The high flying White Eagles were second best during the first 45? minutes and found themselves under the pump for much of the time and can thank former Sharks goalkeeper Phil Zabaks for keeping them in the match, along with some stoic defending by Graeme Forbes and Wade Oostendorp, with Sutherland creating enough half chances and good opportunities to win a dozen games under normal circumstances.
Chris Price shot narrowly wide inside 60?? seconds of the start and a Jimmy Bakis free-kick had Zabaks bravely down among the flying boots to sharply gather the ball inside 3? minutes.
Nathan Denham was forced to tip over the bar in Bonnyrigg?s first attack at the other end, closely followed by former Sharks striker Brad Boardman crossing from the left to find David Gullo – the youngster was caught marginally offside as the visiting defence stepped up.
Sutherland were soon on the attack again and a sweeping move saw Blake Powell slip the ball to Jimmy Bakis, back from injury, who crossed to the back stick for Steve McConologue to head narrowly over when under intense pressure.
Bakis then had Zabaks forced into a full stretch to save around the post from another free-kick that was destined for the bottom corner as the Sharks turned up the heat that Bonnyrigg had to endure throughout the half, whilst manfully keeping the visitors at bay as they were harried and given no time on the ball which left Boardman with little or no service up front.
Boardman did come close though, with a solo move that saw him inside the defence and rush a shot, with Michael Robinson closing down, that stung the hands of Denham.
The Sharks took control of the game and a plethora of chances followed as the frustration for the home-side told when Nikola Zonjic found himself in the book for Bonnyrigg after a petulant challenge in the 35? minute.
When Bonnyrigg did make a break through on goal, it was Robinson to the rescue once more when Boardman was clean through and only a last ditch tackle prevented the lanky striker getting his shot away with just Denham to beat.
McConologue almost had the last word when his over shoulder effort whisked past the angle with his back to goal as the game remained scoreless at the break.
It was almost a reversal of the opening stanza as Bonnyrigg approached the second period like a steam train as Tomasevic scuffed his shot inside the box within 60?? seconds of the resumption, and Daniel Severino had Denham at full stretch tipping the ball past the left-hand upright for a corner before Sutherland finally started to play.
The visitors should have taken the lead on 53? minutes when McConologue chased down a hopeful ball, shrugged off his defender and went one-on-one with Zabaks who had originally come for the ball only to be grateful to the bar when the striker?s lob came bouncing back off it and into play before being cleared away up-field.
The deadlock was finally broken by Bonnyrigg in the 58? minute when Severino shot from outside the box to see the ball deflected into the net by team-mate Tomasevic only for it to be ruled offside by the official, much to the chagrin of the home fans who were unusually quiet on the night.
Neil Jablonski picked up a caution for Sutherland quickly followed by Michael Brown, who had a terrific game up and down the left flank for Bonnyrigg, and Bakis for the Sharks as the game went end to end in thrilling fashion until the 77? minute. A loose ball broke to Sharks bustling midfielder Nick Stavroulakis just outside the box and his thunderous right-footed shot left Zabaks no chance and the visitors took a deserved lead.
Bonnyrigg are made of stern stuff under coach Brian Brown and they threw everything at Sutherland without success until the moment of debate that eventually led to the equaliser in stoppage time.
Boardman slipped the ball back to a team-mate on the right flank as two Sharks players converged on the danger but when it was played back to him the linesman immediately flagged for offside. However, with two Sharks defenders sliding in the referee overturned the decision and gave a free-kick instead that was taken by Jamie McMaster, another to show well for the White Eagles, and up jumped Tomasevic at the back stick to head across the goal and into the net in the 92? minute.
With barely enough time to restart the game it was a different tale in each camp afterwards when White Eagles coach Brian Brown stated:
?We were awful in the first-half as we didn?t compete or chase for the ball and they dictated much of the play and we were probably fortunate to go into the break still level.
?We changed things up at half-time and produced plenty of chances and were perhaps unlucky not score a couple but we kept fighting and the lesson was that we played to final minute and didn?t drop our heads and got away with a point so I can?t be upset with that as this was an important game for us.
?We kept going and with their players starting to tire we managed to grab a goal that, whichever way you look at it, got us something from the game and it was a well taken goal so if people think we were fortunate to get the free-kick this game will always even itself out over the course of the season,? he concluded.
Robbie Stanton was diplomatic when saying:
?We created plenty of chances in the opening 45? minutes and we need to start taking them but in the cold light of day we have to look at it being our own fault that we only came away with a draw from this match as the game is never over until the final whistle and maybe we were guilty of not playing to that.
?Bonnyrigg have been set up as one of the benchmark clubs this season and the way we played tonight shows me we are capable of holding our own and are coming together as a solid unit as we did create the better chances this evening.?
Both coaches declined to comment on, perhaps, the controversial moment preceding the goal showing an enormous amount of dignity.
In the Grade-20 division, Sutherland Sharks were victorious with an impressive 3-1 defeat of Bonnyrigg White Eagles putting the home side towards their first loss of 2010.
Bonnyrigg White Eagles 1 (Vuko Tomasevic 91?)
Sutherland Sharks 1 (Nicholas Stavroulakis 77?)
Saturday, 20th March, 2010
Bonnyrigg Sports Club, Bonnyrigg
Referee: Kris Griffiths-Jones
Assistant Referees: Lance Greenshields and David Lockeridge
Fourth Official: Matthew Samson
Crowd: 900 Approx.
Bonnyrigg White Eagles: 99.Phillip Zabaks; 3.Graeme Forbes (8.Milorad Simonovic 77?), 4.Michael Brown, 6.Vuko Tomasevic, 7.Nikola Zonjic, 9.Brad Boardman, 10.Daniel Severino, 11.Shane Webb, 17.David Gullo, 19.Jamie McMaster, 20.Wade Oostendorp
Substitutes Not Used: 1.Ali Akbal, 5.Milan Zoric, 13.Juan Carlos Chavez, 16.Stefan Helata
Yellow Cards: Zonjic 35?, Brown 66?
Red Cards: Nil
Sutherland Sharks: 1.Nathan Denham; 2.George Souris, 4.Michael Robinson, 6.Chris Price, 7.Jimmy Bakis, 8.Blake Powell, 10.Steven McConologue (31.Huseyin Jasli 71?), 11.Ben Spruce, 12.Neil Jablonski, 14.Nick Stavroulakis, 22.Yanni Fragogiannis
Substitutes Not Used: 3.Kyle Stuart, 9.Ben Vidaic, 16.James Lawrence, 24.Jack Duncan
Yellow Cards: Jablonski 60?, Bakis 68?
Red Cards: Nil
3 ? Michael Robinson (SS)
2 ? Nick Stavroulakis (SS)
1 ? Phillip Zabaks (BWE)
-By Micky Brock