Woonona progressed to their maiden Illawarra Premier League grand final with a 1-0 win against the Albion Park White Eagles on Sunday afternoon.

The sides battled it out in miserable conditions at Balls Paddock with the only goal of the match coming in the final minute of regular time through Sharks striker Jesse French.

The White Eagles should have opened the scoring 20 minutes in when a cheap turnover allowed Jordan Nikolovski to break down the right flank. The winger dribbled into the box before blasting a shot straight at Woonona goalkeeper Jair Fernandez instead of squaring it to Jacob Martin for a simple tap in.

With 30 minutes played, Albion Park worked another good opportunity when Joel Beattie played in a low cross from the left. The swinging ball evaded the retreating defenders before finding Martin but he hit his effort directly at Fernandez.

The Sharks had a couple of headed shots late in the first half through Taro Regan-Williams and Luke McCosker but neither were able to test Nick Armand in the White Eagles’ net.

McCosker, who was starting his first match since injuring himself against the White Eagles in round seven, had a good opportunity 15 minutes into the second period. The forward made a storming run before his 25-metre shot took a deflection which forced a great reaction save by Armand.

Albion Park had another golden opportunity to open the scoring a couple of minutes later after a nice sequence of play led to Cameron Morgan feeding the ball through to Beattie. The energetic attacked looked to dink his finish over Fernandez, however, the ball drifted to the left.

The White Eagles continued to push on and had a couple more chances, most notably a shot from Nikolovski which was parried into the path of Beattie who, on the edge of the six-yard box, was unable to control the ball to get a shot away with the ball going out for a goal kick.

Woonona had a flurry of chances to win the match in the final 20 minutes with Tomohiro Ishii and Robbie Gaudiosi both having efforts blocked while Damian Grew had a fantastic opportunity after displaying some tidy feet in the box before skying his shot.

The match seemed destined for extra time before an error saw the Sharks grab a dramatic winner, seven days after losing to Wollongong United at virtually the same moment of the match. Martin misplaced a crossfield pass which was snatched by French who steamed through on goal before finishing into the bottom corner with his non-prefered right foot.

There was still drama to unfold as Albion Park bombed players forward in injury time and with seconds remaining Martin nearly redeemed himself but his strike from inside the area was once again saved by the Woonona shot-stopper.

The victory keeps the Sharks’ fairytale season going with the side now squaring off with Wollongong United in next Sunday’s grand final.

Despite winning the league title, Woonona have lost 1-0 to United on two occasions but after a challenging win over the White Eagles, coach Dan McGoldrick believed his side has what it takes to win the decider.

“It was such a hard game, it ebbed and flowed, and I don’t think either team was able to really get control of the game,” McGoldrick said.

“I always felt it was just going to be the odd goal in it and I thought it could have come for either side, there was enough half chances there but our goalkeeper was just magnificent.

“You do need a bit of luck but that luck comes from hard work and most importantly a team-first attitude that’s what’s got us through this whole thing – Covid, the season, the league championship and now getting us to the grand final.

“[We’ll] probably keep it much the same. I do think we can beat [Wollongong United], but we’ll need to be at our best and see what happens.”

The heartbreaking defeat ends the White Eagles campaign where a nine-match unbeaten run saw them storm into the finals and go within 90 minutes of their first grand final since 2016.

Woonona 1 (Jesse French 89’)

Albion Park White Eagles 0

Woonona: 20. FERNANDEZ Jair, 2. LOPEZ Jeremy, 3. BESGROVE Cameron, 4. REGAN-WILLIAMS Taro, 5. ISHII Tomohiro, 6. TOOHEY Luke, 7. MELLOR Jai, 8. BROMHAM-FULLER Tyler, 9. FRENCH Jesse, 10. MCCOSKER Luke, 11. GAUDIOSI Robbie

Substitutes: 12. BURKE Thomas (FRENCH), GREW Damien (MELLOR), 14. MCCALL Eden (MCCOSKER), 15. SMITH Cooper, 1. CHURCHWARD Jack

Albion Park White Eagles: 1. ARMAND Nick, 13. NATHANIEL Chris, 4. SUZAKI Kohei, 3. SENIOR Kyle, 5. LEIGHTON Jake, 21. FORDHAM Brendan, 6. WEHMEYER Cody, 8. NIKOLOVSKI Jordan, 7. MORGAN Cameron, 10. BEATTIE Joel, 11. MARTIN Jacob

Substitutes: 12. WILSON Zane (WEHMEYER), 14. WALLER Cody, 15. VRANKOVIC Dane, 16. DELBANCO Robbie (LEIGHTON), 31. COAD Blake

Date: 25 October 2020

Venue: Balls Paddock

Referee: Bobby Mazevski

Assistant Referees: Greg Reid and Jay Walpole

Fourth Official: Nick Ryan

Report by Dylan Arvela, on Twitter @dylanarvela

Photo by Kiah Hufton

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