Port Kembla completed a comeback for the ages; scoring three times in the final 10 minutes to snatch a four-all draw with reigning league champions Woonona.

It was the Sharks first game back at home since winning the league championship in the final round last season, and the crowd came in waves to support their side.

Woonona rode that support and stormed to a 3-1 lead at the break before extending it by another goal midway through the second half.

However, Port Kembla’s Jordan Nikolovski and goalkeeper Bryce Daenell inspired their side to fight back and salvage a point late in the piece.

The Sharks’ fans didn’t have to wait long for something to cheer about with Corey Haines-Grose scoring his first goal on his return to Ocean Park in the 14th minute.

The goal came from a low cross from Damien Grew which found Robbie Gaudiosi who squared the ball back to the striker to tuck it into an open goal.

Despite creating very little in the opening stages, Port equalised in the 21st minute. 

Jordan Nikolovski’s chipped a through ball into the path of Tatsuki Nagatsuka with the Japanese winger delivering a perfect cross to Jayden Nikolovski to head home at the back post.

However, the game wasn’t level for long with Haines-Grose turning provider in the 27th minute; the forward unselfishly cutting the ball to Gaudiosi to tap into the net.

The Sharks were really getting on a roll with the Zebras unable to stop the home side from finding another five minutes later with Haines-Grose finishing off a scintillating counter-attack which was orchestrated by Tyler Bromham-Fuller and Damien Grew.

Port Kembla came out firing in the second half with Jordan Nikolovski having an attempt fly just over the bar which was soon followed by Nagatsuka’s shot from distance which was palmed away by Woonona goalkeeper David Booth before Taro Regan Williams denied Jordan Nikolovski off the follow-up.

In the 70th minute, Port were inches away from pulling one back when Nuno Pires cross found the run of Jordan Nikolovski, but it was Booth getting to the ball first to prevent the wideman from getting his third goal of the season.

It ended up being a crucial save from the youngster too, as his side went up the other end and scored just a minute later with Haines-Grose setting up Gaudiosi again with another squared pass.

The match seemed all but won by the Sharks at this point but a long punt by goalkeeper Daenell kick-started a comeback with it finding the onrushing Jordan Nikolovski who powered it into the back of the net.

Port kept coming and with five minutes remaining that got the match back within a goal.

Another Daenell dropkick caused havoc amongst the Woonona backline with substitute Thomas Burke unable to clear the ball before Jordan Nikolovski pounced on it before slipping Nuno Pires through on goal with the veteran making no mistake with his finish.

The comeback was completed in the 88th minute with Jordan Nikolovski coolly finishing off a one-on-one with Booth which sent the visiting fans into a frenzy.

Port weren’t just content with a point with Pires coming close to a winner in the 90th minute only for Booth to pull off a clutch save. 

Woonona also had a golden opportunity to recapture the lead in added-on time when Guadiosi found himself through on goal, and the youngster, who had plenty of time tried to chip Daenell who managed to push the ball wide – ultimately sealing the point for the visitors.

After the match, Woonona coach Dan McGoldrick admitted he was disappointed with the way his side finished the match, though he credited the display of Haines-Grose who was involved in all four of the Sharks’ goals.

“For me, it feels like a loss, not a draw, [it’s] very disappointing,” McGoldrick said.

“The goals we scored were good goals, whereas the goals we conceded – [were] nice finished by the guys that finished them – but they came off the back of our mistakes. We didn’t make a lot of those mistakes in the back third of the field [last year].

“The good thing about [the two assists] is, two seasons ago when [Haines-Grose] was here he wouldn’t have passed those balls for the assists, he would have had the shots. I’m really proud of him for the two cutbacks that got Robbie Guadiosi his two goals.”

Woonona’s round three match is away to Coniston next Saturday before a doubleheader against South Coast United and Bellambi the following weekend.

As for Port Kembla, they will look to continue their unbeaten start to the season when they return to Wetherall Park to play the Albion Park White Eagles next Sunday.

Woonona: 4 (Corey Haines-Grose 14’ 34’, Robbie Guadiosi 27’ 72’)

Port Kembla: 4 (Jayden Nikolovski 20’, Jordan Nikolovski 79’ 88’, Nuno Pires 86’)

Woonona: 20. BOOTH David, 35. TOMOHIRO Ishi, 22. BESGROVE Cameron, 23. HAINES-GROSE Corey, 32. DELLA VEDOVA Jordyn, 4. REEGAN-WILLIAMS Taro, 7. GREW Damien, 9. FRENCH Jesse, 10. PATTMAN Brendan, 8. BROMHAM FULLER Tyler. 

Substitutes: 6. TOOHEY Luke (FRENCH), 25. BURKE Thomas (BESGROVE), 54. MCCALL Eden, 12. LOZENKVSKI Jordan (HAINES-GROSE), 21. CHURCHWARD Jack. 

Port Kembla: 1. DAENELL Blake, 2. RICHARDSON Peter, 3. MOOBS Will, 4. DI PIETRO Mitch, 5. FLEMMING Bailey, 6. POLIDORO David, 7. NIKOLOVSKI Jayden, 8. PATTERSON Vaughan, 9. PIRES Nuno, 10. NIKOLOVSKI Jordan, 11. NAGATSUKA Tatsuki. 

Substitutes: 12. GRAHAM Casey, 13. SAFFIOTI Christian (NAGATSUKA), 14. GEORGES Sam (POLIDORO), 15. CHIODI Ellisio, 21. MATIAS Harrison. 

Date: 3 April 2021

Venue: Ocean Park

Referee: Caleb Blanch

Assistant Referees: Reece Edwards and Helmut Lux

Report by Nathan Turner, on Twitter @nathanturner23_

Photo by John Carusi (JC Sports Photography)

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