Rovers through after shoot-out
By MARK ROBINSON
RICHMOND Rovers had to overcome an ominous sense of deja vu in the closing stages of their preliminary final against Goonellabah yesterday before securing their place in the Football FNC Premier League soccer grand final against Italo Stars next weekend.
For the second week in a row, Rovers conceded two penalties in a 2-all draw at their home ground of Nielson Park, going into extra time and then a penalty shoot-out.
Last Sunday Stars edged out Rovers in the dreaded shoot-out after two penalties gave them a 2-all draw in the major semi-final.
Rovers confronted the same scenario again, but this time goalkeeper Andrew Marshall emerged as Rovers' hero, pulling off two tremendous saves to give the minor premiers a crack at their first premiership double in 20 years.
Both sides began cautiously, with Goonellabah intent on holding their shape and Rovers looking to release dangerous strikers Troy Matthews and Matthew Olley with long balls.
Olley had Rovers' first real chance on goal, but his shot sailed harmlessly over the bar, before Hornets striker Dave Arnett forced a good save from Marshall at the other end.
After a good early spell from Goonellabah when their deep defence allowed them to defuse most of Rovers' attack, the Hornets began to lose concentration late in the half, allowing Matthews the room to hit a shot that looked goal-bound until 'keeper Craig Attewell made a diving save to push the ball on to the post.
But just before the break Attewell was wrong-footed by a raking cross from Chris Simmons that found Ben Casagrande at the far post with a well-directed header, his goal giving Rovers a 1-0 half-time lead.
The goal lifted Rovers and they started the second half strongly, with Matthews again hitting the post and Attewell making several spectacular saves.
Olley had a goal disallowed after bumping the ball out of Attewell's hands in another Rovers raid, but soon after his terrier-like instincts eventually led to Rovers' second goal when he chased down a long ball, held his marker and then chipped the advancing goalkeeper.
Rovers could have increased their lead if not for a remarkable double save from Attewell, denying Matthews twice in a matter of seconds.
With time running down Rovers appeared headed for a comfortable victory, but in a bizarre climax Goonellabah were awarded two penalties in the final five minutes.
Peter O'Neil clutched the lifeline for the Hornets by slotting home both dot shots to send the game 2into 1extra time, but neither side could break the deadlock as the heat took a toll on both sides, triggering the penalty shoot-out.
There were nervous moments for Rovers after player-coach Tim Sheridan blasted their first shot off the crossbar, but eventually two saves from Marshall proved the difference, despite a heroic effort from an injured Attewell for Goonellabah, who had produced his best game of the season to no avail.
Rovers' battered and bruised line-up has now endured 220 minutes of tough semi-final football going into the grand final.
But they showed the sort of courage when things turned against them late in the match that suggests they are mentally hardened and ready for the final showdown.
Rovers also moved through to the premier reserve division grand final against Lennox Head, thanks to an emphatic 3-0 win over Byron Bay in the preliminary final.