Rovers keep hopes alive

RICHMOND Rovers have kept their hopes alive for a fourth consecutive major premiership after a tense 1-0 home win over local rivals Lismore Thistles, in a pressure-charged Football FNC premier league soccer preliminary final yesterday.

After a 2-1 loss to Goonellabah in the major semi Rovers had to get to the grand final the hard way, but will now get another crack at the Hornets next Saturday.

Rovers ran with a strong wind in the first half and right from the opening whistle there was a big- match atmosphere with every tackle fiercely contested.

Despite fielding a depleted line-up, a spirited Thistles challenged their bigger, more experienced opponents with quick breaking attacks and had Rovers looking frustrated early.

After 20 minutes Rovers' hopes were dealt a blow when speedy striker Jonathan See suffered a badly torn hamstring, with Scott Crouch coming on to take his place alongside Tim Sheridan up front.

Despite his loss, Rovers began to find some rhythm late in the first half, with Thistles having to clear a shot off the line and stand-in goalkeeper Mitchell Pickford forced to make some vital saves.

The first half remained scoreless, but soon after the restart Rovers looked certain to score when wide defender Jessie Hartman broke free to confront Pickford, but scuffed his shot wide.

Play flowed freely from end to end as both sides created half chances, with Thistles exerting pressure from a string of corners and coming close when a Zac Wilson shot was desperately smothered by Rovers custodian Andrew Marshall.

Rovers also came close several times with Jacob Heffernan hitting the post with a dipping, long-range shot and Tim Sheridan hitting a superb free kick that looked headed for the top corner until Pickford produced a brilliant diving save.

With time running out, extra time was starting to look likely, but with just 10 minutes to go Rovers broke the deadlock with the winning goal from an unlikely source.

In recent weeks, central defender Scott Coster has made a habit of drifting forward for corners and finding space at the far post to score, and he repeated the feat from a Shane Scicluna corner.

Chesting down the ball, Coster blasted his shot inside the near post to the delight of a relieved home crowd.

Thistles pressed for an equaliser in the dying minutes with Darren Beardow hitting the crossbar with a dangerous cross, but Rovers hung on for a memorable win.

“It was an open game, both sides created plenty of chances but in the end we managed to put one in the net, so now we're looking forward to another crack at Goon-ellabah next week,” Rovers player-coach Tim Sheridan said.

Sheridan praised 'keeper Andrew Marshall and his backline of Coster, Mitchell Flower, Adam Gray and Aaron Heffernan for containing dangerous Blues strikers Jake Nind, Brenton Parrish and late in the game Matthew Parish, but is now focusing on how to approach the grand final.

“With Jonathan out we'll need someone else upfront and we'll probably change our pattern a bit for Goonellabah the way they use their wide backs, but we're looking forward to the chance for four straight titles,” Sheridan said.

While Thistles gave their all, the toll of a tough semi-final campaign finally caught up with their youthful side, but they will be stronger for the experience next season.

Darren Beardow was again an inspirational leader from midfield, Nind worked hard up front until losing his composure late in the game and every player played a part in taking the Blues to within a whisker of their first grand final in 18 years.

But in the end Rovers' big game experience and depth of strength was enough to earn them a chance of setting a new benchmark for the club, with their fourth consecutive grand final win.

Goonellabah and Rovers will also play the reserve grand final, after Goonellabah downed Ballina 2-1 in the preliminary final.

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