Fernhill have continued their end of season fairytale run after a hard-fought win over Helensburgh that needed penalties to decide the winner.
Just one week after the Foxes snuck into the finals series after three results went their way, they again looked to be down and out of the game until a 95th minute equaliser from Kurt Foulger made it two-all, which ultimately set them up for a 4-2 win in penalties.
The first stanza started with the intensity of a typical finals game. Fernhill created the opening chance of the game as Will Roberts shot wide from just inside the box.
Jarrod Benham’s corner was denied by the crossbar in the 20th minute and Josh Brady’s effort from range forced a save out of Kristian Bullock in the Foxes net just two minutes later.
Benham worked Bullock again off a free-kick forcing a save out of the goalkeeper before denying Luke Miller on the rebound.
After the first 45, the game remained scoreless with all to play for in the second half.
The Foxes started the new half firing. Scott Muilwyk’s shot deflected into the hand of Scott Mawbey and there was no hesitation from referee Jay Walpole as he pointed to the spot. Roberts found the bottom right, giving Fernhill the lead in the 57th minute.
What followed the goal was a frantic 15 minutes of back and forth football, with chances, goals and goal-line clearances for both sides.
The first of which was a curled effort by Eamon Van Zyl, 30 yards out. The ball dipped at the last second, destined for the back of the net but a miraculous fingertip save by Bullock sent it out for a corner.
Then just two minutes later, it was the Foxes turn. A poor clearance by an onrushing Matt Wardle in goal fell straight to Marc Sergi. Sergi’s chipped effort was on target with the Wardle astray, however, a last-ditched header from Dylan Crocker kept the Thistle in the game.
In the 64th minute, Roberts’ flick on found Nelson McLeod running towards goal. Squaring up with Wardle, he failed to find the target as the ball rolled wide of the far post.
It seemed to be a costly miss for the Foxes, as Helensburgh went down the other end and equalised just 60 seconds later. It was Miller leaping the highest off a corner, powering his header into the ground, bouncing into the net.
Fernhill responded immediately after the goal with an attack of their own and Roberts almost put them back ahead with a powerful volley but as it curled away from goal it struck the left post and went out for a goal-kick.
But it was Helensburgh finding the net twice in the space of five minutes to turn the game on its head. Miller now turned provider, squaring it to Ben Watts for an easy tap-in from close range as the Thistle took the lead.
The last chance of the see-saw section of the game saw Muilwyk jump above the pack following a corner, but he couldn’t find the target as the ball flew over the crossbar.
Chances slowed down in the final 15 minutes and as the game went into stoppage time, fans were starting to pack up and leave with the game all but over. But as they say, it’s not over until the fat lady sings.
Fernhill won a corner in the fifth minute of stoppages. Rookie coach, Dale White gave the signal for the whole team to push forward into the box, with their season on the line. Then, the remarkable happened. The Foxes equalised as Kurt Foulger powered a header towards goal. Elizabeth Park stopped for a second. The ball looked to be cleared off the line. But as it rose it smashed the crossbar, finding the net, sending the Foxes into a frenzy.
After an intense 90 minutes, the two sides could not be separated which prompted an extra 30 minutes of game-play.
It seemed the fast-paced contest took its toll for players on both sides. There was minimal chances in extra-time and attempts on goal came rarely.
In the 93rd minute, Benham sent an in-swinging corner into the box and almost curled in if it wasn’t for a headed clearance off the line by Foulger.
Miller again popped up for a header off a corner but despite his brave effort, it rose over.
Just after the half, Roberts’ first time shot almost caught Wardle out but the showstopper was able to bring the ball into his arms, keeping the scores level.
It seemed both teams wanted to play out the game for penalties, keeping the ball to ensure they wouldn’t concede a late winner as the game had to be decided with a shootout.
As the Northern end of the ground played part for the shootout, fans from both teams packed it behind the goal, with Fernhill going first.
Wardle and Bullock saved both Roberts and Reggae Rowley penalties in the first round.
Muilwyk and Watts then stepped up to the occasion, placing into the bottom left.
The big turning factor in the shootout saw McLeod push the Foxes ahead as Van Zyl’s penalty was saved by Bullock to his left.
Trent Worthington and Brad Strudwick slotted home as it the game fell in the hands of Foulger.
But Foulger had nerves of steel, placing his spot-kick into the bottom left, to send Fernhill into week two of the finals.
Fernhill send Helensburgh crashing out of the competition, as they set up another elimination final with Unanderra next weekend.
Fernhill Coach Dale White couldn’t believe the result and gave full credits to his side to get the job done.
“I can’t speak highly enough of the lads today. Down 2-1 in the 95th minute and to find that goal and push on,” he said.
“We had 11 wounded bodies out there and it’s just a testament to the boys, week two of the finals when we were sitting eighth last week.”
As a first year coach, White was confident his side would get the job done in his first time coaching a penalty shootout.
“We did shut up shop a little bit towards the back end of extra-time. Helensburgh probably had a bit of running on us but I was super confident to the penalty shootout with the guys I still had there.
“[Penalty takers had] Composure. They’ve been in big games before and I backed my keeper,” he added.
Helensburgh: 2 (2) (Miller 65’ Watts 69’)
Fernhill: 2 (4) (Roberts 59’, Foulger 90+5’)
Helensburgh: 23. WARDLE Matt, 2. GRINHAM Jordan, 3. BENHAM Jarrod, 4. CROCKER Dylan, 5. MAWBEY Scott, 6. VAN ZYL Eamon, 7. WATTS Ben, 8. ROWLEY Reggae, 9. MILLER Luke, 10. TORIGOE Hikaru, 11. BRADY Josh.
Substitutes: 12. RODGERS Fynn (BENHAM), 13. TOKINSON Blake (BRADY), 14. STRUDWICK Brad (CROCKER), 15. MCALPINE Reece (MILLER), 1. ROBERTS Ben.
Fernhill: 1. BULLOCK Kristian, 2. DRAPANIOTIS Andrew, 3. CALDER Lachlan, 4. FOULGER Kurt, 5. OLIVER Anthony, 6. WORTHINGTON Trent, 7. MCLEOD Nelson, 8. SERGI Marc, 9. ROBERTS Will, 10. MUILWYK Scott, 11. MOLLOY Sean.
Substitutes: 12. THOMPSON Nathan (PRENZOSKI), 13. PRENZOSKI Ilja (MOLLOY), 14. KATSOUDAS (DRAPANIOTIS), 15. MOROSIN Dean (SERGI), 21. WOOD Taylor.
Date: 10 October 2020
Venue: Elizabeth Park
Referee: Jay Walpole
Assistant Referees: Nathan Alterator and Anna Phipps
Fourth Official: Bobby Mazevski
Report by Nathan Turner, on Twitter @nathanturner23_
Photos by Richie Wagner