Kahibah FC 3-4 Cooks Hill United
Cooks Hill United advanced to the preliminary final with a brave 4-3 victory over Kahibah FC on Saturday.
The 2019 premiers battled a horror injury toll to overcome an impressive Rams side playing on their home patch at Kahibah Oval, with Cooks Hill to now play New Lambton for a place in the grand final.
Alex Gillespie suffered a knee injury inside the opening five minutes but battled on, with Cooks Hill coach Doug West saying Gillespie would be unlikely to be available next weekend.
Cooks Hill then lost Stephen Bramley who reinjured a gluteal muscle, while Daniel Clements did not even make it on to the team sheet after being ruled out with a hamstring problem.
Despite their injury woes Cooks Hill took the lead through Roger Dowdell but they would surrender it before half-time as Kahibah went ahead through goals to Jamie Hadlow and Rhys Tippett.
But the visitors would equalise before the break thanks to Daniel Yaxley’s header.
Cooks Hill added two more goals through Gillespie and Dowdell after half-time to lead 4-2 before Kahibah pulled a goal back through Riley Ferguson.
The hosts then launched an assault on the Cooks Hill goal as they desperately chased an equaliser. But Cooks Hill showed great resilience to hang on and survive for another week.
West said he was proud of his side’s effort.
“It was one of those days where nothing really went to plan for us,” West said.
“We had a lot of injuries. The second half turned into a real dog fight. We were struggling to have fit players and changed our shape and formation to try and ride it out.
“He had a couple of chances [in the second half] and converted but that’s when Kahibah really put their foot on the throttle and pushed us really hard.
“It was backs against the wall there for 15 minutes or so before they scored to make it 4-3. Then we just tried to manage the game out for the last 10 minutes.
“We showed really good resolve and good character to come out and win. It was a really gutsy effort.”
West was especially pleased with the effort of Ashley Balcomb, who returned from a calf injury and helped guide Cooks Hill home in the final stages.
“Ash was great. We really relied on his experience there,” West said.
“A few of our reserve grade players and young players really stood up. Boaz Moir played a really big role next to Dan Johnson in the middle of the park who put in a real captain’s performance as well. And Dan Yaxley was probably the best player on the park.”
While the defeat saw Kahibah eliminated, Cooks Hill will take on premiers New Lambton in the preliminary final.
New Lambton FC 0-4 Singleton Strikers
Singleton are the first team to qualify for the NEWFM Northern League One grand final after thrashing premiers New Lambton 4-0 on Sunday.
A large crowd made their way south from the upper Hunter to the Lake Macquarie Regional Football Facility, with the support helping carry the Strikers to their first grand final since 1992.
Joel Barner and Bowen Bagnall were among the goal scorers as Singleton blew away the premiers in a rampant second half which had followed a cagey opening 45 minutes.
“It’s just that buzz. A sort of numbness, thinking we’ve made it [to the grand final],” Singleton coach Brendan Slade said.
“It’s a bit unreal. It hasn’t really sunk in, to be honest. I’m still a bit numb. We’re just over the moon, so excited.
“The crowds have been getting behind us, the papers up home are right behind us. It feels like the whole town is behind us.
“It was pretty tight, not a lot of chances. It could have gone either way. But we got that early goal and I think it gave us some confidence.”
Slade was thankful his side had also earned a week off ahead of the grand final at Magic Park on 31 October.
“We’ll get a chance to freshen up a bit. We’ve got a bit of soreness and tightness so we’ll have a pool session on Tuesday night then a light session Thursday,” Slade said.
“We want to watch [the preliminary final between] New Lambton and Cooks Hill so we might have a get together next weekend then go and watch that game.
“After that I haven’t really thought too far ahead. [We’re taking it] one week at a time, as they say.”
While Singleton will put their feet up this weekend, the defeat means New Lambton will take on Cooks Hill United in the preliminary final, with the winner to take on the Strikers in the grand final.