It is hard to know who to blame for the spoiling of what for the most part was an entertaining game at the Sydney United Sports Centre today.
Was it the referee's fault for being card happy - issuing 11 yellow cards? Or the players' fault for not waking up to the fact that almost any indiscretion would see them cautioned?
The game was already slowed down by a dead pitch; with both sides clearly prepared to deliver attacking, exciting soccer, the referee's eagerness to reach into his pocket should have been tempered.
However disappointing for both sides, a draw was a fair result (well, perhaps Sydney United had the edge and should have taken better advantage of a South Melbourne bad day).
Apart from an early foray by Sam Poutakidis, who cut through several Sydney United players until Mark Rudan cleared, the home team had much the better of the early part of the game.
Vince Lia fouled Damon Collina (and didn't get a yellow card) and Sydney United fans made siren noises and jeered Con Boutsianis about some banking business.
In the fourth minute Labinot Haliti shot over the South Melbourne crossbar after some good work on the right by Franco Parisi.
David Huxley played a ball through for Paul Ivanic on the left who crossed to Haliti who shot wide of the right post.
Long balls for Parisi and Ivanic seemed to be United's "strategy", while lots of South Melbourne's movement forward stemmed from Poutakidis.
In the ninth minute Anthony Doumanis shot on target from the edge of the South Melbourne area. Eugene Galekovic dived to push the ball around left post.
South Melbourne looked unsettled, with Parisi troubling them down the right. United's tall defence was holding well.
Rudan gave the ball away to Lia who was fouled by Michael Cunico (no yellow card). Poutakidis' free kick was easily headed clear by Rudan.
After a poor cross from the right, Haliti made amends by finding Ivanic, but Ivanic headed wide.
South Melbourne had lots of movement in the middle of the park but made little forward progress until Vaughan Coveny pushed the ball through to an offside Lia.
Doumanis played a wonderful ball for Ivanic and Galekovic had to come far out of his area to stop him.
In the 19th minute came the first yellow card, for a foul by Simon Storey on Ivanic. Rudan was under the free kick to the left post, but Galekovic was up well to intercept.
Ivanic, coming down the left, was tackled well by Ante Kovacevic but Ivanic won the ball back and crossed.
South Melbourne, struggling to get the ball out of their half, gave away another free kick.
Marko Filipovic received a delicious ball on the edge of the South Melbourne box, but he couldn't turn and beat Poutakidis.
In the 23rd minute Marcus Stergiopoulos and Michael Curcija combined to get South Melbourne's first shot - a good chance pushed just to the left of goal.
Then the visitors attacked through Boutsianis on the left and won a corner but United eventually scrambled clear.
Parisi had a great chance in front of goal but tried to do too much and turn his marker instead of striking with his left foot. Kovacevic ran the ball to safety.
Some home fans made witty "baa baa" noises at Coveny.
A good tackle by Cunico stopped Lia but conceded a corner.
Doumanis capitalised on an error by Kovacevic but Kovacevic fouled Doumanis 18 metres in front of goal. The two players to take the set piece - Cunico and Parisi - had to leave the field to get grazes on their knees bandaged. When play restarted they fired into the South Melbourne wall.
Doumanis found Parisi down the left and Poutakidis held Parisi up until Kovacevic arrived to clean Parisi up.
Storey, on the left, got a good cross over to Coveny in front of goal. Cunico spoiled and Lia shot into a defender's back. Huxley stopped Boutsianis shooting from the right side of the penalty area. Boutsianis' corner went straight to Reddy who held safely.
United started conceding free kicks.
On a Stergiopoulos cross from the left, Coveny made contact and Lia shot wide to the left of goal.
In the 37th minute Huxley received a harsh yellow card for a tussle with Massimo Murdocca.
Doumanis was beating Stergiopoulos down the right until Storey covered and turned play South Melbourne's way.
In the 41st minute Poutakidis did get a deserved yellow card, for taking down Doumanis from behind.
The first half ended with the game evenly poised. South Melbourne were looking a little more dangerous. And the local fans were getting annoyed with referee Craig Zetter, saying he was "beyond bodgie" and calling out "shame, shame, shame" (among other things).
Ivanic shot into a crowded penalty area and the ball fell in the vicinity of Parisi but the South Melbourne defence were all over him.
Poutakidis got a good ball down the right for Coveny but Rudan came across and cleared.
