A superb goalkeeping display by Michael Petkovic enabled South Melbourne to salvage a point in last night's clash against the Adelaide Sharks at Hindmarsh Stadium, with the game ending a 1-1 draw.
The Sharks took charge of the game from the start and dominated for most of the game. Early on, a strong run along the sidelines by Derek Poimer forced a corner inside the first three minutes. After 6 minutes, the Sharks had their first crack at goal when John Gibson struck a long shot from outside the penalty area, with the outstretched Michael Petkovic tipping the ball safely over the bar.
The Adelaide Sharks continued the domination, continually driving forward, creating many more goal-scoring opportunities and having more shots at goal than the visitors.
South Melbourne made its first significant move forward in the 20th minute, but the attack was thwarted by the tight Sharks defence. It wasn't until 22 minutes into the game that South Melbourne earned its first corner.
The match had started at a very passive pace, with referee Simon Micaleff not awarding the first free kick until 18 minutes into the game. However, as the game progressed, and the Sharks stamped their authority on proceedings, the frustrations came through in South Melbourne, with yellow cards distributed to Steve Iosifides (24 min), David Clarkson (32 min) and Goran Lozanovski (37 min). For the Sharks, Poimer received a yellow card for a silly challenge on Baser after 34 minutes.
However, the Sharks persisted and earned another corner when a forward drive by Derek Poimer saw the ball pushed from his feet by Steve Panopoulos. Branko Milosevic floated in the resulting corner, which was met by John Gibson, who headed low and hard to the right of the stunned Petkovic, with the ball hitting the inside of the post and bouncing into the back of the net to give the Sharks a 1-0 lead after 30 minutes.
Soon after the goal, South Melbourne regrouped and created some chances for itself. A free kick in the 42nd minute saw Lozanovski have an unsuccessful shot at goal from about 30 m out. The following minute Steve Panopoulos threaded the ball through to Lozanovski along the left, who then whipped the ball in to find Vaughan Coveny, who nodded down past David Miller who had no chance to stop the ball rolling in to level the scores at 1-1.
With South Melbourne on a roll, the Sharks defence lapsed again only three minutes later. Tansel Baser found Michael Curcija, who thumped his shot past Miller, only to be denied by the right post, with the ball bouncing back before being safely cleared.
The half ended with the scores level at 1-1 and South Melbourne marching back into the game in the last 15 minutes or so of the half.
Into the second half, the Sharks were forced to change their midfield set-up when Frank Tibaldi came on for Paul Pezos, who was stretchered off following a clash of players in the first minute after the re-start.
Four minutes later, South Melbourne made their own substitution, with George Goutsoulis coming on for Trimboli.
The play slowly swung back into the Sharks' favour, with Duric chipping a shot from the right side after 52 minutes. The shot flew over Petkovic right across the face of goal, landing onto the left angle of the goalpost and crossbar and bouncing out.
Lozanovski was replaced in the 59th minute by Jimmy Tsekenis, who received a frosty reception from his old club, but had little influence on the game.
After 61 minutes, Gibson found Duric who had a shot from about 20 m out, only to be denied by a fingertip save from Petkovic. The following minute, a Milosevic run was smothered by a courageous save from Petkovic.
A double substitution after 77 minutes saw the Sharks replace Branko Milosevic with Cory Artone, and Frank Tibaldi subbed off, after only 31 minutes on the field, by youngster Danny Vidakovic. Two minutes later Jahn Anastasiadis came on for Curcija.
Despite the changes, the remainder of the game continued with the Sharks up against the heroics of Michael Petkovic.
Goutsoulis made some good runs forward, but his finishing posing no trouble for Miller, with a shot well wide after 75 minutes, and another well over the crossbar after 83 minutes.
Duric had another chance to snatch a home win in the 85th minute, when he had an excellent run into goal. Petkovic ran out to snatch the ball from Duric, who had paused too long as he lined up for his shot.
Time eventually ran out for the Sharks and the game finished a 1-1 draw.
South Melbourne will surely count themselves lucky at bringing home a point from the encounter, and can thank Michael Petkovic for that. The Sharks, on the other hand, will be disappointed at the lost opportunities against the defending champion, but nevertheless, the club must be getting pumped up in anticipation for a really big year ahead.