By Michael Lynch, The Age
Tuesday, 20 February 2001
Melbourne Knights are hoping that mounting interest in their clash with top-of-the-table South Melbourne on Friday night will swell the Somers Street crowd to near record levels.
The Knights, despite their defeat by Wollongong last Saturday night, remain sixth in the National Soccer League and are aiming for their first finals appearance in four years.
South, along with Perth Glory, is perhaps the biggest drawcard in the competition, and traditionally takes several thousand fans with it to Knights Stadium.
That was certainly the case last year, when a crowd officials said was more than 11,000 crammed into the Sunshine venue, which has been a graveyard for visiting teams over the years.
But although the accountants might have been happy with the gate receipts, Knights coach Vlado Vanis wasn’t pleased with what went on out on the pitch.
It was in this match that English import Peter Beardsley played the first of two matches for the Knights, for which he was paid a reported $40,000.
Vanis, unhappy with his performance, dragged him after barely an hour, then watched his team crash to a 4-0 defeat.
In fact, the recent history of matches between these two sides has been written very much from the South perspective: the team from Bob Jane Stadium did the double over the Knights last year, and hammered them again earlier this season when they met at South’s home ground.
The Knights’ performance in that 4-1 loss was described by team bosses as gutless, so they should lack nothing in motivation this time.
While South is sailing along at the top of the table and expects to welcome striker Vas Kalogerakos back from injury, Vanis faces a number of selection concerns, especially at the back.
Elegant sweeper Steve Horvat has flown out for trials with Dutch side Utrecht and, if a deal is offered, is unlikely to return to the Knights’ colors.
Former club captain Jason Vukadin and fringe defender Ivan Zelic are also out of the picture, both having left for trials in China.
And Sasa Ognenovski, a stopper recruited at the start of the season from Victorian Premier League side Preston, is suspended.
Young defender Anton Kovacic is likely to be among the contenders for a place in the starting line-up, while injury-prone but experienced defender Ransford Banini could also come into consideration.
An even more critical issue for the Knights will be whether dynamic midfielder Lubo Lapsansky can play.
The former Carlton star (who, like Horvat and new captain Andrew Marth, returned to the Knights after the Blues folded) missed out on the Wollongong defeat after injuring an eye at work.
The injury needed a dressing, which will come off tomorrow.
Knights team manager John Sigur said a decision on whether Lapsansky played against South would be left as late as possible.
“This is a tough game for us, and South were absolutely awesome on Sunday (when they slammed six past a hapless Marconi),” Sigur said.
“They were clinical in their finishing, and their squad not only has a lot of depth but they have a lot of players who have been together for a long time and who know each other and the culture of the club very well.
“But with the return here of Lapsansky and Andrew Marth we have similar players who know our culture and provide focus for our team.
“In my opinion we will be seeing the two best leaders in Australian soccer going up against each other in this match, Andrew Marth (for the Knights) and Paul Trimboli (South’s captain).”