IN a weekend which saw most players of any sport reluctant to take to their field of choice due to the torrential weather, it was a different story at Naracoorte on Sunday, as Blue Lake’s A Grade soccer side was greeted with fine conditions for its 3-0 triumph over the hosts in the final minor round of the Limestone Coast soccer season.
With no games played in the Blue Lake City, Apollo made the trip to Millicent for a 4-0 victory to cement its place in the top four, while International journeyed to Portland for a convincing 9-2 victory.
At Naracoorte, the Rangers held control throughout the game, with play mostly in their attacking half, but the back of the net eluded the guests until Jacob Ellis was able to put his team on the board.
Ellis was moved into the midfield to bolster the ranks due to Si Pler and Doh Say’s absence and a solid play saw Blue Lake coach Jared Vause pass to Ellis, who finished off with a goal.
That put Blue Lake one up at half time, before it was able to capitalise twice more in the second term through Yuki Akita and Bryce Strachan.
With different goal-kickers each week, that will be one advantage the side will carry into finals, with its campaign to begin against Apollo in the elimination final in two week’s time.
Vause was pleased to see his team across the line, but the day was bitter-sweet, as the B Grade side was unable to claim the win to secure it a place in the top four.
However, he said it was good to claim the A Grade win and was happy with how the Rangers controlled the match.
“It was not a close game in the context of play, we had the ball and we were comfortable, moving it around well,” Vause said.
“We had plenty of shots and opportunities, we just could not penetrate.”
Vause said the absence of Pler and Say saw his team lacking some extra drive through the middle, but the inclusion of Luke Johnston and Ellis’ move to the centre, as well as his own work helped in that regard.
“We had Luke Johnston back on the weekend, he played a couple of roles for us in centre and up on the wing,” Vause said.
“It was nice to get some minutes into him now his footy season is over.
“Those two midfielders (Pler and Say) help us score goals a lot, so without them it makes it hard.
“Even I had to drive forward a couple of times to help with the first goal.”
In terms of who was best on the day, Vause had no shortage of players to mention in what he described as a good team effort.
“Sam Richards played well in the middle, Jacob Phillips in the backline was good, Bryce (Strachan) up front always puts in well and Fraser (Howard) was good too,” he said.
“Having Howard back (from injury) was good, he gets past players in a one-on-one.
“Luke Johnston was also good back there and Jacob Ellis did well in the midfield.
“It was just sort of an all-round performance.”
Looking forward to finals, Blue Lake will face a tough battle against Apollo, which has shown solid form in the pointy end of the season.
However, Vause is confident in his team and said he will approach the match in the same manor as previous encounters.
Last time the teams met the result was a two-all draw, while their Round 2 clash saw Blue Lake with a narrow 2-1 win.
“It should be a good game, we have had some good battles with them so far,” Vause said.
“We’ll be missing one of our better players for that game, Fraser (Howard).
“But with Luke Johnston now qualified and with three fit midfielders – hopefully me being fit too – we should be okay.
“We are happy with how the team is going and we do not have too many injuries, so the morale is pretty good.”
However, Apollo will be just as hungry to progress further into finals after a slow start to the season saw it claw its way back into contention.
On Sunday the side claimed a 4-0 win over Millicent, which saw Stewart Wallace in top form to kick all four goals.
A 3-0 margin at half time was enough to put Millicent to bed, but another goal after the break sealed the deal.
The final game of the round saw Inter claim a 9-2 victory over Portland.
The black and blue would have been disappointed to concede the two goals, but still led comfortably with a 5-2 margin at half time.
After the break Portland had no answer for the minor premiers, with four more goals on the run home.
Matt Bueti has been in dangerous form of late and banged through another six goals on Sunday, while Dan Bronca finished off two and Christian Cella claimed the one.
With the competition tightening up at the top end this season, Inter remains the team to beat, but every club in the top four has shown it could be capable of an upset if given the chance.
Gambier Centrals had the bye on Sunday, but has shown dominant form recently, while both Apollo and Blue Lake have taken it up to the top teams this year and will be eager to contest the premiership.
“Any one of those four teams could beat each other on their day,” Vause said.
This week will see a bye for all grades as Mount Gambier hosts the South Australian Junior Soccer Association Country Championships, before finals kick of the following weekend.