Rangers rise above in the rain

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Rangers rise above in the rain

Senior women – Blue Lake 2 def Apollo 1

The Blue Lake Rangers spent much of Saturday evening singing in the rain after claiming a memorable Steeline Bendigo Bank Limestone Coast Football Association senior women’s premiership in a wet, windy and tense decider at Malseed Park.

Some may have been a touch concerned whether the big grand finals weekend would start on time due to a Saturday morning thunderstorm and while the constant gale-force winds and persistent rain did cut the power, mother nature could not dampen the on-pitch action.

Although few anticipated a young Apollo team to rise from fifth last year to the grand final, the underdogs showed their intent from kick-off where Zoe Brooksby stole the ball and soon Blue Lake goalkeeper Richelle Huntly found herself diving to stop shots.

A strong westerly wind that had been reaching speeds of 50-plus kph was blowing directly towards Apollo’s goals and it was determined to capitalise on it.

Deni Atkin and Gabriel Tentye almost combined beautifully, but could not quite connect the play and soon the blue and white found themselves on the back foot.

Despite running into an almighty breeze, the Rangers turned the game around with immense work rate and pressure.

Leading the way like usual were the Frost sisters Lauren and Chelsea, who used their speed and strength both offensively and defensively to force the ball forward.

Soon the Apollo defence had to fight on multiple fronts with Aidene Parr coming close only to be denied by a smart save from keeper Angela Mcdonough while a dangerous corner was coming up.

The cross was well placed by Chelsea Frost and after a scramble Jasmine White was able to force the ball over the line and give Blue Lake the edge with a rare goal against the wind.

With Bibi Paw and Lauren Frost having an enthralling one on one battle, the heat remained on for possession in the sub-zero temperatures with some players not afraid to attack the ball head on.

The likes of Aimee Brooks, Adele Wilkinson and Kayleen Vanua also chipped in to ensure Blue Lake entered half time just on top.

After the break the players were so keen to start the season-defining half, there was a small delay waiting for the referees, but once everyone was in position the tension lifted.

With captain Bec Peters taking charge of her troops in what would become an inspirational best on ground performance, Apollo showed some grit running into the wind.

Nop Pho Rad, Paw and Nikamwepaw Khin were hanging tough defensively, while further up the ground Peters was joined by the likes of Paris Ackland, Arabela Calderwood and Zoe Brooskby.

Despite Brooksby creating one close call, many of the blue and white’s forward entries were denied by Kendell Saffin and Eve Maywald in defence, who cleared balls out of danger all day.

But the truest sign the football gods were against Apollo arrived with around 10 minutes to go.

With neither side breaking free and the rain setting in, the second half became a tight arm wrestle and this looked set to continue when Khin aimed to clear the ball out of defence.

However, she did not strike her volley cleanly and the ball flew past her left shoulder and started a worryingly high flight path towards the goals that Tim Cahill would have been proud of.

For what seemed like an eternity the ball curled towards the right-hand post and bounced awkwardly for keeper McDonough.

Despite a valiant full-stretch dive, the keeper could not cut off the ball and a freakish own goal doubled the Rangers’ lead.

Apollo failed to be determined by the surreal setback and launched a counterattack with Brooksby finally finding the back of the net to give the side a sniff with around three minutes left.

But the Rangers held on to record a memorable 2-1 triumph which wipes away the pain of last year.

Victorious coach Sean Fulton said it was a great feeling to win the holy grail on home turf in the club’s first year following the switch from United to Blue Lake.

“We created our own fairytale,” he said.

“For us in our first year wearing Blue Lake stripes to win on the home ground is amazing.

“The girls dug deep and gave us that Rangers’ spirit all the way to the end without a single substitution which is why I am so proud.”

Fulton believed the Rangers’ work rate in the taxing conditions played a big role in the tight win.

“The conditions played a huge part because it was really tough for the girls out there,” he said.

“We thought if we could hold Apollo to a couple of goals in the first half with this wind we would still be a chance, but our girls were amazing.

“The midfield structure was a little different to what we had played all year because Apollo is so strong through the midfield.

“For us to hold them and stop them connecting to go into the break 1-0 up against the win put us in the box seat.

“Unfortunately, there was an own goal, but we knew Apollo would keep coming back at us and hats off to them, they gave us a scare in a close contest.

“Luck is a fortune, but the work rate is what created those chances and got us over the line.”

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