Semi Final – Melbourne Knights 0-1 South Melbourne

The stakes could not have been much higher. With legions of supporters eagerly watching on and a preliminary final place on the line, Knights dominated the first half with both possession and goalscoring chances.
There were golden opportunities for both sides. Tyson Holmes’ second-half strike hit the crossbar and bounced just on the line.
Shayan Alinejad and Andrew Barisic threatened to score for the home side, but it was the visitors who netted in the second half through Trent Rixon, who latched onto a Tyson Holmes cross and expertly tucked the ball into the back of the net.
A late, desperate Knights assault pushed South Melbourne to the brink, but just could not make the breakthrough to equalise and force the match into extra time.
Both pride and finals progression were up for grabs for the two former NSL behemoths. It was the 88th time Knights and South have crossed swords, and with the Croatian Soccer Tournament in town for the week, a monster crowd filled the stands at Somers St.
After a minute of silence to open the match, the first chance of note was a header by Knights’ talismanic striker Andrew Barisic who nodded the ball over the crossbar.
Only minutes later, South’s English forward Luke Hopper deftly turned his marker at the edge of the penalty area and pulled the trigger but his snap shot whistled narrowly wide of the post.
The home side reasserted its control over the game, creating the greater share of first-half chances. Anthony Colosimo stabbed at the ball from a close wide angle, but a sure-footed Gavalas kept it out. Marijan Cvitkovic collected a low fast cross-cum-shot but spurned an excellent opportunity by firing wide.
Shayan Alinejad was muscled to the ground in the penalty area and Knights supporters shouted vociferously for a penalty but the referee waved away their protests.
A brutal aerial clash between Knights goalkeeper Chris May and South defender Bryan Bran left both dazed, but play resumed after several minutes of medical attention for the Knights custodian.
The distinctive Alinejad imposed himself again, finding himself through on goal but wasting a golden chance to open the scoring, as his deflected chip agonisingly sailed over the bar and landed on top of the net.
Knights were dictating the majority of play, creating chances and denying South any serious goalscoring opportunities. Alinejad continued to be involved, with Andrew Barisic finding him via a long, seemingly hopeful ball. Interplay between the two culminated in a Barisic shot, but it was comfortably saved by Gavalas.
Astonishingly, throngs of supporters were still buying tickets at the gates to get into the stadium at half-time. It was no surprise then, when the ground announcer declared the official attendance of 4750 people – the largest crowd at Knights Stadium for years.
The second half resumed. It seemed to be similar faces involved in the action for Knights. Andrew Barisic was put through on goal by a South Melbourne defensive error, but Gavalas’ lightning reflexes were on display as he came off his line to deny the ex-Gold Coast United striker.
A moment of drama arrived, as Tyson Holmes let fly with a thundering rocket from the edge of the box. His shot ricocheted off the crossbar, bouncing downwards on the line. Trent Rixon scrambled to the rebound but could only send his header wide of the woodwork.
It took until the 67th minute to trouble the scorers. A fantastic ball by Holmes supplied Trent Rixon, who finished clinically to send South Melbourne supporters into raptures.
The already impressive atmosphere stepped up another notch, as the visiting fans sang and chanted jubilantly.
Knights pushed forward intently, and a Barisic looping header over Gavalas into the back of the net had thousands of Knights supporters convinced they had equalised, but their celebrations were cut short by the referee’s offside whistle.
A palpable sense of anxiety took hold of Knights Stadium as the clock ticked ever closer to ninety minutes. Irritatingly for their supporters, Knights largely controlled the tempo in the closing stages but struggled to find the elusive equaliser.
South Melbourne were limited to Nick Soolsma’s swerving strikes and curling free kicks. The visitors were content to grant possession to Knights, who held onto the ball but could not breach an impenetrable wall of South defenders.
Knights continued their frantic assault. Marijan Cvitkovic swung in a dangerous ball in the dying moments of the game, but as full-time approached, Knights’ hopes of extending the game into extra time diminished, and moments later, the game was sealed.
Understandably despondent Knights supporters filed out of the ground in their thousands to drown their sorrows at the revelry of the post-game Croatian Soccer Tournament party.
By contrast, delirious chanting erupted as droves of elated South Melbourne supporters celebrated and high-fived their heroes at the fence.
South Melbourne’s winning coach Chris Taylor acknowledged it was hardly a classic game but nevertheless was happy with the result.
“I’m relieved. It was a hard-fought game. Typical of derbies in the past. Wasn’t much in the game, but I’m delighted,” he said.
Steven Chang (MFootball)

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