West Wallsend SFC 1(4)-1(2) South Cardiff FC
West Wallsend is the 2023 HIT106.9 Northern League One first grade champions following a thrilling penalty shootout victory on home soil at Johnston Park against South Cardiff this afternoon in front of a crowd of more than 1400 people.
It was a brilliant day of football at Johnston Park as the two sides produced a match worthy of a grand final contest. Both teams had a handful of standout players, but no one stood up more than Bluebells gun Matt Paul, who was sensational in the midfield for more than 120 minutes on quite a warm day and earned the man-of-the-match medal.
The home side took the lead in the 37th minute when the competition’s golden boot winner Kane Goodchild converted from the penalty spot after Paul was taken down illegally in the box by Elijah Nyman and 1-0 was the way it remained at the half-time break.
The Gunners equalised in the 58th minute when some brilliant Vincent Asembo pressure on Bryson Cox saw the West Wallsend skipper fire the ball into his own net as he attempted to clear it.
The score was still locked at 1-1 when the whistle blew for full-time following six minutes of injury time and that was the way it remained after two 15-minute halves of extra time could not produce a goal.
The Bluebells then held their nerve in the shootout as they scored all four of their penalties while only conceding the two to be crowned champions.
It was the Bluebells’ goalkeeper Blake Redman who was the hero as he made two superb diving saves in the shootout before teammate Wade Ciappara smashed home the winning penalty kick into the top left corner as West Wallsend claimed their first grand final victory since their undefeated 2007 campaign.
Bailey Jensen, Goodchild and Jake Bower all scored earlier in the shootout for the champions, while Tom Walker and Nyman found the back of the net for the Gunners either side of Redman’s sensational saves to deny Asembo and Sam Modderno.
It was the perfect way to finish what has been a successful and enjoyable season for everyone at West Wallsend, especially rookie coach Bailey Cox.
Cox said he had enjoyed every minute of his first season as a first grade coach at the club he loves and he couldn’t wipe the smile off his face during the post-game presentation.
“It’s unbelievable. I can’t put the feeling into words,” Cox said.
“It’s been an unreal year, and when we’re fit and have a full team like today, we’re an unreal side. We’re all best mates here and we all love each other. That’s the best thing about Westy.
“This club means everything to me. I’ve been here for eight or nine years now. It’s an unreal club. That’s my first grand final win with the club and it’s special. I’m lost for words.”
Cox thought his men had enough chances during the match to win it before the shootout, but was always confident that they had the legs to come home strong and get the job done.
“It was probably an ugly way to win and I think we should have got it done in the 90 minutes and then in the 120,” Cox said.
“But we’ve got the legs. We proved that when we beat Toronto (in extra time in the major semi-final) the other week.
“I was confident going into the penalty shootout. Reddo was unbelievable. He looked me dead in the eye before it and said ‘I’ve got this’, and he did. He was unreal.”
The Bluebells coach was also full of praise for his opponents, who have impressed everyone during the 2023 finals series.
“Southy were gritty today and they probably should have pinched one in extra time. We got a bit lucky there at one stage,” Cox said.
“Their goalkeeper (Izaac Terry) was unreal too.
“Congrats to them. They came fifth and battled and won all their games and knocked all those sides off to get here, and they were close to knocking us off too.”
South Cardiff can certainly hold their heads up high after weathering a Westy storm in the first half to only be a goal down before getting themselves back into the match in the second stanza.
But to lose a grand final in any matter is heart-breaking and to do so in a penalty shootout is even tougher to take.
The Gunners’ coach Perry Mellon said his men should be proud of themselves and their achievements this year.
“It’s been a fairy tale without the fairytale ending,” Mellon said.
“It was a slog for two hours of football today. There were half chances here and there. It was a cracking game, to be honest.
“Westy had the home-ground advantage and the home crowd. They have a lot of supporters here today. Part of me thinks we had some chances to win the game, but they did as well. A penalty shootout was probably the right outcome I suppose.
“No one really ever backs us to be favourites or win games, but there are seven other teams who aren’t here today. No one thought Southy would have been here, but we’re here.
“I’m very proud of our guys. We’ve used nearly every single player this year in our first grade team to get here. Only 18 could play today but there are 35 who have been involved to help get us here.
“The club have given me a go and supported me. They didn’t have to and I thank them for that.
“As I said, no one expected us to get here but we got here, and I suppose that puts a bit of expectation on us moving forward with promotion and relegation coming back in.”
In the reserve grade fixture, Belmont Swansea defeated premiers Kahibah 3-0 in a dominating performance.
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