Thornton Redbacks 1 (Sam Rossi) def. by West Wallsend Bluebells 2 (Joe Holt, Tye Jones)
Sunday 26th August, 2:30pm, Thornton Park
It was yet another enthralling encounter between these two sides and although it looked as though a 1-1 draw was again on the cards, it was West Wallsend who found a late breakthrough to proceed to their first Grand Final in eleven years.
It didn’t take long for both sides to begin attacking and it was the away team who created the first half-chances. A drop-off just outside the box from Ryan Cole was knocked over the bar by Sam Holt, and a free-kick crossed in by Brendan Frost was headed in the same direction by Joe Holt.
Thornton continued to keep possession of the ball as they so frequently do, and their first chance of the match came when a short corner was given to Luke Lambert, but his shot flew inches over the crossbar.
Not long after, midway through the first half, the first goal of the match came, and it was the home side who found it. Jack Charnock knocked in a dead-ball into the penalty area, and it was defender Sam Rossi who latched onto the end of it with his head, successfully driving it past Jesse Cook in goals.
The newly found lead made for a happy home crowd, and they were almost entertained with another goal after a nice passing play found midfielder Trent Partridge in prime shooting position, but he skewed his shot just wide of the goal.
It was just minutes before the end of the first half when the Bluebells went agonisingly close to a goal as a crossed pass found the head of Tye Jones. He worked over a nice flick-on towards the back post, and Joe Holt came within a whisker of getting the essential and necessary touch.
Entering the second half needing a goal, West Wallsend began to press higher and adopted a more energetic style of play while the Redbacks seemed to lose their intensity and it resulted in conceding a vital goal.
A West Wallsend free-kick was knocked in by Frost, and after an initial parry by goalkeeper James Wand, the ball sat up perfectly for Joe Holt right in front of goal. There were appeals for a handball as he brought the ball down, but there was no whistle from the referee and his second touch was blasted into the top of the goal equalling the game in the process.
Momentum was certainly in favour of the visitors, and it seemed Frost may have grabbed the winner as he found himself in behind the defence. However, his shot was fantastically saved by a diving James Wand and his feet.
With just minutes remaining before the game looked to enter extra time, West Wallsend’s dynamo forward Tye Jones stepped up. He received a ball from a wide position and used his first touch to lift the ball slightly in the air, and his second was an absolutely cracking volley, nestling it into the bottom corner to grab the late winner.
Thornton threw everything they had left at the Bluebells in an attempt to rescue any chance of progressing through, but weren’t able to find a way back, bundling out of the finals and missing out on a maiden Grand Final appearance.
Thornton coach Gary Wand displayed his disappointment at the result, but felt given the waveform of the game, said that his side just weren’t good enough on the day.
“We stopped playing in the second half,” Wand said.
“Unfortunately, we didn’t take our chances and they did.”
West Wallsend coach Gary Rowe said his side were always confident they could get the win and that he was pleased with how his team adopted the adjustments he wanted to make from the first leg that ultimately lead to the win in the second.
“We’re always confident that we’re going to get a win,” Rowe said.
“We were reasonably happy of letting them have the football and doing whatever they wanted to do. We had a reasonable understanding of how they were going to do their business.
“We knew we were going to score a goal at some point and we knew as soon as we did, it would open up the game for us.
“I thought Jarrod Olivieri was outstanding today as was Adam Cooper just in front of the defence.
“We adjusted our defence so that they had no time on the ball in those central areas and had to play wide, and interestingly, they didn’t stop trying to play through the middle and didn’t go wide…it played into our hands.”
Cooks Hill United 0 def. by Belmont-Swansea United 3 (Klaudon Ahmataj, Chris Gazzard, Joel Shearer)
Saturday 25th August, 2:30pm, Newcastle Athletics Field
It was yet another action-packed, drama-filled match between these two rivalled sides but this time it was Belswans who came away with an emphatic victory, breaking the hearts of the premiers and entering their third consecutive Grand Final.
