Story and photo courtesy of Northern NSW Football

Wallsend FC defeated Belmont Swansea United FC 4-3 on penalties (0-0 in regulation and extra-time) 

Sunday, August 28, 3pm

Jack McLaughlan Oval

Wallsend penalties: (Dave Hodgson, Brendan Nichols, Trent Richards, Paul Wheeler)

Belmont Swansea penalties: (Tim Schultz, Josh Sutton, Joel  Shearer)

A 10-man Wallsend showed strength at the back then composure from the spot to defeat Belmont Swansea 4-3 on penalties after a goalless 120 minutes to claim back-to-back NEWFM First Division Grand Finals on Sunday at Jack McLaughlan Oval.

The young and mobile Belmont Swansea line-up had the better of possession in warm conditions against the experienced Red Devils but failed to take their chances, including a missed penalty shot in the 81st minute. The penalty came after Paul Wheeler was called for a foul on Jamie Hadlow.

Fletcher Price hit his penalty strike down the middle and Wallsend goalkeeper Luke Jennings knocked the ball clear with his legs as he dived to his left.

Jennings saved Wallsend again with a diving stop off the last kick of regulation time from Cory Wilson.

Wallsend centre-back Mitchell Cook, one of his side’s best on Sunday, was sent off after being given a second yellow card for a challenge in midfield in the ninth minute of extra time.

Neither side created clear chances in extra time, ensuring a penalty shoot out to decide the championship.

Belmont Swansea’s Kyle Wilson was wide to his left with the first shot before Wallsend player-coach Dave Hodgson converted his chance.

Luke Cook then hit the crossbar and missed for Belswans, leaving Wallsend in the box seat. Brendan Nichols (Wallsend) and Tim Schultz (Belswans) scored before Wallsend substitute Tega Marcus hit his shot over the top. Josh Sutton (Belswans), Trent Richards (Wallsend), Joel Shearer (Belswans) all converted to leave Paul Wheeler with the match-winning chance, which he put away for Wallsend.

Hodgson admitted that “on the balance of things, Belmont Swansea were probably the better side” but “at the end of the day, it came down to a shootout, we held our nerve and they fell apart”.

“We didn’t fire in attack, we didn’t fire in midfield, but our defence held strong and won us the game probably,” Hodgson said.

He said goalkeeper Jennings “did very well and he’s been very good all year.”

“And our defence has been exceptional the last four or five weeks. Heath Kepreotes and Mitch Cook have really stepped up for us, which has probably been the difference I’d say.”

“As soon as Luke saved the penalty, I just thought straight away, this is our day.”

“You don’t save a penalty with 10 minutes to go in a grand final and lose.”

Hodgson also praised the effort of captain Chris Gazzard to play through injury and his side’s ability to recover from a lacklustre first half.

“It was the hottest day we’ve had, I think, or it felt like that anyway, and we’ve got five blokes over 35, so that probably didn’t help,” he said.

“And Gaz went into the game after hurting himself in the warm-up. He almost didn’t play because of a calf injury, so that threw us into a bit of turmoil from the start.”

“It was a physical game and to their credit, they really stepped up Belswans.”

“They played good. Going into the game, I wasn’t overly concerned about them at all, but they were physical and they were fast on the break.”

Hodgson, who took over as coach mid-season after the departure of Josh Rufo, was confident his side’s experience would win the day despite the flat first-half performance.

“I walked in at half-time and said guys, ‘that’s probably as bad as we can play, and they’ve had a lot of ball, but at the end of the day, we restricted them to five or six shots from 20 yards out’,” he said.

“That’s not too bad. We just need to get our heads straight, start to keep the ball a bit and dominate.”

“I thought we came out well the first 10, 15 minutes the second half, and I thought we were going to go on with it, but then we dropped off again.”

“When Cooky got sent off I thought we might be in trouble, and they had a lot of ball, but when we broke, we did well and had good chances.”

Belswans coach Brad Paul was proud of the effort from his side, who missed the finals last year but finished second this season and defeated Kahibah to make the decider. It was the club’s first top-grade Grand Final appearance in 30 years.

“We just didn’t take our chances,” Paul said.

“The longer it went without scoring, the better it was for them with their experience. That worked for them I think.”

“We weren’t clinical today. There’s been a few games this year where we’ve played with a similar amount of possession but been more clinical with our finishing. We just didn’t do it today.”

“All in all, I’m happy for the boys to get there and happy with the display they put on today.”

“I thought we didn’t have a bad player really. Everyone is disappointed, of course, but I think experience won out in the end.”

Paul agreed Josh Sutton was a standout for his side in attack but he was proud of the whole team.

“I thought Josh Sutton was really good,” he said.

“He was belted from pillar to post but he stepped up. He was obviously marked to take him out of the game, but his pace worried them all day.”

“I couldn’t fault anyone really. Defensively we were nice and tight, and we limited their chances, and then Joel Shearer and Tim Schultz were pretty dominant in midfield.”

“Matt Ellis was quite good on one flank as well.”

He felt for Fletcher Price, who missed the penalty in the Grand Final but was one of his side’s best players all season.

“He’s been our main penalty taker all year and he hasn’t missed one,” Paul said.

“He’s pretty shattered to miss that, and with 10 minutes to go, I was pretty confident we would have locked it down after that if we scored.”

A crowd of 2,614 people attended Grand Final day, and Belswans put on the better display in the first half.

Hadlow earned a one-on-one shot but fired it straight at Jennings in the 12th minute.

Despite dominating possession, Belswans could not generate another clear-cut chance until Cory Wilson had a header cleared off the line in 68th minute.

The game then came alive in the final 20 minutes.

Belswans skipper Joel Shearer forced a high, full-stretch save from Jennings with a long-range free kick in the 71st minute.

Hodgson beat his man in the 76th minute to set up a great chance for Wallsend off a long ball from Gazzard, but his strike was blocked by Belswans keeper Nick Popel.

In the 77th minute, Sutton beat two defenders before his shot was knocked clear by Jennings.

Wallsend had their second excellent chance in the 85th minute when Kyle Macorig hit the crossbar with a header.

Hadlow was just wide with a great strike in the 86th minute, just before Popel smothered a shot from Jacob Kepreotes at the other end.

Neither side were able to create great opportunities in 30 minutes of extra time.

The Grand Final win capped a roller-coaster season for Wallsend, who lost six points for mistakenly fielding a suspended player twice in wins but they rallied to take fourth place.