By Tim Klingbiel
Orara Valley Dingoes vs Coffs City United Lions
Trips to Dairyville haven’t been easy for opposition teams in 2017, though the Lions’ 3-0 win there during the sides’ regular season meeting put them among a select few (Urunga and Boambee were the only other clubs to pick up points there this year) who would appear to have figured out the formula required for inland success. Round 17’s encounter at McLean Street was a much tighter affair and hinted towards a battle for the ages to kick off the finals series.
With the Lions’ reserve grade side playing simultaneously at Toormina, coach Glen Williams called on some of the club’s over 35s players to make up the bench but the core of the squad was largely unchanged from the previous week’s fixture against Sawtell. Orara went in looking to make the advantage of their hard and bouncy home pitch count but it was Coffs who started brighter. A move from Joel Digney and Lorenzo Rigoni down the right-hand side broke the Dingoes defence open and a well-placed cross to Nick Lambert allowed him to slot the ball home and give the away side the lead.
Half time rolled around with the game still very much in the balance but Williams was pleased with the way his boys were sticking to the plans rehearsed on the training paddock during the week. Orara’s Joel Finlayson would have backed his players to overturn the deficit but against a sturdy Lions defence, it wasn’t going to be an easy task.
The opening stages of the second half were played at a rapid tempo and challenges from both sides were very willing. Before long, a Lions incursion into the Orara box saw the referee adjudge the red and black to have been impeded illegally and Tom Hauville stepped up to the spot with designs on increasing the Lions’ lead. Normally a reliable taker, Hauville was unsuccessful on this occasion as he sent the ball straight over the bar and let the Dingoes off the hook.
Valley looked to build upon the opportunity the Lions had afforded them with the penalty miss and continued to approach their play with great gusto and intestinal fortitude. They were throwing everything but the kitchen sink at the Lions during the middle period of the second half, but the away team held firm and were unyielding in defence. Eventually, a moment of great play from Gum Mayak, who was playing out of his regular position on the left wing, saw him produce a mazy run to beat three Dingoes defenders and finish at the near post to double the Lions’ advantage.
The pressure and composure of the Lions was ultimately too much for the Dingoes to absorb over 90 minutes, and the scoreline would ultimately blow out with a second to Nick Lambert and a Scott Goddard strike to put the icing on the cake and seal a 4-0 win. Both players will be key to the Lions’ aspirations in 2017 and have more grand final appearances between them than most clubs in their history, so their experience in these sorts of situations cannot possibly be underestimated.
With one foot in the grand final door, one could forgive Williams’ men for taking their collective foot off the gas this weekend, but his seasoned campaigners will know better than to allow complacency to creep into their approach and smart money would be on the Lions showing up as ruthless as ever to Forsyth Park to put the result of the tie beyond doubt. Williams expects a torrid affair and will already have steeled his men for the task ahead in his absence for this weekend’s encounter.
One would have to consider the margin virtually unassailable for Finlayson’s Dingoes and it will take nothing short of a footballing miracle for them to secure a fairytale stadium appearance next weekend. Perhaps the boys will have a video session on the second leg of Barcelona-PSG from last season’s UEFA Champions League for inspiration – in any case, captain Jimmy Palmer will need to summon the spirit of Messi himself, with Dylan Louden requiring a flawless Suárez impersonation too, preferably sans ill-judged mandibular contractions, if the Dingoes are to get out of this one.
Though the final margin will no doubt disappoint the men in yellow and blue, who were full of strong running on the day, they will be better for the experience and the taste of finals football has no doubt given the club the shot in the arm it needs to encourage further growth of football in the area and renewed enthusiasm about the prospects 2018 holds.
Boambee Bombers vs Urunga Raiders
After a patchy run of form that saw them drop points to three sides outside the top four in Maclean, Sawtell and Storm, the Raiders seemed to have blown out the cobwebs with 28 unanswered goals in two games against Grafton United, though it would be drawing a long bow to suggest those performances would be indicative of how they would fare in a much tighter contest.
Facing them were a confident Bombers side, heading into this one on the back of five straight wins and harbouring very different views about the outcome. On the cement-like surface of Ayrshire Park, Shane Duncan’s side had trained with an assured and confident air through the week and were up for the task of reversing a poor head to head record against the Raiders in recent seasons, losing their last 5 encounters with an aggregate goal difference of -17.
The match started at the frenetic pace observers have come to expect from a finals encounter and both teams had early chances. Fabrice Wamara looked dangerous for the away side as he squirmed through on a couple of occasions and gave Geoff Robertson all he could handle, while Brady Parker and Christian Penny were constant threats for the Bombers as the former kissed the crossbar with a glancing near post header and the latter utilised his pace to get in behind and make life difficult for Tanjil Everett and Mick McCormick. Blake Herdegen was holding the ball up well to bring his attacking partners into the play and the Raiders had their hands full with his constant presence.
Brady Parker gets highest as his flicked near post header touches the crossbar on its way through.
