City take the win, South take the pride from FFA Cup

In reality, Melbourne City’s win over South Melbourne at Lakeside Stadium on Friday night — 3-0 thanks to a brace from Scott Galloway and goal from Connor Metcalfe — was never really in doubt.

Heading to Albert Park as belligerents for the first time in their existence, Melbourne City represents everything that the National Premier Leagues are not. Fuelled by the petrodollars of the City Football Group, the club possesses everything an entity could ever need to succeed; employing the country’s best professionals, in the best facilities, with the best support staff. After putting forth one of the most dominant campaigns in the competition’s history, they are the defending A-League Men Premiers and Champions. Such is their depth that, despite playing in a 12-team, salary capped league, one could make a good case that their second XI wouldn’t be the favourite for the wooden spoon if they were a standalone unit.  

Conversely, South Melbourne is a club that has spent the past two decades at a crossroads. Frozen out of the nation’s top-tier following the collapse of the NSL, it has been forced to content itself with competing in the Victorian State Leagues; watching on as professionalism swept the tier above them. They’ve hardly proven unstoppable juggernauts in their new home — looking odds on to miss the finals before Football Victoria cancelled the 2021 NPL Victoria campaign in the face of COVID — but they’ve never stopped believing — some with more bombasity than others — that their’s is a club with a higher calling than the environment they currently occupy. 

Further compounding this inherent structural divide, Friday evening’s contest, in contrast to the normal procedure for the Cup’s Round of 32, took place with City just a week away from their season and peaking in fitness. The cancellation of their NPL season, conversely, had robbed South of NPL side’s traditional biggest advantage of being in-season, their last game on July 31, and Melbourne’s extended lockdowns in the face of the Delta wave of COVID meant that their build-up was one of player departures, disrupted training schedules, and general uncertainty. 

Put simply, the game carried all the hallmarks of a contest that could have been settled by a cricket score.

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And yet despite all this, when it was time to actually play the actual football on Friday night, South was able to do as they have done for the past 17 years: survive. The scoreline might have read 3-0 when referee Lachie Keevers blew for full-time, but a quick perusal of the stat sheet reveals that on another day, against other opposition, City did enough to score several more. Kisnorbo’s side outshot their foes 22 to four and won the possession battle 84% to 16%. South’s passing accuracy sat at just 60% at the game’s conclusion — meaning that when they did get the ball and looked to find a teammate under pressure from their supremely fit foes, they turned it over nearly half the time. 

Image Credit: South Melbourne / Cindy Nitsos

But none of the 4291 fans in attendance by Albert Park Lake would have left the venue thinking that the semiprofessional side had been embarrassed. If anything, the biggest footballing observation that could be taken from the contest is that City, despite all their dominance, couldn’t figure out a way to unlock the armoured shell of eight, nine and sometimes ten dogged blues shirts getting behind the ball whenever they strolled forward.

South offered very little going the other way outside of moments in transition or set pieces — and looking at their 2021 form and the prevailing circumstances it’s difficult to imagine they could have done more even if they tried — but they didn’t break. City in the end, did the diligent and professional job but were hardly what you’d call inspiring.

Now they’ll find out their opponents in the Cup’s Round of 16 on Monday and turn their attention to next week’s season opener against Brisbane Roar at AAMI Park; perhaps content in the knowledge that, come the A-League Men season, they’re unlikely to come up against another foe so utterly willing to cede possession and soak up pressure.

South, meanwhile, can turn their attention to their 2022 NPL Victoria campaign; one that, thanks to Victoria’s vaccine update, mercifully looks like it can be staged without the prospect of COVID disruptions.

And as their fans reminded them before they made the tunnel for one final time for 2021 — they can do so with their heads held high.

Enjoying Joey’s coverage of Australian sport? Your support helps keep it possible.
You’re seeing this advert because this is an unpaid, self-published piece.

You can support his ongoing work by buying him a coffee: https://www.buymeacoffee.com/JoeyLynch

Header Image Credit: South Melbourne / Cindy Nitsos

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