Richmond Rovers’ Troy Matthews (on the ground) and Goonellabah’s Matt Dorigo come to blows in the major semi-final on Saturday.
Richmond Rovers’ Troy Matthews (on the ground) and Goonellabah’s Matt Dorigo come to blows in the major semi-final on Saturday. JAY CRONAN

Rovers blast in five goals against Goonellabah

ANY doubts over Richmond Rovers’ ability to achieve a record third straight premiership double were dismissed on Saturday, with the defending champions clinching their place in the grand final with a stunning 5-2 win over Goonellabah in the major semi-final of FNC premier league soccer.

Rovers shrugged off a 1-0 half-time deficit to produce a remarkable second half, smashing five goals past a shell-shocked Hornets.

Goonellabah started with a strong wind and had the better of the first half, using three strikers to put plenty of pressure on Rovers’ three-man backline.

The tactic worked well and just six minutes in Dave Arnett headed in a corner from Ben Andrews to give the Hornets a dream start, but their second half was to turn into a nightmare.

Goonellabah held their shape well and played their usual efficient game to maintain their lead until the break, but they were overwhelmed by Rovers’ passion and intensity after the break in a remarkable turnaround.

Whatever Rovers coach Scott Coster said to his players during the interval worked, but he summed it up as ‘Mostly unprintable, but essentially I questioned their commitment’.

Soon after the restart Rovers’ revival began with two goals in two minutes.

First an unmarked Troy Matthews headed in a Ben Casagrande free kick before Jonathan See cut through the Hornets’ defence on the left flank and crossed for Casagrande to score off the upright.

See was outstanding with his pace and touch creating problems for the Hornets and he netted Rovers’ third by latching on to a loose ball in midfield, surging forward and catching goalkeeper Craig Attewell out of position with a 25-metre drive.

Rovers gifted Goonellabah a goal back when ’keeper Andrew Marshall spilled a corner into his own goal, but it did little to slow Rovers’ momentum with Troy Matthews scoring their fourth goal with a 40m runaway as the Hornets pushed forward searching for goals.

A bad day for Goonellabah was made even worse in the dying minutes, with ’keeper Attewell sent off after dragging down Rovers sub Blair Smith in the box to deny him tapping in a goal.

Rovers ’keeper Andrew Marshall made up for his own goal by coming forward to score from the penalty spot, putting the finishing touch on a memorable 5-2 win.

Again Rovers’ strength in midfield gave them the edge, with Aaron Heffernan having a big game on his return after a six-week absence with an ankle injury, Russell Dent as strong as ever and Jonathan See and Ben Casagrande always dangerous on the flanks.

“We didn’t do the little things right in the first half and gave them too much room, but we fixed that and pressured them into turnovers in the second half and that allowed us to get going,” Coster said.
Rovers will now have next week off to prepare for the grand final, while Goonellabah will be left to pick up the pieces from their biggest loss of the season and brace themselves to face the in-form Italo Stars in the preliminary final next weekend.

Stars hitting
top gear
ITALO STARS are starting to peak at the right time, producing one of their best performances of the year to eliminate Byron Bay 3-1 in a hotly contested sudden-death minor semi-final at Byron Bay on Saturday.

After a disastarous 2-0 loss to Goonellabah the previous week, Byron changed their shape to good effect, starting with two strikers rather than one and exerting early pressure on Stars.

Jordy Campbell and John Bradbury combined well up front, but Stars’ backline of Rick Austen, Craig Wiblen and Matt Pratten weathered the storm as the game developed into a hard, physical contest with both sides showing plenty of commitment.

The Rams had a goal controversially disallowed 10 minutes before half-time for a foul on Stars ’keeper Dallas Guthrie, and soon after Stars capitalised with a goal from Clint Willoughby.

Willoughby was set up by a deft ball from Zac Innes, which allowed him to drill a volley from the edge of the box into the corner of the net.

Stars doubled their lead soon after the restart, Wayne Mortimer beating his man on the flank with some clever play before crossing for Max Latimer to drive a low shot past Rams ’keeper Kai Connell.
Latimer was named as joint Golden Boot winner last week along with Rams opponent Jordy
Campbell and it was Campbell who responded for the Bay, with a well-hit volley reducing the margin to 2-1 and giving the Rams hope of a fightback.

But within minutes their hopes were dashed by Latimer again, when he met a Mark Maslen corner with a near-post finish that exposed a static Rams defence.

As time ran down the Rams’ frustrations grew with Tom Ruhl being sent off after attracting a second yellow card, allowing Stars a comfortable finish after a torrid encounter.

“Byron played well and it was tough, but we defended well all over the park, we passed well and took enough chances to deserve it,” Stars coach John Essex said.

Stars’ midfield laid the platform for the win with strong games from Jake Pratten, who ran all day and defused numerous Rams attacks, along with Clint Willoughby and Wayne Mortimer, who showed their class under big-match pressure with impressive performances.

Rams coach Peter Ware was philosophical about the loss.

“The whole team stood up and played well and we were unlucky to have a goal disallowed, hit the woodwork and have two penalty appeals turned down, but in the end Stars also played very well and they deserved to win,” he said.

Stars will now start preparing to meet Goon-ellabah in the preliminary final at Weston Park next Sunday.

“The boys are in a very positive frame of mind and their confidence is high, so we’re a good chance of going all the way,” Essex said.

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