Grand finals dream over for Villa after Thistles scrape win
A DRAMATIC last-minute goal from big striker Andrew Gray gave Richmond Rovers a hard-fought 1-0 win over cross-town rivals Lismore Workers in the major preliminary semi-final of FFNC's Premier League.
Much of the game was a midfield arm wrestle as the two evenly matched sides attempted to assert themselves, but constant pressure on the ball carrier meant neither side could hold possession for long.
Each side was also missing a key player, with Rovers Russell Dent ruled out just before kick-off and Clint Willoughby only coming off the bench late in the game for Workers.
Dent's absence meant Brad Bugden moved into Rovers midfield, allowing 18-year-old Jeremy Perkins to get just his second start in Premiers at left back.
His inclusion had a major bearing on the game in the final minute, when Rovers were awarded a free kick wide on their left flank.
Perkins delivered an inch-perfect cross to the far post, where a posse of Rovers players converged on the ball to bundle it over the line, despite the best efforts of Workers 'keeper Simon Cleaver.
Gray was awarded the goal, which has set up a major semi-final clash with minor premiers Byron Bay for the first grand final berth, tomorrow night at Byron.
Workers will get their second chance in the sudden death minor semi-final, with a home clash against Lismore Thistles, also tomorrow night.
Thistles kept their hopes alive for a third consecutive grand final appearance, after a tense 1-0 home win over a gallant Alstonville in the elimination semi.
A contentious penalty in extra time from Matt Weir was just enough to give Thistles the narrowest of wins.
Villa was making an historic first appearance in the semis and was disrupted by late withdrawals for Rick Hanna, Anthony Hough and 'keeper Michael Blackler.
But after a nervous start, they settled and caused some problems for the Blues defence, particularly through the pace of striker Liam Giles.
Thistles had the better of the second half with numerous corners, but Villa defenders Eamon Banks and Brodie Parker, along with stand in 'keeper Jacob Auld, were outstanding.
Villa still looked dangerous on the break, but Thistles' defence also gave little away, with Max Hospers, Matt Cramp and 'keeper Brad Robertson standing firm.
After 90 minutes, the game was forced into extra time, where it was Weir's dot shot that separated the sides.
"I think it was unfortunate a very competitive match was decided by a ref's decision," Villa coach Mark Ambler said.
Blues coach Rod Lees agreed, saying he thought it was a 'harsh call'.
"Credit to Villa, they kept coming at us, but I think we deserved it in the end."