The 10th round of the Steeline Limestone Coast Football Association season did not quite go as expected on Sunday.
With the top three sides facing their rivals from the bottom half of the ladder, each fixture could have followed a similar script.
But there were plenty of surprised faces at Webb Street where Naracoorte took the fight to Apollo.
Despite a 2-2 draw in the previous meeting, the blue and white were the favourites being a premiership contender and boasting the home-ground advantage.
As expected, Apollo set a fast pace on the pitch and looked to put the visitors’ defence under pressure.
But despite best efforts of Say Say Wah, Jack Donehue and Htoo Wah, the hosts could not break Naracoorte’s rock solid back third.
Goalkeeper Brad Pilven was at his best denying many shots, especially from the corners.
The yellow and black’s hard work for 20 minutes paid off when they produced a promising play down the right wing.
A fast cross found McDonald Nehanda, who stuck his left boot out and magically curled the ball directly into the top left corner of the net.
The composed Nehanda was surrounded by ecstatic team mates as Naracoorte hit the lead after Apollo goalkeeper could do little, but admire the stunning strike.
The visitors maintained their lead before half time and looked in a strong position to secure an upset.
However, as the storm clouds gathered, Apollo pressed hard for an equaliser and Htoo Wah saved the day.
His strike levelled the scores and rescued the blue and white from a costly defeat.
With time still left on the clock, both sides searched endlessly for the killer blow, but for the second time in 2021 Apollo and Naracoorte had to settle for a draw.
Ladder-leader International had a much smoother ride at McLaughlin Park against Millicent.
Despite missing first-choice players Matt Bueti, Ricky McRobert, Kaleb Gentile, Patrick Wilondja and Tyler Johnston, the black and blue easily accounted for the home side.
The first half was full of action as the visitors banged home seven goals before scoring proved more challenging in the run home.
Federico Pepa continued his goal-scoring form with four strikes and Connor Prior collected his second hat-trick of the season.
Austin Rossi and Christian Cella were the other scorers in the emphatic 9-0 victory.
Gambier Centrals also had a trouble-free route to victory away from home against Blue Lake United.
In wet conditions at Malseed Park, the Lions initially found scoring a challenge as they searched for avenues through the home side’s flooded defensive third.
Centrals opened a small lead in the first half, but the floodgates opened when play resumed.
Almost immediately after the players entered the pitch, the visitors created a scoring chance before multiple goals followed in the next five minutes.
Broc Linden was the most prolific, scoring two goals, headlined by a beautiful stab shot which floated over the goalkeeper’s head and dropped below the crossbar.
Sam Shoemark and Lewis March also scored multiple times, while captain Cam Saint added the finishing touches to a 7-0 win.
Gambier Centrals coach Chris Fleetwood was satisfied with the result considering how challenging the conditions were the players.
“It was a pretty good result on a pitch that was very difficult to play the football we want to play,” he said.
“We want to play attacking football, but it was so hard to put passes together because of the bobbling of the ball in the divots.
“I took off some of our key players because we have a big game against Apollo next week and I wanted to make sure we did not get any injuries.”
Fleetwood said his team dictated terms for the full 90 minutes despite initially finding it hard to break through Blue Lake’s heavy backline.
“They had seven people in defence, so we had to work out ways to find solutions which we did,” he said.
“We had 15 shots in the first 10 minutes of the game and eventually scored after 20. It was complete domination.”
The big win consolidates the Lions’ second spot on the ladder, which could be decided next week when they face Apollo.
Fleetwood said his men would hold nothing back.
“We are still hurting from our loss to Apollo in round one, it was not a nice experience and we do not want it to happen again, so we will be fired up,” he said.