OXLEY Vale Attunga will have the chance to shoot for back to back Northern Inland Premier League titles after chalking up a second one-goal win for the finals series at Ken Chillingworth Oval on Saturday.
After pipping East Armidale 1-nil in the first week of the finals, the Mushies came back from a goal down twice to end Demon Knights’ giant-killing finals run 3-2.
The premiers had the better of the early opportunities but it was the visitors that struck first, with a ball from deep in defence finding Callan McGregor on the burst down the right.
He then floated a lovely cross across to the left post to find Josh Quaife unmarked for an easy put-in.
They would have had six or seven good chances in the next 10 minutes to go 2-nil up but couldn’t beat Mushies keeper Troy Keyte.
“They are a good side,” Mushies coach Tim Coates said.
“They came at us hard. We knew they would.”
Keyte kept them in it, he said.
At one stage he made two clutch reflex saves with his feet in a matter of seconds.
He also made a couple of great high saves, just parrying the ball away as it looked to sail into the top of the net.
Another time, one of the defenders managed to hook the ball away from danger as they somehow kept DK out and hung in.
Their efforts were rewarded in the final minute of the first half with Adam Watson threading the ball through to Brendan Fergis.
“It lifted the boys at half-time,” Coates said.
“The belief was there.”
They did seem to struggle with DK’s pace up front in the first half, and also had a few issues in the midfield with DK overloading the midfield, which enabled them to control things through there.
Coates changed a few things around at half-time to mirror their shape and try to address that balance.
They seemed to work, with the Mushies midfield much more prominent in the second half.
The half didn’t start well for them, with McGregor finishing off a counter-attack after Luke Purcell showed too much of it and turned the ball over.
But they were soon back on level terms, with Watson tapping a sideline kick in that beat DK keeper Luke Birmingham over the top.
It was then the Mushies’ turn to have the chances.
DK miraculously prevented them putting away their third only minutes later after another great ball through from Watson.
Then with just over 25 to go they had a shot hit the post.
They got there eventually, with Lachlan Browne putting away a ball that came straight back at him from Birmingham.
DK went up the other end and almost scored off their own free-kick but Keyte saved the header.
“I’m not sure if it was experience, or fitness or luck,” Coates said about what got them through.
“It was one of the three.”
The Mushies were without Glen McKnight and did miss him at the back.
That said, Coates thought Cameron Skewes had a great game at the back for them.
Brendan Fergie and Matt Dunn also had strong games, although Dunn’s yellow card did sour things a bit.
It was his second and means he’ll miss the grand final.