By Tim Klingbiel
Urunga Raiders vs Woolgoolga Wildcats
Woolgoolga came into this one carrying the edge in momentum with 4 straight wins, though Urunga weren’t far behind with 3 wins and a draw in the same period. The stage was set for a nailbiter and Urunga were looking to repeat their heroics of 2016 where an 89th minute penalty in the final regular season game catapulted them into finals at Coffs’ expense.
A tight contest was ultimately separated only by a second half wonder strike from distance courtesy of Kelsie Williamson-Leslie, sending the home crowd into raptures and ensuring the Raiders once again came up with the goods when they needed to most. With a place booked in the top 4, the Raiders will be relieved to have picked up the 3 points and held off the late charge of Dorrigo, who logged a win over Tigers to keep the pressure well and truly on.
Raiders icon Tom Campbell noted strong performances from Bre Martin and Belinda Moore, and the Urunga girls will certainly need to back up Saturday afternoon’s overall effort when they face a rampant Boambee side at the Patch in the first leg of the semi-final this weekend. Woolgoolga’s Kim Batty joked that perhaps the goals may not have been quite wide enough for her girls on the day, but attributed solid goalkeeping from both number 1s as being key to the low end score.
Woolgoolga will be slightly disappointed to have lost a close one, particularly to a goal none of their defenders would have been able to do a great deal about, but the only material difference to their title aspirations, having relinquished 2nd spot to the Bobcats and slipped into 3rd, will be the venue order for the two legs of the semi-final.
The home game this weekend will be crucial to pick up a result and they will definitely want to be defending a lead up at Wherrett Park rather than chasing a deficit, given the two previous meetings with the Bobcats this season have been decidedly less than plain sailing. Batty anticipates a physical encounter but praised the strength of the performance from all of her players on the weekend, so it would appear the Wildcats are primed to put their best foot forward amidst the choppy crosswinds of High Street on Saturday.
Coffs Coast Tigers vs Dorrigo Cedars
With other results needing to fall their way to remain in the hunt for a first trip to the stadium since their 1999 grand final triumph over Coffs United in the old Holiday Coast Soccer competition under the tutelage of Kim Preece – later at the helm of many successful Urunga Raiders campaigns – and first ever under the auspices of North Coast Football, the Cedars did their part to keep themselves in the hunt with a win away to Coffs Coast Tigers.
Saturday’s match saw the young Cedars overcome a game Tigers outfit looking to end the season on a high note after falling away from finals contention early on in the season. On the smooth track at Polwarth Drive, the home side improved substantially on their result in the corresponding away fixture earlier in the season where they went down 5-0, but ultimately the Dorrigo girls would prevail 4-2 to give themselves a chance at a top 4 finish.
That possibility though was a fleeting one, as the Raiders-Wildcats game that kicked off directly afterwards just half an hour or so down the highway saw the home side get up in a thriller to consign the Cedars to 5th by a 2 point margin.
Despite the fact that the fairytale finish to the season was not to be, but Mick Kelsall’s side can be immensely proud of their efforts throughout 2017 and will surely be there or thereabouts next season as well with the core of their side having youth well and truly on their side. The fact that they proved themselves legitimate finals contenders in their first NCF 1st Division campaign is testament to both Kelsall and assistant coach Pete Smith’s dedication and also to the talent and athleticism of the Cedars players.
Coffs City United Lionesses vs Boambee Eagles
The home side were always going to be in for a tough assignment on Saturday afternoon as the visiting Eagles looked to register their 14th win from 14 games in 2017 (18 consecutive wins going back to last season), but the Eagles offered them a glimmer of hope having gone into the encounter with only 7 regulars and two players backing up from 2nd division.
The two player advantage didn’t last long for the Lionesses as a couple more reserves arrived for Boambee shortly after kick off to restore numerical parity. A strong start by the Eagles saw several fluid passing interchanges as Kylie McDonald began to fashion decent chances in front of goal. This solid interplay continued throughout the first half and by the break they were 2-0 up and McDonald had her brace.
Coach Glenn Bennett was impressed with the communication in the second half and noted that his girls were producing some nice passages of play and holding the middle well, attributing the speed and skill of Bianca Oberleuter as being key to the Eagles’ successes. Oberleuter was able to effectively and precisely mark Coffs’ primary strike weapon, Bek Tong, and deny her many opportunities throughout the game. Tong’s skill and athleticism has proven a handful for many sides in the past so to keep her at bay is certainly no mean feat.
By the time the referee’s whistle was blown thrice, the Eagles had buried 5, all courtesy of Kylie McDonald, and considered themselves unlucky not to have finished off several more chances. But Coffs were not without their own high points and it took a superb performance from Sheridan Watkins in goal for the Eagles to maintain a clean sheet, the Lionesses attackers drawing a string of saves throughout the match. The game was played in good spirits and was an entertaining one for the neutral.
After the Raiders overcame Woolgoolga to book their place in the top four at Dorrigo’s expense, an away trip to the Cabbage Patch will await the Eagles, who came away with a narrow 2-0 win in their last Morgo Street excursion. McDonald will need to continue her deadly form in front of goal to ensure the Eagles take a lead back home to Ayrshire Park for the home leg, as Urunga’s latest result was a clarion call to the rest of the division to sit up and take notice and they will back themselves to be the spanner in the works that derails Boambee’s Championship aspirations.
Orara Valley Dingoes vs Maclean Bobcats
A fairly routine road trip to Dairyville for the girls from the north saw them register a convincing 6-1 win to move ahead of this weekend’s semi-final opponents Woolgoolga on the table. This will give Maclean the chance to play the second leg of the semi-final at their home digs of Barry Watts Oval having secured 2nd spot at Woolgoolga’s expense due to the result at the Patch.
The Bobcats will meet the Wildcats in an all-feline face-off at High Street this weekend and while little would seem to separate the two sides, the Bobcats have registered two convincing wins (6-1 and 5-2) this season so the Wildcats have quite a bit of ground to make up in terms of the way the teams match up head to head.
If Col Stephens’ girls can get through that tie, they will need to improve upon their 2017 record against whichever of Urunga (1-1 and 2-2) or Boambee (3-2 and 9-1 losses) they face in the grand final, but they will no doubt use the pain of last year’s defeat to the Eagles as fuel to spur their charge and scale new heights.