By Casey O'Connor
The Stanthorpe Football grand finals went ahead last weekend after being postponed the previous week due to the bushfire situation. A week later fans were treated to one of the most memorable A Grade Men’s games in recent history. It was exciting and intense and produced some outstanding play.
Stanthorpe United were looking to secure their third successive grand final win over rivals Ballandean. The Ballandean ’Mountain Men’ started favourites after finishing the regular season undefeated for 10 games. The game began at a frantic pace with both sides not allowing their opponents anytime on the ball. The pressure led to turnover of possession and many goal opportunities went begging.
The opening goal did not come until the 30th minute when United fullback Josh Musumeci broke the deadlock. Musumeci headed the ball from a corner down low on the bounce directly to Jared Crisp who in turn headed the ball, this time in the other direction. The move wrong footed the Ballandean keeper Jeremy Willoughby and the ball was into the corner of the goal. Redbacks led 1-0 – game on.
Both sides had further goal scoring opportunities in the first half but went to the break with the score unchanged.
The start of the second half saw Ballandean dominate in attack. The Mountain Men pounded the United goal with Merritt, Purcell and keeper Crestani doing whatever they could to repel the onslaught.
Twenty minutes into the second half Ballandean were awarded a free kick outside the box and their Captain Ben Rametta smacked the ball into the bottom corner to level the score. Ballandean had all the momentum and five minutes later another attacking raid down the right flank had the United defence at sixes and sevens. The ball found an unmarked Bradley Knight 10 yards out from the United goal and Ballandean shot to a 2-1 lead with 20 minutes remaining.
United coach Steve McEvoy immediately changed United’s formation to a more attacking structure introducing some fresh legs up front. It was a pivotal moment in the game as the attacking momentum Ballandean enjoyed early in the half was beginning to take its toll on some of their players.
The landscape of the game changed suddenly . A Ballandean player was sent off and Ballandean Coach Neil Newman was forced to make some changes to his line-up. United were also forced made an injury change due to the send-off incident.
Ballandean dropped a striker as they tried to hold out United, who could smell blood.
Twelve minutes out from full time Liam Hitchener had a golden opportunity to score but desperate defence from Zac Willoughby and Aiden Halford forced his shot wide.
Manahan and Crisp both shot from distance for United but were also unsuccessful. Could Ballandean hold on with only eight minutes remaining?
Liam Hitchener again found himself in the open and made no mistake with this attempt as he coolly put the ball into the goal for a 2-2 score-line:
With the luxury of an extra player, the momentum swung back to Untied as the Ballandean defence tired.
As the time clock would down and extra time was looking likely United continued their quest for a winner.
With just three minutes remaining a George Merritt corner found an unmarked Liam Hitchener on the near post. Hitchener sent the ball into an open goal to give the Redbacks a 3-2 lead.
Ballandean were not done with and had one final throw of the dice when they were awarded a free kick outside the box. This time United goal keeper Crestani had the shot well and truly covered.
As the full time whistle blew the United players descended on their retiring coach Steve McEvoy to celebrate the win.
There were some outstanding efforts from players on both sides. The work rate of the United midfield of Murphy, Davies and the Hitchener brothers laid the foundation for United’s win
Ace McDonald was one of Ballandean’s best and was well supported by Rametta and Halford.