PORT United were literally one kick away from a second-straight Football Mid North Coast Premier League grand final spot.
Simon Granfield’s missed penalty attempt was United’s first hiccup from the spot and when Eli Wade’s spot kick was also saved, they were out.
United and Macleay Valley couldn’t be split after 110 minutes of action that yielded four goals and went one step further than the last encounter between the two teams.
On that occasion a fortnight ago, it was Sam Applegate who was the hero with an extra-time strike.
Macleay Valley Rangers' goalkeeper John Clancy produces consecutive saves, first to keep his side in the penalty shootout and the second to advance his side to the Football Mid North Coast Premier League grand final. #UpTheRangerspic.twitter.com/RvskQxMhKW— Callum McGregor (@CalMcGregor93) September 11, 2018
But on Saturday, Rangers kept their composure longest despite a few nervous moments in a heart-stopping 5-4 penalty shoot out victory.
But it wasn’t a match without drama with Rangers awarded a contentious penalty to start the second half that cancelled out Harry Gordon’s first-half goal.
United coach Nathan Wade fumed following the decision.
“It’s never a penalty and never will be; it’s hard enough to win up there at the best of times,” he said.
“Neither side deserved to lose, but unfortunately we did.”
Wade also fired a broadside about the potential increase in playing standard throughout the competition with relegation and promotion to come into effect from 2019.
“It might sound like sour grapes, but the competition won’t get better until the referees do,” he said.
Despite the drama and controversy, United had their chances to ice the game – particularly in the extra time period when they had an extra man.
“We had a couple of chances and didn’t take them and MVR played pretty well and congratulations to them,” Wade said.
Rangers took the lead in the second half of regulation time before Matt Broderick equalised with eight minutes remaining to set up a frantic finish.
United’s cause was then helped in the shadows of the end regulation time when Rangers’ Kurt Riordan was given his marching orders following a second bookable offence.
The 10-man Rangers outfit then scrambled well in defence in the closing staged to prevent United from stealing the game in regulation and extra-time.
The win put Macleay Valley into the Premier League decider for the first time since 2013 – an achievement not lost on coach Keith Morn.
“It was another close game but I think we deserved the win,” he said.
“It’s a great feeling to know we will play in a grand final and it’s definitely exciting, but I am more happy for the players and glad they get to experience it.
“They have worked hard all season and they all got to this position because of the way they play and not because of what I have done as a coach.”