Zebras take spoils over eight-man South in fiery blockbuster
Hobart JEEP Zebras title hopes are alive and kicking with Chris Hey's men edging out South Hobart 1-0 in a dramatic encounter, that saw Zebras victorious and three South Hobart players sent off along with assistant coach Nick Lapolla in a chaotic finish.
In what was a tight and tense tussle all match between two quality teams, the Zebras took the lead in the 57th minute through Luke Huigsloot and held on to take home three crucial points that sees them keep in touch with ladder leaders, Devonport.
South Hobart finished the game with just eight players left on the pitch with Dan Brown, Alex Leszczynski and Darcy Hall all sent off in the dramatic dying stages of the game. The loss is a bitter blow for South Hobart, who will not only lose three key players through suspension but fall back to eight points off the pace with their title aspirations on a knife's edge.
The opening half saw little chances with just two shots on target and a handful off target in an arm wrestle. There were no clear cut chances as both sides were happy sitting reasonably deep and working in numbers to try and nullify the attack of the opposing team. Both teams prodded and poked one another to find an opening but both defences had the edge. South's best chance in the opening half fell to Alex Leszczynski, who headed to himself from a set piece before marginally missing contact on a shot as he outmuscled two defenders, with Graham Wright on hand to snaffle up the loose ball before anything came of it.
In the 52nd minute, Dan Brown was into the book as he body checked the run of Jordan Muller who had burst through the middle of the park. A yellow card that would prove to be costly.
The game's only goal came in the 57th minute as a long clearance out of defence from the Zebras was read impeccably well by Luke Huigsloot, he nipped in to header it past Matt Lewis just beyond the halfway line before pursuing the loose ball. Brown jumped and attempted to play it back to James Wilson but his back pass was short of Wilson, who was rushed to clear. Huigsloot made himself big as Wilson kicked it and it cannoned off the striker and into the back of the net to make it 1-0.
In the 79th minute, Brown was given his marching orders as he collected a second yellow as he tugged the shirt of Huigsloot who had beaten him on the turn. Referee Kim Barker presented a second yellow and a resulting red to see Brown depart for an early shower.
Things went from bad to worse only two minutes later as Nick Morton made a late lunging challenge on Huigsloot in the middle of the park. Huigsloot stood over the midfielder and had words as Adam McKeown (who had a game to forget) also ran in to have some words too. As McKeown walked off after letting his feeling be known, Darcy Hall ran from 30 metres away to drive his elbow into the back of McKeown. Referee Barker had already pulled the red from the holster and was ready to issue it as tensions continued to boil over at Darcy Street. The Zebras players were clearly incensed by Hall's moment of madness and remonstrated with him. Leszczynski went into battle for his teammate and must have gotten too close to Dwayne Walsh for Barker's liking. Both Leszczynski and Hall were issued with straight red cards and were sent from the field. The situation then worsened for the hosts as South Hobart Assistant Nick Lapolla was sent to the stands, after sharing his displeasure with the officials.
If that excitement wasn't enough, South almost pulled off the miracle with just eight men when a loose ball wasn't dealt with by the Zebras in defence. It fell to Loic Feral who volleyed an effort on target, his effort was miraculously denied by a diving chest from a heroic Tyler Harrison. His teammates mobbed him and thanked him for a game saving effort on the last line.
The Zebras kept inviting South to attack despite having a three man advantage. Instead of knocking the ball around to take advantage of their superior numbers, the Zebras kept attacking and turning over the ball. Fortunately for them it was not to be South's day and their forays forward were thwarted.
The win takes the Zebras to within four points of the Devonport Strikers atop the PS4 NPL Tasmania ladder, whilst it almost closes the curtains for South Hobart's title tilt, with any faint hope perhaps resting on how long their suspended trio spend on the sidelines.
It was a match in which some fine defensive players stood out with Paul Stevens and Jayden Hey outstanding for the Zebras, while Liam Quaile was exceptional for South. While Huigsloot and Hall (before his departure) were the pick of the attacking options at either end.
Hobart JEEP Zebras coach Chris Hey was happy to escape with maximum points from an intense meeting.
"It was a bit of a slugfest, a physical game.
"The guys walked away with three points and we move forward.
"We are in the race (for the title).
"There were patches (of football that I was pleased with)," Hey said.
South Hobart coach Ken Morton was surprisingly calm in the post match considering the frenetic final 15 minutes of the game.
"I think three points that got away...I thought second half we started to get on top and create a few chances.
"(On the red cards) Harsh, because in Darcy and Alex's case. Albie got in the way of Walshy to stop five players from getting to Darcy. So you know, it happens and it happened but how a couple of their players didn't go either I don't know," Morton explained.
"A great effort from the lads, I'm proud of them.
"Hopefully we have one or two coming back from injury (to cover the suspensions).
"I think it's still there for the top three teams (the title)."
Time will tell whether Morton proves to be correct about the title race, but from here it will be difficult for them to reel in the pacesetters, Devonport.
RESULT: South Hobart 0 Hobart JEEP Zebras 1 (Luke Huigsloot 57')