Rovers navigate into grand final

DEFENDING premiers Richmond Rovers have booked their place in the FNC premier league soccer grand final by outclassing Lennox Head 3-1 in the major semi-final at Nielson Park, East Lismore, on Saturday.

After a stuttering end to their premiership rounds, Rovers were back to their uncompromising best with a tough, physical performance.

Playing their first game in three weeks, Rovers looked a little rusty early and took time to recapture their rhythm, while Lennox created some half chances through flankers Ben Andrews and Rameesh Kassim.

It took 30 minutes for Rovers to create their first clean chance on goal, but Ben Casagrande lashed his volley wide of the posts.

While the first half was typical, grinding semi-final football with few chances, the game sparked into life as soon as the second half kicked off with a flurry of goals.

The first came from a towering clearance by Rovers goalkeeper Andrew Marshall that forced a defensive blunder from the Sharks, allowing Troy Matthews to head the ball into the path of strike partner Aaron Heffernan, who confronted Sharks goalkeeper Tye McDonald one-on-one and used all his experience to calmly set up a side foot finish, giving Rovers the edge.

But their lead was short-lived, with a Ben Andrews free kick soon after creating a skirmish in the Rovers box, allowing Rameesh Kassim to equalise with a close-range finish.

Instead of being deflated by the goal, Rovers showed their renowned ability to go up a gear when they have to, hitting back with two quick goals.

The first came from a Russell Dent corner that found the head of Ben Casagrande with a deft near post touch, followed just minutes later by another goal from Heffernan, who again broke away from the defence to taunt McDonald for a second time.

Rovers went on to dominate the rest of the game and were unlucky not to score more goals, with shots from both Heffernan and Matthews hitting the cross-bar.

Compounding the Sharks' woes, key midfielder Josh Campbell was carried off with knee ligament damage and flanker Andrew Lundie was sent off late in the game for dissent as the Sharks began to self-destruct.

Both will miss the preliminary final against Thistles next week and with several other key players also in doubt, coach Paul Kirkland faces a huge challenge to lift the Sharks' remaining troops into their first grand final.

“Inexperience and injuries cost us against Rovers and it has left us in a difficult position for Thistles next week,” Kirkland said.

Rovers now have the chance to claim consecutive premiership doubles for the first time in the club's history and also become the first side since Workers in 1990 to clean sweep the Anzac Cup and both premierships.

Thistles on a high

LISMORE Thistles' remarkable season continues to reach new heights, with the Blues now just one game away from their first grand final in 16 years after eliminating Ballina with a 2-0 win in the minor semi-final at Saunders Park, Ballina, on Saturday.

A howling wind made conditions difficult for both sides, but two second-half goals from the Blues kept their fairytale season alive.

Marty Dougherty triggered the first, breaking from midfield and crossing for Darren Beardow, who set up Matt Parrish for a thundering shot into the top corner of the net.

The second came in the dying moments of the game as Ballina pushed forward in search of an equaliser, with Tom Boland finishing a one-on-one chance against Ballina goalkeeper Lucas Wagland.

Just before the goal, Blues 'keeper Paul Carmichael capped another fine game by pulling off a vital one-on-one save against Ballina striker Troy Percival, a goal that would have tied up the game.

While Thistles made the most of their chances, the seasiders' finishing again let them down.

“Our finishing wasn't of a high enough standard and we didn't quite have the goods to get through,” Dwayne Smith, the Ballina coach, conceded.

A delighted Thistles coach Ken MacPherson praised defenders Max Toovey and Michael Forsyth for their efforts, particularly against the wind in the first half, along with in-form goalkeeper Paul Carmichael.

“When we were promoted at the start of the season we were only looking to consolidate our place in the top league [so] to go this far is tremendous for not just the team, but for the whole club,” he said.

Thistles will now meet a battered and bruised Lennox Head in the preliminary final next Saturday, where a win would set up an East Lismore derby against Richmond Rovers in the grand final.

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