South Wallsend coach Brad Parkes described it as “relief and excitement” when the Wolves booked a breakthrough Herald Women’s Premier League finals spot with a 2-1 win over Adamstown at Walker Fields on Sunday.
The Wolves entered Northern NSW Football’s top-flight women’s competition in 2015. They finished sixth that year then fifth in 2016, 10 points adrift of the top four.
They came closest to a finals berth last year when fifth again, this time one point off fourth, but their season ended in controversy.
The Wolves needed to win their final match but the game was abandoned after a melee erupted and was not replayed.
This year South Wallsend have matched it with every side but results have been hard to come by.
Heading into the match on Sunday, both teams remained in contention for fourth. Warners Bay, Merewether and New Lambton had already secured the top three positions.
The equation was simple for South Wallsend – a win and they would be through with one round remaining in the season proper. A loss or draw and fourth would not be decided until next weekend.
The game was evenly contested in the opening stages with both sides clearly desperate to secure the points.
South Wallsend scored first when in the 21st minute Olivia Kennedy received the ball with her back to goal outside the 18-yard box, turned and fired the ball into the top right corner of Adamstown’s net.
The jubilation was short-lived as Rosebud responded almost immediately with Lauren Allan taking the ball towards the byline then cutting it across the face of goal for Annika D’Amico to tap in at the far post.
The home side had a clear-cut chance to regain the advantage going to the break when Adamstown goalkeeper Olivia Sneddon charged out for the ball but fell to the ground in a tackle and Gabrielle Brodie surged into the box but shot wide of an open goal.
The Wolves had another good chance 10 minutes into the second half when Gemma Harrison’s back-post header off a corner glanced just wide of the post.
The winner finally came in the 70th minute when Brodie headed home off a Gema Simon free kick.
Adamstown had chances to level through a series of late free kicks and a last-gasp effort from Allan but could not beat Wolves shot-stopper Jessica Sanderson.
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The win, just their fourth of the year, moved the Wolves to 13 points, five clear of Adamstown and Wallsend.
“The girls played well and we probably had the better of the game for the majority of it,” Parkes said.
“I thought Adamstown battled hard and they put the girls under pressure and we switched off in a key moment and let them back into the game.
“When we let them equalise pretty quickly, I thought, ‘Not again’ then we missed an open goal. But it’s good to get the result.”
Although “devastated” to miss out on finals football, Adamstown coach Paul Devitis said there was a strong future for his young squad.
“It was always going to be very even game, a desperation game,” Devitis said.
“We tried to play on the ground and in patches we did well. We tried to play forward too quickly and at times that didn’t suit us. But we didn’t give up. We gave it our all, and that’s all you can ask for.
“We’re pretty devastated because that’s the season and it’s a hard way to go out. But we’ve held our own in every game. We had draws with Warners Bay and Merewether and there’s a lot to build on.”
At John Street Oval, Warners Bay came from 1-0 down at half-time to beat Merewether 2-1.
Bek Stuart put the defending champions on the board first when she scored from the penalty spot around the 30-minute mark.
But Jets players Jenna Kingsley and Tara Pender scored in the second half to clinch the win.
The two top teams have the bye in the final round before Merewether meet New Lambton in the home-and-away semi-finals and the Wolves go up against the minor premiers.