It was the men in white who drew first blood as Josh (now known in some circles as ‘Frank’) Barden unleashed a through ball to Penny, who was scythed down on the right hand side of the box causing referee Jason Hillier to point to the spot. Lachie Moye rarely misses from 12 yards and again he made no mistake, beating Lee Kennedy with a crisp, low strike to the left-hand side – Kennedy guessed the right way but his dive was some distance from the ball and his side were 1-0 down.
The start hadn’t gone to plan for Paul Pomroy’s Raiders but they have never been a side to wilt in the face of adversity and have a wealth of experience to draw on for these types of situations. Their approach following the first goal seemed to revolve around keeping the ball on the deck and hitting feet with slow build up play in lieu of fast counters and balls over the top, but a cheap foul out wide saw them having to retreat once again.
Sam Crampton, the subject of a strict ‘no shooting policy’ due to his often untamed power and propensity to put his laces through the ball first and ask questions later, decided to contribute to the Bombers attack in the next best way and launched a perfectly weighted floating ball from 50 yards that found the boot of Brady Parker at the near post. Parker prodded home and the Boambee boys wheeled away in delight at having doubled their lead with only half an hour gone. In the process of trying to prevent the goal, Kennedy had sustained quite a heavy knock and was down for some time, but eventually rose from the goalmouth dust bowl to carry on for the resumption of play.
Only a few minutes down the line, Tim Rupprecht’s cut back to Wamara had the Raiders looking promising only for tight marking by Geoff Robertson to curtail the Congolese superstar’s inroads. But alas, Robertson turned around to see the man in the middle pointing to the spot once again and flashbacks of McLean Street in Round 13 haunted the aggrieved home fans. Craig ‘Turtle’ Simpson stepped up to the plate, still with a mighty task ahead of him – Bombers gloveman Jake Stitt’s track record from the spot this year has been exceptional – and duly deposited the ball to the left at around chest height. Stitt had rarely been called into action other than attempting to exert mind control on the ball by shouting ‘get over’ at an ambitious Dooley chip, but all of a sudden he was picking the ball out of the net and the Raiders had edged back into the contest.
The dying embers of an absorbing first half saw the Raiders once again set off on a promising attack in an effort to draw level and they felt they should have had another opportunity from the spot with the twinkle toed Ben Dooley attempting to dance through the Bombers defensive line and being stopped in his tracks. But Hillier had other ideas and drew play to a close, a livid ‘Turtle’ nearly bursting a blood vessel with indignation.
A passionate half time talk from Duncan focused on the importance of effort levels over the full 90 but it remained to be seen if everyone would make it that far, Robertson in injury strife once again after a string of ailments and maladies while Crampton walked the disciplinary tightrope, on a yellow card and perhaps fortunate to escape a second during the first half’s latter exchanges. Pomroy too would have been asking for more from his boys and no doubt would have backed their big game experience to get them home in what was shaping as one of their tightest contests of 2017.
The second half saw the long awaited return of Josh McIntosh after several months out with a hand injury, having trained well in the week leading up to the game. The Bombers have at times missed the dynamism he brings to the side, but the Raiders afforded him no such respect and welcomed him back to competitive football with a few heavy challenges that saw the aforementioned paw blasted twice within about 10 minutes, leaving McIntosh wincing in pain and struggling through.
The balance of play from that point onwards would remain very even as Dooley, ‘Turtle’, Jai Waddick and Lachlan Indian-Manning tried their best to take over the midfield and fashion some further chances for Wamara and Rupprecht up top, but the Bombers midfield and backline were equal to the task. The Raiders’ biggest threats in the second half came in the form of low strikes from the edge of the area in goalmouth scrambles, and two of these in particular seemed destined to level the scores at 2-2 until Crampton and James Murray respectively made timely clearances right on the goal line with Stitt beaten.
The passion and determination of both sides was the defining feature of the second stanza as neither midfield were willing to give an inch – clear attacking chances were thus at a premium, and aside from the aforementioned Raiders strikes and a couple of lightning Penny breakaways that saw him unable to hit the target, there were few attempts of note. The Raiders had adapted well in defence after the loss of key man McCormick to injury in the first half after a nasty looking landing, and Jaxen Heward and Jake Leslie stepped up to provide much needed composure and keep the defence for the most part impenetrable.
A tight contest drew to a close as the score remained the same, the Bombers claiming a 2-1 victory heading into this Saturday afternoon’s second leg at the Patch, a ground that has long been a fortress for the Raiders and one where they have conceded only 6 goals all season.
With all three goals on Sunday coming from dead ball situations, it’s likely to be a tie decided by who can make the most of limited opportunities in front of goal rather than an attackers’ day out and one would have to think the scorer of the first goal in the second leg will go a long way towards booking a likely meeting with Coffs United – unless of course Orara can pull off perhaps the greatest comeback ever seen under the auspices of NCF’s Premier League – in the main event the following week. For the neutral, this is must see football and you would have to have a very good reason not to be in attendance at the Patch for Saturday’s 3:00 kick off – the first Saturday 1st division match held there for some time due to the Father’s Day events scheduled this Sunday.