With South Coast United having secured safety as a result of Fernhill’s defeat against Albion Park White Eagles, the impetus to gain all three points fell on Woonona who required a win to keep themselves in fifth position going into the last round of the season.

For the Sharks, the celebrations surrounding their captain, Christopher Gibson’s 300th appearance added extra context to the encounter. However, South Coast United was keen to put a dampener on the party as they looked to continue their unbeaten run in the second half of the season.

The first moment of notable action in the intense affair occurred in the 10th minute when Woonona’s Jesse French cut the ball across the box to Corey Haines-Grose surging into the area. Upon meeting the ball, Haines-Grose poked it goalward, however, he would be denied by the cat-like reflexes of Jason Bleakley, whose outstretched arm would deflect the ball out for a corner.

Seven minutes later, Bleakley’s opposite number, Ben Wunsch, would also show his class in goals pulling off a magnificent save after Chris Smith had floated in a cross to the unmarked Ricky Bertakis lurking on the edge of the six-yard box. Bertakis’ deft header looked destined to nestle in the bottom left corner until Wunsch dived full stretch to deny South Coast United’s talismanic forward.

In the 22nd minute of the match, Bleakley looked as though he had undone his previous good work when he mishit a goal kick straight toward Woonona’ feet. Played through on goal, Haines-Grose had a golden opportunity to put the Sharks into the lead, however, he hit his shot across the face of the goal out for a goal kick. Bleakley, though, would make a good connection with the ball this time as he started a promising South Coast United passage of play in which Chris Smith was played through on goal. Finding himself one-on-one with the keeper on his right foot, Smith hesitated, dragging the ball back onto his left, giving the scrambling defence time to close him down as he took on the shot. Taking a deflection, Smith’s shot, forced Wunsch into making a low save to his left which he parried into the path of United’s Yuya Kotaki. Kotaki would hit the ball first time only for Wunsch to deny South Coast once again, this time parrying the ball away and out of danger.

On the half hour mark, Woonona would have another chance to take the lead when the ball bobbled across the area to Luke McCosker within the six-yard box. McCosker would side foot the ball goalward, however, once again the illustrious hand of Bleakley would swat the ball away off the line.

Following the pattern of play during the first half, South Coast would have an opportunity of their own to score only a few minutes later, which they took full advantage of. Having won a corner, Tomi Skara somewhat surprised the South Coast United supporters when he floated the ball over the box to the far post, contrary to the successful front post darts from previous matches. However, the new set-piece manoeuvre brought immediate success as Chris Smith peeled off his defender, side-footing a volley into the back of the net.

The Sharks, now needing two goals to maintain their fifth-placed position, looked to bounce back quickly and created a good opportunity in the 42nd minute for Haines-Grose when he was played through on goal once again. Unlike previous opportunities, Haines-Grose would not trouble Bleakley, hitting the ball straight at his chest.

In stoppage time, South Coast United was inches away from doubling their lead when Bertakis found himself with the ball on the edge of the box. Releasing a powerful shot, Bertakis would hit the ball just wide of the near post to signal the end of an entertaining first half.

Coming out of the sheds, the Sharks were hungry for an equaliser and came ever so close in the 50th minute when Jai Mellor rose in the penalty box, to head a corner goalward. However, once more, Woonona would be denied by Bleakley who clawed the ball off the line with his outstretched glove.

In the 61st minute though, Bleakley’s immaculate glovework would be undone by an awkward bounce from a cross bobbling along the face of the goal. Bleakley’s error would present an open goal for Jesse French lurking at the back post; his simple tap in restoring parity on the scoreboard.

In the 68th minute, Woonona looked through on goal again as Dylan Caton on the break, tore down the middle of the field. Caton though would be denied the opportunity to shoot thanks to a last-ditch slide tackle from Chris Valic.

Two minutes later, Woonona would have another opportunity to take the lead when a dangerous ball over the top drew Jason Bleakley out to the edge of his area. Sliding, Bleakley got a hand to the ball before the Woonona attacker could nip the ball past him, however, he could not parry the ball away safely, palming the ball straight into the path of Luke McCosker. With Bleakley helpless on the ground, McCosker released a shot that was destined for the back of the net until Byungkuk Cho came to the rescue for South Coast, throwing his body in front of the ball to keep the scores level.

With twenty minutes of the match remaining, nerves spread across the ground with the news that Tarrawanna was leading against Corrimal. Consequently, the home sided began to mount a barrage of attacks. However, just like the previous nine weeks, South Coast’s staunch defence would be too strong for their opponents, extinguishing every Woonona push forward.

In the dying moments in stoppage time, Woonona would have one final chance to take home all three points when they won a corner. Alas, the South Coast defence would rise high to head the ball away as the final whistle blew.

For South Coast, the draw was an added bonus to their survival celebrations. It is quite incredible that the club, which was winless after 12 games, has secured safety with a round to spare in 10th position. Next week, they face Cringila at home, where a win could deny their opposition a spot in the 2020 edition of the Illawarra Premier League.

Meanwhile, Woonona will be bitterly disappointed to have surrendered their position in the top five to Tarrawanna. They now face the Blueys next week in what looms to be a tantalising fifth-place playoff.

18th August 2019 @ Ocean Park

Woonona – 1 (French 61’)

South Coast United – 1 (Smith 34’)

Woonona – Ben WUNSCH, Tyren MACLOU, Khalid ALALI, Jeremy LOPEZ, Christopher GIBSON, Kota ODAKURA, Jesse FRENCH, Dylan CATON, Jai MELLOR, Corey HAINES-GROSE, Luke McCOSKER.

Substitutes – Trent WORTHINGTON (on for French), Cameron BESGROVE (on for Maclou), Tyler BROMHAM-FULLER (on for Gibson), Chris WEARING.

South Coast United – Jason BLEAKLEY, Chris VALIC, Greg VALIC, Chris SMITH, Tomi SKARA, Ricky BERTAKIS, Kolan HMDA, Yuya KOTAKI, Byungkuk CHO, Kieran BRODNIK, Dion STERJOVSKI.

Substitutes – Callam RUSSELL (on for Brodnik), Josh HAWKER, Anton BATUR (on for Bertakis), Cameron HANSON (on for Skara), Harrison BARKER.

Referee – Nicholas RYAN

Assistants – Patrick HUFTON, Ethan Zvargalis

Report by Nic Wilson, on twitter @_nicwilson

Photo courtesy of Noel Wynn