The half ended with the home fans asking Boutsianis the whereabouts of the getaway car. The second half began with them singing something not repeatable on a family website.
A South Melbourne corner from the right was held - at second grab - by Reddy.
Lia dispossessed Cunico. Cunico won the ball back Š but then gave it away.
Haliti was a bit ambitious hitting a cross for the not-very-tall Doumanis to head. Then Steve Laurie cut out a long ball intended for Haliti.
United fans were getting frustrated at their players not shooting despite possession in front of goal. Filipovic at one point induced a chorus of groaning when he ran the ball toward goal, looked to have found space, but turned and passed back defensively.
In the 54th minute Kovacevic copped his yellow for a foul on Ivanic.
The Joe Vrkic free kick found Rudan on the left of the South Melbourne penalty area. Two more headers from United players in front of goal couldn't find the net. United appealed in vain for Zetter to award a penalty for a South Melbourne hand ball in the penalty area.
Vrkic received a yellow card, Rudan used his strength to run through Coveny and break out of defence, and Zetter sent the crowd berserk by penalising another United player.
In the 57th minute Haliti made a good run, free on the right, and put over a great cross just out of reach of Ivanic's head.
Poutakidis won a corner from Collina, Kovacevic had a shot blocked and South Melbourne appealed for a penalty.
Lia earned his yellow for a foul on Doumanis. Cunico's free kick from deep left was dropped by Galekovic in the midst of red shirts. Laurie made the desperation clearance. And two United corners came to nothing.
In the 63rd minute the visitors had one of their best chances. Boutsianis had a free kick 18 metres out and shot firmly on target. Reddy made a great diving save to his left.
Laurie blocked a Parisi shot and Filipovic got his yellow.
The first touch of Paul Trimboli, on for Curcija, gave the ball to Rudan.
In the 67th minute Haliti looked to have scored with a header at the right post after a shot was blocked by Galekovic at the left post, but the linesman's flag was up.
Trimboli's second effort almost found Coveny in the United penalty area.
Haliti got his yellow for persistent attention and a bit of shirt pulling on Stergiopoulos and Collina was penalised for leaping high over Coveny. Boutsianis shot wide to the right.
Vrkic hit a long, high ball for Parisi but Laurie won out. Stergiopoulos beat Huxley to a ball but Huxley chased back and retrieved the ball from Stergiopoulos.
Rudan was shown his yellow for a foul on Murdocca and Boutsianis shot over the crossbar.
After Cunico got his yellow it seemed certain that Boutsianis falling inside the United penalty area would also see the home team punished. This time Zetter checked with his linesman whose flag stayed down (I don't think he saw it). The home fans held their collective breath, but United escaped.
In the 80th minute Cunico cut into the South Melbourne penalty area from the left and shot to the left of goal.
From a United corner Vrkic headed to Galekovic.
Substitute Petar Markovic made a great chase and beat Storey at the South Melbourne goal line but couldn't then beat Galekovic. United won a corner and Vrkic headed high.
In the six minutes of time added on, Scott Tunbridge beat Collina and Murdocca crossed from the right to the far post where Boutsianis launched the ball up across the goal mouth. South Melbourne won another corner and Kovacevic had a snap shot into the chest of Reddy.
Another late United substitute, Tolgay Ozbey, made little impact, apart from one neat run down the right after which he hit a lousy cross.
His coach, Grant Lee, after the game put such foibles down to the inexperience of his young players. But he wasn't too critical: "They worked hard, did very well - it was a good game."
He said, "Unfortunately we don't have the depth and quality as yet to really be out there and threatening the bigger clubs Š but those things will come, the little things will come. We'll have Brendan Santalab back this week and that will help us a little bit too up front."
South Melbourne coach Stuart Munro was more down in the mouth, clearly disappointed with what he considered a sub-par performance. He said the dryness of the pitch held the ball up and everything seemed to be going in slow motion. "The game itself I thought wasn't too bad. Both teams did well and it was competitive. You couldn't really say both teams came to defend. They had a go at each other. I thought the Sydney United defence did very well, though I thought our quality in the final third wasn't that good."
He said his team's performance over all was quite good and he was pleased with it as an away game. He thought Steve Laurie made a strong full game debut and, with several players out, it was good to give the young players an opportunity.
Both coaches were disappointed the game was never allowed to get going.