Spectators were expecting another wild battle, and that’s exactly how it started right from the first whistle. Cooks Hill’s Ash Balcombe knocked the first shot of the game at opposition keeper Ben Parmenter, then Belswans’ veteran attacker Clayton Poole was denied by the woodwork in a one-on-one situation.
It wouldn’t be long after until the first major talking point took place as Belswans were awarded a penalty when Josh Sutton was taken down in the penalty area by Balcombe. Their big, domineering forward Klaudon Ahmataj stepped up and coolly slotted it away giving the away side a surprising, early lead.
In the space of minutes after the first goal, the whole aspect of the game completely changed due to a few multiple moments, and it meant the Cookers would be fighting an incredibly uphill battle for the remainder of the contest.
Firstly, tensions between the two clubs were already extremely high following the first leg, and it seemed those frictions had finally boiled over after a Corey Wilson foul happened in front of the benches. Heated words and even a roll of tape was thrown between Cooks Hill coach Graham Law and his opposite number Josh Rufo, and it resulted in Law being sent from the sideline by the referee.
Then, just seconds after the restart of play, Cooks Hill defender Daniel Clements made a challenge on Sutton just outside the box and the referee deemed him the tackler to be ‘the last man’ brandishing the red card and leaving the home team with not only no coach on the bench, but one man down on the field as well.
Lastly, Belswans continued their assault on the Cooks Hill defence looking for a goal that would all but seal a Grand Final spot, and a calamity at the back for the defending champions would see it come.
Wilson knocked a long ball forward in behind the defence that looked as if opposition goalkeeper Jake Hamilton would clear it easily. However, an air-swing from the young keeper saw it roll past him, and veteran Chris Gazzard made no mistakes with the empty net.
The goal meant Belswans lead 3-1 on aggregate, forcing Cooks Hill to score three if they wished to return to the Grand Final.
Hamilton resurrected himself just before half-time, making a great save from a close-range Wilson header.
The second half saw the visitors’ defence stay strong and it was their keeper Parmenter who shone brightest. Cooks Hill threw all they had at him, but he was able to deny them on each occasion with diving saves and searching punches.
As the second half wore on, things were looking dim for the premiers, and the result would be sealed late-on when club captain Joel Shearer bundled in a cross, putting the icing on the cake for Belswans and sending them back to the Grand Final once again with a great win.
Belswans coach Josh Rufo said that the result may have surprised others, but he believed his side were always capable of getting the win.
“We’re a good football team, we’ve worked very hard throughout the course of the season on our shape and the principles and I thought we thoroughly deserved the win,” Rufo said.
“I don’t believe in luck. We’re had a game-plan for the two games, and we executed that pretty well.
“The players work-rate and attitude was fantastic. Full praise must go to them to completely buy-in to what we wanted to do.
“We were pretty certain about how they would play so we set up our shape and tactics to limit their play and showcase our talent.
“4-1 over the two legs is pretty comprehensive in my eyes.”
Rufo admitted that although emotions and feelings were high around the club after the victory, that they’re not losing focus on the task at hand next weekend.
“Football is about consistency. It’s not a coincidence. People can have whatever thoughts they want, but at the end of the day, clubs don’t get to three Grand Finals in a row without a lot of work both on and off the field,” Rufo said.
“This is the second year for me personally with the club and the third year in a row for the club in the Grand Final.
“We haven’t won anything yet but. We’ve still got to go win the Grand Final.”
Cooks Hill coach Graham Law said although he and his side were very disappointed for their early competition exit, and despite his frustrated comments after the first leg, he felt Belswans deserved to qualify for the Grand Final.
“I think I must be the first coach ever sent off for throwing sock tape on the ground,” Law joked.
“But my thoughts on the game were that the best won over the two legs.
“Josh [Rufo] and his coaching team and players have created a very good team who have proved that with their third Grand Final in a row.
“I wish them all the best in the final.”