Win over Thistles puts Rovers in grand final game with Byron
RICHMOND Rovers have set up a grand final showdown with Byron Bay after a sensational goal in the final minute of extra time gave them a 2-1 home win over local rivals Lismore Thistles in a pulsating preliminary final of FFNC's premier league.
Rovers had to come from behind, but in a typical display of their relentless will to win, their desire to fight to the very last moment proved to be the difference.
Thistles started well and with a strong wind at their backs had the better of the first half.
The Blues exerted plenty of pressure with corners, free kicks and the dangerous long throws of Jason Woollett.
They came close to scoring with a goal disallowed for taking out Rovers goalkeeper Dean Morgan, who was kept busy making several important saves to deny Matt Armstrong, Jake Nind and Matt Weir.
Rovers crafted only a handful of chances, with the best from Jonathan See forcing a diving save from Blues custodian Brad Robertson.
While Rovers managed to absorb the pressure until the break, soon after the restart they were caught out when a long pass from Nind allowed Armstrong to squirm away from his marker and slip a clean finish past Morgan.
The crucial goal lifted Thistles, while Rovers looked unsettled for a period, but Rovers soon regrouped and fought their way back into the game.
Pushing forward, they began to create chances and with fewer than 10 minutes remaining Brad Bugden cleverly used the wind to whip a curling corner directly into the Blues net.
The equaliser forced the game into extra time and play began to open up with both sides tiring as they played their fourth game in 12 days.
But with less than a minute for a penalty shoot-out, it was Rovers who found something special, with sub Josh Scicluna emerging as their hero.
Scicluna's low shot from the edge of the box squeezed past Robertson into the corner of the net, to the delight of Rovers players and their delirious fans.
"I'm very proud of the fighting spirit the boys showed, once again we proved if we can hang in a game until late, we're always a chance," Rovers coach Brian Bugden said.
"Reid Brewer Charles and Russell Dent had huge games for us in midfield, but everyone did their jobs well, including the subs, and we're a big chance against Byron next week now".
The grand final will be played at Oakes Oval, Lismore next Saturday from 7pm.
In a sign of both sides' depth, the two clubs reserve teams will also contest their grand final.