South Melbourne weathered the storm, as Power showed some impressive potential, to come away with a well-earned draw. Parramatta started strongly, playing a fluent game, and had several early chances, including hitting the bar twice. The best chance fell to Simon Colosimo, whose shot was tipped onto the crossbar. South Melbourne to their credit had chances of their own late in the game.
The 'match of the round' was how it was touted. Power club officials almost pleading with the public of the region to come along and be delighted - in the first of their last 12 premiership homes before the club is due to fold. The form of teams with such wholesale changes is hard to pick before Round 1, but it did have the scent of a match between potential finalists about it. The well reported moribund nature of the league, mostly off the park - where the playing standard is geeod in my opinion, and the lack of any centralised marketing/media profile, were against them. As it was just 1,861 diehards turned up on a day when other football codes dominated the media and public attention.
Certainly Parramatta had a major off-season make-over, losing such key players as Brendan Renaud, Brad Maloney, Damien Brown, Wayne O'Sullivan, Pablo Cardozo, but gaining equal if not better quality in Travis Dodd, Simon Colosimo, Andre Gumprecht, Ante Milicic, Andrew Durante, Clint Bolton, Lucas Pantellis, and Fernando Rech.
South Melbourne for their part have also gone through rebuilding, losing players like Patrick Kisnorbo, Michael Baird, Steve Iosifidis, Fausto De Amicis, Robert Liparotti, Steve Panopoulos, Zeljko Susa, Nick Tolios, and failing at 'the death' to secure back from Greece Bill Damianos. Strengthened by a top 'pick-up' in Michael Curcija, plus Levent Osman, Michael Panopoulos, Ante Kovacevic, Scott Tunbridge, Marcus Stergiopoulos, and young Kristian Sarkies.
Power's coach Nick Theodorakopoulos started as predicted with former Brisbane Strikers attacking midfielder Fernando Rech partnering Ante Milicic in attack but threw Johnny Buonavoglia 'into the mix' in an attempt to snatch an early goal and open South up and played 3-4-3, before reverting to 4-4-2 in the last 20 minutes. South played a more defensive line-up hoping to catch Power on the break, and despite losing Mehmet Durakovic to early injury their new look defence did very well.
In the 2nd minute Scott Tunbridge received outside the goal area and knocked it out to the left to Vaughan Coveny whose weak shot went wide, but it was Power who were using the flanks to good effect. In the 10th minute Ahmad Elrich made a strong challenge and won the ball just outside the area, and lobbed the keeper but it went just over the crossbar.
Two minutes later a great chance to Colosimo but this time off the crossbar after being tipped by the keeper, and a few minutes later Fernando Rech made a strong run getting the ball forward to Buonavoglia however his shot was blocked. From a corner captain Alvin Ceccoli headed just wide, and straight back into the attack Power got the ball to Gumprecht on the left, who cut the ball back nicely, however it was blasted over from a melee.
South had absorbed immense early pressure and Massimo Murdocca and Scott Tunbridge were doing sterling work in holding possession and working the ball forward where Coveny was battling alone. Tunbridge even got into position to get a shot in, but it was a weak effort and no trouble for Clint Bolton in the Power goal.
In the 37th minute Matt Thompson put in a snap shot but it was easy pickings for Eugene Galekovic in goal. For all the work Power had done so impressively, they had nothing to show for it, and South almost punished them, Bolton doing well to gather after three goes under considerable pressure.
The sides came out after the break with much more the measure of each other, and there was a 15 minute period when Parramatta attacked, closed down deep, and the South counter attack broke down short of the danger area.
In the 51st minute Coveny got in a fine cross from the right under pressure, but it was cut out. Elrich had the same experience a minute later at the other end, then Colosimo shot wide after a period of Power pressure.
As the half wore on the cohesion of the newly assembled Power side broke down and South Melbourne gained in offensive confidence. Nevertheless it a curving corner by Colosimo, and a glancing header by Thompson that hit the post, and a snap shot by Travis Dodd, that most threatened.
In the 78th minute Colosimo resorted to a long shot, which went wide on the right, and at the other end 2 minutes later Tunbridge just failed to connect with a cross for South's last gasp. The final minutes saw Dodd race in to connect with an Elrich cross, but under pressure he skied his shot.
Simon Colosimo, Andre Gumprecht, Alvin Ceccoli, Matt Thompson, Michael Beauchamp and Ahmad Elrich best served Parramatta, who faded in the second half but showed substance to the top two tips.
South's best were Massimo Murdocca, Scott Tunbridge, Simon Storey, Ante Kovacevic, and Vaughan Coveny. They did their job, and Stuart Munro did his as he got the best out of his charges. South's coach said "We were pleased to have met Parramatta first up, as I am sure they will make their home a fortress later in the season".
An unusually upbeat Nick Theodorakopoulos said that he was "happy with the performance, and although it always nice to win you have to take the chaces you make, and we made a few". "What was done on the park was what I expected, and we will build on what we did".
For a first up game for the 2003-04 season it was a good advertisment that good football is still out there! One small but jarring note: In this day and age why do all the South Melbourne players not have their names on the back of their jerseys? They can't all be named "Laikibank"! Nice for the sponsor, very poor for the fans!