DESPITE the gallant efforts of the Westpac Port Panthers, it was the consistency of the Macleay
Valley Rangers that saw them land successive titles in the Football Mid-North Coast Premier League at Port Macquarie’s Regional Sports Stadium on Saturday.
A healthy crowd was on hand to witness the clash between the two best sides in this year’s competition and, as the weather deteriorated rapidly during the game, the benefits of the large grandstand were greatly appreciated.
Out on the pitch both sides took some time to adjust to the unfamiliar spaces as well as the slippery
surface, which resulted in the match being a stop-start affair for the first 10-15 minutes.
The Panthers started with the surprise tactic of keeping striker Stephen Ford on the bench for the first 20 minutes to protect his hamstring injury from what was expected to be some intense tackling early on.
Scoring opportunities were rare in the first half and the Panthers’ best chance came in the 16th.
A corner resulted in a shot beating the keeper but being cleared off the line by another player.
A well-hit shot by Panthers’ Brant van der Linden in the 28th minute was parried by the keeper but Toby Glover was just not quite able to head the ball into the goal.
In between, the Rangers created a few problems of their own.
A couple of promising moves came on the break as they looked to use their speedy men up front and out wide.
In the 25th minute, the Panthers almost conceded when they kept giving away the ball and not clearing out of their 18 yard area. Soon after, a Rangers’ header flew just wide.
As half-time drew near, the Panthers players, coaching staff and supporters would have been pleased not to have given Rangers the early goal.
However, a piece of opportunistic play by the Rangers sank the local side back into the now familiar
territory of having to fight back.
What seemed a routine ball near the Panthers’ 18 yard area that would have been dealt with by the defence was pounced upon by Andrew Potter, who took it to the line and fired into the goal mouth.
It ricocheted off two Panthers defenders before being turned into the net by Panthers’ Craig Donaldson.
To the Panthers’ credit, they almost got the goal back shortly after the ensuing kick-off when a corner saw Ford’s attempt deflected.
The Rangers maintained their 1-0 advantage until the break.
As expected in the second half, the Panthers controlled most of the possession and the Rangers looked to protect their lead.
With the heavy rain continuing and the pitch holding so much water, the game was not quite the open spectacle both sides would have wanted and it
was difficult to create many clear cut opportunities.
However, the Panthers persevered.
In only the 46th minute, a Panthers free kick beat everybody and hit the post.
Minutes later Jono Toombs combined with Ford that saw Toombs’ on target shot deflected for a corner.
Another free kick shortly afterwards brought a great save from Rangers’ keeper Col Willis.
The problem for the Panthers was their inability to get in behind the Rangers’ defence and their scoring chances really only came from a distance.
With 15 minutes remaining, the Rangers dealt the killer blow.
A rare attacking foray into the Panthers’ half brought a fiercely struck shot that skimmed across the turf and keeper Aaron Barr could not hold on to it.
Rangers’ Potter stepped to the right of Barr and steered the ball into the net.
The irony of Barr’s error will not be lost on team mates.
His terrific season between the sticks played such a large part in the Panthers being in the grand final in the first place and the conditions in this game made goalkeeping a nightmare.
From this point, the encounter was effectively shut down by the Rangers.
There was time for one last hurrah from Ford when he broke away into space and Willis was able to just get a touch on the ball to prevent it finding the net.
A goal for Ford would have been just reward for his efforts.
With the final whistle, Macleay Valley Rangers were justifiably crowned champions for 2007.