By Sports Marketing Solutions

The Woonona Sharks travelled to meet 6th placed Port Kembla at Wetherall Park in Round 22 of the Illawarra Premier League. The home side were playing for their season and with a string of results to fall their way, a win today keeps their finals hopes alive. For the travelling Sharks, they were keen to disrupt any finals hopes Port Kembla may have and continue their late season momentum after hammering Wollongong United a week earlier and make it three wins in as many weeks.

Blustery conditions greeted both sides to the pitch and from the opening whistle it was obvious the Sharks were keen to find an early goal when Cameron Banks snuck around Port Kembla’s Brooklan Frkovic to fire a thunderous strike that saw Daniel Farina somehow fingertip the ball enough to cannon off the crossbar in the opening passage of play. The Sharks had applied a copious amount of pressure on the Zebra’s goal in the opening 10 minutes with Brendan Pattman and defender Chris Gibson creating inroads in behind the Port Kembla defence. The Sharks were awarded with the opening goal of the match when a set piece corner was flung towards the far post, where Banks smartly headed the ball back inside, where Scott Curran was under enormous pressure to skip the ball home in the 12th minute.

With the Sharks ahead on the scoreboard, Port Kembla drifted forward on numerous occasions looking to draw level. Takao Terramotto was dangerous early on, causing a headache for the Woonona backline, with Jarryd Vinton and Joey Lavelle providing the momentum from the centre of the pitch, they were unable to peg back the Sharks early advantage. Their best chance in the opening half an hour fell when Peter Richardson broke free down the right hand flank to cross a ball over into the box, which was left uncontested at the far post after the bounce of the ball beat a diving Sharks Bradley Jardine.

Shortly after, the Sharks had a huge shout for a penalty waved away after Caleb Russell turned his opposite inside out and was knocked off his feet in a 50/50 challenge, however with the match official right on hand and awarded a free kick to the Zebras against Russell. With the wind howling around the pitch, the Zebras took full advantage and played a long ball, against the run of play down field, as Richardson swept across a ball, almost identical to the one moments earlier, finding an unmarked Adrian Nickolovski in the middle of the 18 yard box, where he levelled the match with a well taken strike in the 36th minute.

Port Kembla’s new found dominance after the match was back level, which saw them sweep up field on a number of occasions, but the best they could muster was a corner, after some nice defending via Sharks Josh Hutton and Lachlan Fetterplace. In the 43rd minute, Woonona’s Trent Worthington had the golden opportunity to give the Sharks the lead at the break when he let rip with a right footed volley that inched past the left hand upright as Farina could only watch go by.

Both teams headed to the sheds locked at one all after an entertaining opening half that saw both side’s trade patches of dominance and passages of a free flowing style of play.

The opening of the second stanza saw Port Kembla come firing out of the blocks looking to take the lead for the first time in the match. Again, Woonona’s defence couldn’t be cracked as Gibson kept the foundations solid. Tensions in the match got heated when both sides took offence to overzealous challenges that were traded in quick succession but the lid was kept on by the match official correctly awarding free kicks when warranted.

The Sharks let their football do the talking and in the 59th minute should have taken the lead when Hutton played a ball down the right flank to Banks, who outpaced Justin Potter and whipped a pin point cross to a waiting Hayden Nicol who thumped the ball over the cross bar from inside the six yard box with only Farina to beat. Port Kembla responded shortly after when Vinton found space to unleash with a shot that was plucked out of the air by Sharks Jardine.

Play was stopped in the 71st minute after a sickening head clash between Richardson and Gibson as both players leapt to contest the ball after a Port Kembla clearance. Richardson came off the worst of the two and re-entered the pitch with some hefty bandage work around his head. Ten minutes later, the Sharks again could have had the lead after a passage of play that saw a flurry of passes begin deep in their third, surge downfield to find Banks one on one with Port Kembla keeper Farina. Banks got a rushed shot away that an advancing Farina could only parry into the path of Worthington, who side footed the ball goal bound with Farina stranded on the penalty spot that was destined for the back of the net. However, a desperate defensive display saw a covering Potter somehow manage to throw himself at the ball on the goal line to deny a certain Sharks goal.

Both sides traded consecutive shots in the dying minutes but the missed chances of the Sharks cut deep when Port kembla’s Terramotto turned into a hero as he poked the ball home after a set piece was whipped into the box from the right hand edge as the small crowd at Wetherall Park erupted in the 87th minute to give them a chance to feature in finals football. To Woonona’s credit, they dug deep looking to level the match in the dying moments. Deep into stoppage time, drama unfolded after a Sharks free kick was sent long into the box, the match official awarded a penalty to the visitors, as Fetterplace was fouled in the process of challenging the ball in the air. From the spot kick, man of the match Caleb Russell made no mistake, as he cannoned the ball to the left past a diving Farina to level the match at two all and shatter the hearts of the Zebras and dash any hopes of a 2016 finals appearance in the 93rd minute.

“We had a number of chances to take the match early on, the effort was there again from the boys today, we deserved something out of that.” A smiling Woonona Sharks coach Rob Bemi said after the match.

The Sharks must now face neighbours Bulli at home in the local derby in their final round of the season, where Port Kembla has a date with Kemblawarra Fury.

In the earlier matches played today, The Woonona Sharks were defeated three goals to one by Port Kembla in Youth Grade. In the Under 18’s fixture, a Max Ashton goal saw the Sharks snatch a one all draw with Port Kembla and the Woonona Master’s played a one all draw with Dapto Phoenix.

****Sharks Josh Hutton on the ball in today’s fixture.****