Sutherland began its series of games against the teams in the Northern Branch of the Skill Acquisition League with a 3-3 draw played out at Cook Park, St Mary’s.
It was a proverbial “game of two halves” with Sutherland dominating the first half in a manner in keeping with the quality of their play so far this season before a complete non-performance in the second half let Nepean back into a game they should not have had a sniff at and in the end Sutherland was lucky to escape with a draw.
It started so brightly for Sutherland as they began the game well and deservedly opened the scoring in the seventh minute when Callum Talbot released Sutherland captain Max Sidney down the right, Sidney drove towards the goal line and cut the ball back low and hard into the area where the keeper could only parry the ball into the danger area where Aidan Dennis was waiting to slam home the rebound to give Sutherland the lead.
Five minutes later and Sutherland extended its lead and again it was Aidan Dennis on target after being released by a great through ball on the stretch by Damian Deidda found Dennis in space and clean through on the keeper. Dennis was able to just reach the ball ahead of the on-rushing keeper and lift the ball into the unguarded net to make the score 2-0.
Nineteen minutes gone and Sutherland had a third and again it was the right hand side where Sutherland carved open the Nepean defence following another exchange between Callum Talbot and Max Sidney resulted in another quality delivery into the box where Alex O’Connor attempted a spectacular overhead kick which, whilst unsuccessful, caused sufficient confusion amongst the Nepean defence allowing Sam Amey to pounce on the loose ball and find the net from just inside the area.
It was not all one way traffic however and Nepean in fairness had defended well despite conceding three times and had some very skilful individual players going forward.
Right on half time and in what was to prove a sign of things to come Sutherland were sloppy at the back and gifted the ball in a dangerous possession to the Nepean forward but Thomas Horne came the rescue with a fantastic point blank save with his legs to deny the forward and preserve Sutherland’s three goal cushion going into the break.
What followed half time was Sutherland’s worst half of football so far this season. Immediately following the break only a desperate goal-line clearance by Matt Weston with Sutherland keeper Horne beaten prevented Nepean getting back into the game immediately.
It was to prove the start of a poor period collectively by the Sutherland team who just appeared to stop playing, stop moving for each other and lost their confidence on the ball.
This was seized upon by Nepean who had the quality in their forward line to make Sutherland pay for their complacency and whereas the first half had been all Sutherland the second half was the opposite. Three times Sutherland was sloppy in possession in their own half or failed to clear the ball when they had the opportunity and three times they were duly punished by Nepean.
Whilst Sutherland had a couple of minor ventures forward in fairness they were second best and were fortunate to draw the game.
Sutherland’s defence has been water-tight all season so it was surprising to see them concede three goals in this manner but they will have hopefully learned the lesson that at this level the game is never won until the final whistle and if you stop playing and working hard for each other as they did on Sunday they will get punished.
On the bright side, the did get themselves into a three goal lead and emerged without losing the game to keep their impressive run intact but they know they will need to life their game individually and collectively in the closing stages of this season.