the season marking the opening of the social club and the first ever home NPLW/NPL double header at the venue.
In the earlier game, the women were taking on the Bulleen Lions, while the men were facing off against a North Geelong Warriors outfit fresh from an 8-0 mauling against Heidelberg United.
Our new and exciting facility is now open with a sold out Jersey night. pic.twitter.com/TsN8hVAcvW
— South Melbourne FC (@smfc) April 7, 2017
Drab and dreary conditions met spectators but the action in the women’s contest lit up the pitch in what would turn out to be one of the NPLW’s most pulsating contests.
W-League and Matildas legend Lisa De Vanna was on hand to make her debut off the bench after signing recently, though her side was without other W-League names in Alex Cheal and Jamie Pollock.
That mattered little early as South opened the scoring via Caitlin Greiser, who had her fourth goal in five games to make it 1-0, but by half time it was 1-1 with Bulleen equalising via Caity Friend.
The floodgates were open off and on the pitch as the visitors took the lead shortly after the break when another turnover led to a Lia Privitelli goal, the Lions pouncing again on a South error.
However, recent TCF Player of the Month Melina Ayres struck yet another goal to take her tally to double figures and equalise
Drama ensued as a penalty to Bulleen – taken by Friend – was saved by Molly May Ramsay, but Brittany Dudley-Smith opened her season account to make it 2-3 moments later, netting against her former club to restore the lead for her current club.
De Vanna was introduced and made an immediate impact, assisting Ayres for 3-3, the latter’s fifth brace of the season.
Julia Nicolaci was the next on the scoresheet to get South back in the lead, but Bulleen equalised once more to make it 4-4 in the 82nd minute via Friend, making amends for the saved penalty.
The script was waiting for a final chapter to be delivered by De Vanna in grandstand circumstances, and she delivered, scoring in the 86th minute to complete a remarkable 5-4 victory for South.
It didn’t quite reach the 6-5 tally that Alamein and Senior NTC notched up a day earlier, but it was a significant result given Galaxy United’s slip up to Southern United earlier in the weekend in terms of the race to the top.
In the men’s, Zaim Zeneli was one a few interesting sub-plots on the day, starting ahead of Nikola Roganovic, while there was also no Carl Piergianni in the XI as Michael Eagar partnered Luke Adams in defence after last week’s 4-4 draw with Green Gully.
It took just 10 minutes for South to register a lead, Matt Millar smashing in Leigh Minopoulos’ ball across the face and past Marko Stevanja – in for Daniel Zilic after last week’s mauling – making it seem as though North Geelong were in for another tough day in the office.
However, Micky Colina’s men started fashioning a few chances of their own, Thorne missing the target after Henry Durr’s delivery.
North Geelong had a host of chances not far from half-time, including Josh Pugh missing a follow-up to Thorne’s free kick, but it was Ivan Grgic that eventually got the equaliser moments later.
Not normally known for his goalscoring ability, the central defender – signed in the off-season from sister club Melbourne Knights – bundled the ball home to send the away fans into raptures.
The second half resumed with South Melbourne taking the lead once more following a contentious penalty call for a foul on Marcus Schroen, Milos Lujic making it 2-1 from the spot for his fourth goal of campaign – all penalties so far.
Soon after it should have been Adams to seal the contest at 3-1, but he scuffed an effort from Schroen’s corner.
In the end it didn’t cost Chris Taylor’s side which held on for a 2-1 win against an improved North Geelong, the three points seeing South jump Oakleigh into 10th on the ladder, not far off the likes of Port Melbourne and Kingston above them.