Semi Final 1
Valentine FC 3 (4) def. Kahibah FC 1 (1)
2.30pm, Saturday 22nd August
The final match of the Valentine against Kahibah semi-final was played out at Cahill Oval, with Valentine looking to play to the home field advantage on Saturday afternoon.
With Valentine already leading by a single goal from the first leg of the semi-finals, Kahibah knew that they already had a mountain to climb over if they wanted to defeat the champions of the season.
Alan Hackett had promised that the side wouldn’t “forget their attacking football and defend all game long”, and that was apparent at the beginning of the game as Valentine pushed onto the front foot to deny Kahibah the room to play their technical football.
Kahibah’s defence was just as good as Valentine’s attack however, and the travelling underdogs proved that they were more than up to the mark of going blow for blow in the battle for dominance in the midfield.
With Valentine unable to break Kahibah’s stranglehold on their own third, the first half finished scoreless, with Valentine happy to hold their one goal aggregate lead, and Andre Gumprecht’s side knew that they’d need to push Valentine if they wanted to come back into the game.
The second half dragged on similarly, with Kahibah’s push on the attack testing Valentine’s defence, but neither side were willing to allow a goal to be scored against them at the battle for Cahill Oval.
It wasn’t until four minutes from the end of the second half that a referee’s decision inside the box saw Scott McGinley step up to square off with Kahibah’s keeper, and although the keeper got a glove to the ball, McGinley’s rocket managed to find the back of the net regardless and Valentine widened their margin to two goals.
Kahibah broke formation, pushing for a goal back in the last four minutes, and Valentine moved in for the kill, hitting the travelling team on the counter less than two minutes after their first goal of the game, with Brett Adcock finding himself one-on-one with the keeper, and managed to calmly put it away.
Two minutes was all that ticked past between the goals once more, and Luke Barnier added his name to scoresheet in the semi-final to put Valentine up to three goals in the last ten minutes of the match.
The rapid-fire triple gave Valentine an air of laziness in the final minutes however, and Kahibah managed to claw one back with Matt Lee beating the Valentine defence to put his name on the scoresheet on the other side of McGinley’s, but it wasn’t enough, and Kahibah were sent home from their final game of the season, as Valentine looked towards their Grand Final battle next weekend.
Valentine’s Hackett was especially pleased with the first grade team’s performance to put them into the final match of the season, and focused on the upsides of the late win.
“Brett Adcock and Corey Wilson both had massively strong games, they gave 150% and proved that they are ready for the top league,” he stated.
“The team did exactly what they needed to do to progress to the Grand Final and it was a hard fought game. Credit to Kahibah, they’re a great side and they’ve done really well to come up from the division below and make it all the way to the semi-final.”
“Anything can happen in the Grand Final now, and the game is over now but we have to be ready for next week. The club has had a great year but if we don’t turn up next weekend we’re going to get beat.”
“The team wants both trophies, and I can promise you that we’re going to be switched on and play exactly like we have all season – like champions.”
The strong aggregate victory puts Valentine through to the Grand Final and with a chance to do the double in the 2015 season they must now face off against the winner of the second semi-final fixtures.
Kahibah meanwhile sees their season end at the hands of the promoted Premiers, but Gumprecht will be happy with the way that their debut season went, and now the club will look to build for the next year, and possibly a Grand Final push to build on this 2015 run.
Semi Final 2
Lake Macquarie City FC 1 (4) def. by Wallsend FC 6 (7)
2.30pm, Sunday 23rd August
With Lake Macquarie leading by two goals, Wallsend and City battled it out for the second spot in the Grand Final, with Macquarie Field set for a showdown of epic proportions between the two strong teams.
Things looked strong for Lake Macquarie at the back as the game started off, with the centre-half pairing keeping Wallsend away from the goals, but the defensive strength of the home side quickly took a turn for the worse as a nightmare start descended at Macquarie Field.
Kev Orr was the first to put a goal past Matthew Guest, and the flood gates opened against the second placed side.
Their aggregate lead slipped away as Trent Milton and Dave Hodgson both put Wallsend up by three in the second leg, and leading 4-3 over both semi-finals. With the single goal lead now in their control, they settled back, keeping Lake Macquarie away from their goals and making sure that they could continue to create chances.
Another chance, and another goal, came for Wallsend just before half time, with Orr finding his brace in the match and doubling Wallsend’s lead overall. Lakes began to look desperate, with the door slamming shut on the foot they had already used to prop open the door to the Grand Final.
The second half gave Lake Macquarie some breathing room to stem the tide of goals that they were leaking at the back, they came back out firing, with Sam Walker taking one back for the home side to bring them within one goal of equalising on aggregate.
It wasn’t to be however, with Walker failing to find the back of the net again, and Jason McGuire put the lead back to two goals with 20 minutes to go.
Shocked once more, Lake Macquarie could do nothing as Marcus Tega finished the flurry of goals off, putting the total tally at six and sinking Lakes’ finals dreams with less than 15 minutes to go in the second leg of the semi-finals.
The upset victory has left Lake Macquarie shaken, and Barry Ross was surprised that the side couldn’t step up in what was eventually their final match of the season.
“It was one of those days where everything goes wrong, and we just shipped too many goals,” Ross stated.
“It’s a shame that we failed to keep the ball out so many times, because our defenders were playing really well, and it was just a few keeper errors from Matthew Guest that left us weak at the back. It was surprising because Guest played incredibly well in the 23s match the day before – maybe he was just struggling with the back to back games that he had to face up to.”
“Overall, it just was up to the fact that we left our worst performance of the entire season to the most important game of our 22 matches, it wasn’t anything that I could do but just watch as the ship sunk.”
“It’s a pity too, because I was turning my attention to building for the next season now, but the board has deemed second place as not good enough for the season, so they’ve begun looking for another coach to take the reigns next season, which means that I can’t do anything to help the side anymore.”
Ross spoke of his possibilities in the future, and knows that Lakes has to continue building if they want to make it back to the top league.
“There’s been some offers coming my way now that I’m not coaching at Lake Macquarie, and there’s a few teams in the National Premier Leagues that I could be joining to coach.
“I guess we’re just going to see what the future holds over the next few weeks, but I could be going back to the top league once more.”
While Lake Macquarie set their eyes on preparing for next season now, and lament the defeat on home soil that sent them licking their wounds, Josh Rufo’s side now focus on taking their strong form to arguably the best team from the entire league.
“Anyone that was there watching on the day will agree with me 100% – that was our best performance of the season,” Rufo commented.
“In a game like this, we take over and we dominate and the entire team came together with structure and form and the boys completely deserve the credit for making it into the Grand Final, win or lose.”
“Team confidence is running high – I think we have nothing to lose, so we can go out there and play with the freedom of confidence, and if we can take a victory that will be amazing. We got out to the take the win, and there’s no between ground. We fight for the trophy to the very end.”
Lake Macquarie’s season is over, and with the coaching schemes changing, it will be rebuilding for Lakes as they look to return to the National Premier Leagues once more in the 2016 season.
Now, Wallsend go on to the Grand Final battle next weekend as they look to bring another upset to the season with a defeat of Valentine, and Rufo’s side will be looking to bring their very best to what is sure to be another unmissable match.