The Melbourne Knights celebrated their 40th aniversary yesterday by thrashing third-placed Sydney United 6-1 and sending Mark Viduka to a two-goal lead among the National Soccer League’s top scorers.
With a scoring rate of 2.55 goals a game after 18 rounds, the Knights are threatening to break the one-season record of 2.39 a game, set by Sydney Hakoah in 1984.
As part of the 40th anniversary celebrations, past stars of Melbourne Croatia soccer club, which owns the Knights, were presented to the crowd before the match. One of them, Tommy Cumming, quipped as Viduka scored the sixth goal: “We inspired them.”
Jimmy Mackay, the former Socceroo who scored the goal that put Australia into the 1974 World Cup finals, was impressed not only by the team’s performance but also by the advances Melbourne Croatia has made since taking over the disused Sunshine drive-in theatre, now called the Croatian Sports Centre.
“I was here to play in a social match about 12 years ago and this place was just a paddock,” he said. “What they’ve done here is amazing: I’ve never seen a club progress like this.”
Knights coach Mirko Bazic _ surely unchallenged in the contest for the NSL coach-of-the-year award _ took a positive approach against a traditionally spirited opponent by recalling Ollie Pondeljak, back after injury, as a third goalscorer, and dropping defensive right flanker Zoran Markovski.
Pondeljak’s presence on the wing prompted United captain Tony Popovic to go to full-back, rather than operate at central defence where he is more comfortable. Pondeljak put Popovic to the sword, scoring with a superb 20-metre left-foot shot on the run and proving the outstanding player of the first half, before he was rested just after the interval.
Pondeljak’s fellow forwards, Viduka and Adrian Cervinski, scored twice each, against their immediate opponents, Velimir Kupresak and David Zdrilic.
The other scorer was Andrew Marth, who headed home a cross from Pondeljak for the first goal of the match, in the 14th minute. Only the woodwork prevented Marth, Pondeljak and substitute Markovski from increasing the Knights’ winning margin.
Former Socceroo goalkeeper Tony Franken could not have chosen a worse weekend to return to United’s first team, replacing Zeljko Kalac (suspended), whose freakish height would have been appropriate against Marth, Viduka and Adrian Cervinski.
Although United improved marginally in the second half _ Tony Krslovic pulled a goal back at 1-4 in the 70th minute _ none of its players won his own duel.
In midfield, Eric Hristodoulou and John Gibson, usually United’s prime movers, were mere passengers against Zoran Trajcevski and especially against man of the match Josip Biskic.
Marth left Ante Moric floundering, Fausto DeAmicis was so dominant that Klaus Okon might as well have stayed home, and Viduka wore down the resistance of Kupresak and Robert Stanton with sheer persistence.
Bottom team Heidelberg hung on against Brisbane until the 61st minute, when Danny Wright scored the visitors’ winning goal at the Olympic Village.