FERNHILL BITE BACK AGAINST WOONONA

Woonona hosted Fernhill in Easter Saturday action of IPL Round 2, both clubs eager to grab points off teams they were put together at the bottom of the table in pre-season predictions. A pulsating fixture saw multiple momentum shifts, three lead changes, and some glorious goals. Fernhill took the lead early through Shinsei Tanaka, Woonona responding with a goal either side of halftime, only for two goals in two minutes midway through the second period to give Fernhill the win.

With only nine minutes on the clock, Fernhill grabbed an early lead - Shinsei Tanaka finding some breathing room 20 yards out from goal, cannoning a shot off his right boot and leaving Woonona goalkeeper Jacob Madden rooted to the spot as the home crowd were silenced. It was hardly the start the hosts would have been planning on.

The game was opening up for both sides though, and five minutes later Andre Gioiosa curled a shot from 20 yards into the far upright with Fernhill keeper Bryce Daenell well beaten; Brendan Pattman on hand to tap in the open goal, only for the offside flag to cut celebrations short. It was again Pattman who was troubling Fernhill down their right flank - rifling a shot at the bottom corner from range only for a deflection in traffic to take it off target.

Fernhill were always looking dangerous though; Jordan Hughes winning possession in his own half and driving forward unchallenged into the Woonona box, Madden advancing and smothering the shot. Moments later, a poor back-pass set Tanaka on his way, and only for the desperate sliding challenge of Lachlan Calder, would've teed up Yusuke Maruyama for an open goal.

Woonona were not failing to get the ball forward, however Fernhill were doing well at staying compact in the central areas, residing Woonona to crosses and cut-backs from wide areas.

It was another shot from range which bore the hosts fruit just before the interval though, Daenell unable to cover another shot cannoning into his far upright, Trent Worthington following through on hand to tap in the simple finish from 6 yards and bring Woonona level at the break.

Woonona emerged still buzzing from the equaliser, and nearly had a second within minutes of the restart - Cameron Besgrove's low cross nearly turned into his own net by Michael Macgraw. From the resulting corner, a scramble in the box saw the ball strike the feet of Daenell and rebound to a fortuitous Nicholas Sullivan, left with the ball 2 yards out and nobody in front of him, truly the easiest goal he will ever score.

Woonona were looking the goods, three minutes later, Thomas Mindzas crossing from an offside position for Valentino Meryhushi to score, but be waved back once more.

Fernhill caught a break down the other end, Christopher Gibson harshly penalised for a challenge on Mitchell Turner, with the winger stepping up to take his own spot-kick. Hitting low and left, Madden got down to save the shot in what the crowd felt was justice being served.

Just after the hour mark, Fernhill took their chances on goal; first Maruyama crossing for the smallest man on the field, Tanaka, to win a header in the box and loop over Madden to equalise, then two minutes later Maruyama acrobatically finished across goal from the far post to give Fernhill the lead with 20 minutes to play.

The solid defences from the first half had given way and it was threatening attack after attack at both ends in the closing stages.

With two minutes remaining, Fernhill almost gave the game away. Daenell took his time clearing a pass-back, allowing Mindzas to smother the clearance, and if not for Macgraw covering, Pattman would have had an open goal at his mercy from inside the area.

Into stoppage time and a Fernhill collapse seemed almost imminent. A needless challenge by substitute Maurice Aloegninou on Worthington in the area gave referee Nicholas Ryan no option but to award a penalty; Sullivan stepping up only to hit low and left, into the reach of Daenell and turned away in a dramatic turn of events.

The resulting corner saw Woonona keeper Madden advance to add an extra man in the box for the Sharks, however the corner was cleared and Maruyama broke on the right wing, opting to shoot from 30 yards out on the sidelines instead of crossing to his two waiting teammates who had nobody in-front of them.

But there was still time for more drama in the Fernhill defence, Pattman playing through on goal down the right wing, his shot smothered by Daenell from close range, Pattman on the follow-up shooting across goal from a narrow angle with Daenell miraculously tipping it over the bar.

Stoppage time came to an end after what felt like an eternity and Fernhill emerged with their slim lead intact.

Fernhill head coach Bruce Tilt said that 'we wanted to prove to everyone that last week's win (against Tarrawanna) wasn't a fluke, and that we deserve to be here. We may not have won pretty, but we got the result. It is a huge 3 points for the team and for the club.'

'Young (Shinsei) Tanaka is playing well and he is out there to score goals and that is exactly what he did today. Likewise our goalkeeper is there to make saves and that is what Bryce did brilliantly today. He will take that (Man of the Match) performance and grow in confidence going forward.'

As for Round 3, Woonona will head to Balls Paddock for a 2:30pm kickoff on Saturday against Bulli, in a tough turnaround for the Sharks. Likewise, Fernhill host Wollongong Olympic in a huge test for the Foxes, Sunday 2:30pm kickoff at Ray Robinson Field.