Penalty shoot-out decides a gripping semi-final

By MARK ROBINSON MINOR premiers Richmond Rovers have again succumbed to Italo Stars after going down in a penalty shoot-out to their fierce Lismore rivals in the major semi-final of Football Far North Coast Premier League soccer on their home turf at Nielson Park yesterday.

The result puts Stars through to their first grand final since they last won the major premiership in 2003, but leaves Rovers needing a win over in-form Goonellabah in the preliminary final next weekend to earn another crack at Stars in the decider.

Stars opened with more intensity and purpose as strikers Brenton Mumford and Wayne Mortimer carved out opportunities, but Mumford mis-hit an early one-on-one chance with Rovers goalkeeper Andrew Marshall, while Mortimer hit the post with his first attempt on goal.

The midfield battle between Stars' Latimer brothers, Max and Billy, and Rovers' Ian McGregor and Aaron Heffernan was providing opportunities at both ends, but it took until the closing minutes of the half for goals to come.

A free kick for Rovers just outside the box allowed Ian McGregor to hit a low shot, with a deflection off the wall wrong-footing Stars 'keeper Trent Battistuzzi to give Rovers the lead.

But soon after a penalty for hand-ball in the Rovers box gave the reliable Max Latimer the chance to slot home his dot shot for a 1-all half-time scoreline.

The intensity increased in a tense second half with numerous yellow cards dished out, but both sides missed good chances to take the lead before another penalty for Stars allowed Max Latimer to score his second from the spot, giving them the edge again.

But Rovers are renowned for never giving up and with just two minutes left Ben Casagrande beat Battistuzzi to a long ball, chipping the 'keeper to send the game into extra time.

The heavy pitch was taking its toll on the two leg-weary sides and several players had cramp, but the deadlock remained unbroken, triggering the dreaded shoot-out.

Both sides went to six shots and kept every shot on target, but in the end two saves from Stars' injured 'keeper Battistuzzi allowed Jamie Austen the chance to step forward and slot home the winner.

It was fitting that Jamie Austen slotted the winner, as he and brother Jamie did a superb job in central defence to blot out Rovers strikers Troy Matthews and Matthew Olley, while wide defender Craig Wiblen also produced some crucial plays under pressure and Billy Latimer was ever-present in midfield.

"I couldn't have asked for any more from the boys; they were just fantastic," Stars coach Darren Cormick said.

"I don't know what it is that lifts them against Rovers, but I hope it keeps going if we meet them again in the grand final."

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LENNOX Head upset minor premiers Richmond Rovers 3-2 in extra time to move through to the premier reserve division grand final, where they will meet either Rovers again, or Byron Bay, after the Rams downed Maclean 3-2 to move into the preliminary final next week.

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