Whyalla Wanderers ended one of the biggest droughts in Whyalla sport with a nail biting 4-3 victory over Westland United at Swandel Park to become league champions for the first time since 1968. The Blues started the game one-point ahead of Westlands in the league standings and both teams went in full strength.
Wanderers started well and got on top early and after 15 minutes they were awarded a penalty as Dale Robinson was challenged in the box and Joslyn tucked away the spot kick for a 1-0 lead. Five minutes later Wanderers made it two as Fellah dispossessed Barr and Dale Robinson was on hand to fire home at the near post for a 2-0 lead. This seemed to spring Westlands into action as they dominated the remaining half with a relentless attack and winning corner after corner with Wanderers defending deep and Rowlands pulling off a superb save from a Rhodes volley.
The second half was only minutes old when the Red Devils pulled one back with a brilliant move that saw Rhodes coolly slot a side foot shot low past the keeper to get it back to 2-1. Soon after Wanderers won a corner and as the ball fell to Mikic he brought it down and drove it past Gibbs in goal to give Wanderers a two goal buffer again. Westlands wouldn't be denied and once more pegged a goal back as Mitchell, who was a hand full when he went forward, caused chaos in the Blues box and the ball went in for an own goal.
Then came the goal of the match as Joslyn sprinted forward and popped the ball over the defenders head before unleashing a stinging half volley that went high into the net for a 4-2 lead for Wanderers. With 15 minutes to go Mitchell had a header cleared off the line and from the resulting corner Papoulis swept on a loose ball to make it a thrilling finish at 4-3.
With Westlands committing players forward for an equaliser they left gaps at the back and Wanderers could have sealed it with multiple opportunities but it wasn't to matter in the end as they held on for one of the most memorable nights in the club's long history as they were crowned the Jim Lawrenson league champions for 2019 with one round remaining. In the reserves, a hat-trick from Bailey McEwan saw Wanderers defeat Westlands 6-3.
Sunday's game saw Lions go into outright third spot on the ladder with an entertaining 6-3 win over Steel United at Magill Park .Kinnear scored a brace and singles to Gonzales, Worsnop, Nielsen and Colaruotolo rounded the scoring for Lions while Logan Green banged in a hat trick for Steel . In the reserves, Lions had a 7-0 win over Steel.
This weekend's games
This weekend's games see Steel United take on newly-crowned league champions Wanderers on Saturday at Magill Park in the last round of the league proper. In what was a historic night at Swandel last Friday night for Wanderers, they will want to finish off the year with a win. They'll be missing some of their stars though with Aitkin, Ratzlaf, Shannon, Arbon and possibly Joslyn all missing through injury or other reasons which will allow coach Paterson to give some experience to youngsters such as Willmott and Lawrence.
Steel United would need a big win to catch Lions in third place and could even be bottom by Sunday depending on how Croatia go against Westland United with goal difference very tight at the moment. Steel have been the hardest hit this year out of all the clubs with injuries and players missing this season but the return of Bambridge off the subs bench last week was a huge boost. With a heap of players possibly missing for the Blues and a title hangover, Steel could be a sneaky chance but Wanderers will be favourites.
Sunday's game has Westland United hosting Croatia at Croatia Park with both clubs looking to close out the league season with a victory. Westlands endured heartbreak last Friday night in their pursuit of the league title in a game that could have gone either way at times.There's no denying they've had a fantastic season and will be looking at the association cup to put some silverware in the cabinet. Pauly Edmondson has had two stints off the bench now and coach Mitchell May start him to get some minutes into his legs for the remaining games.
It's been a topsy turvy season for Croatia this year.After winning their first game they scrapped a few draws and then had a good run of form mid season picking up seven points in three games including a upset over their opponents this weekend but it's been difficult since, on their day though they can cause problems. Nick Todd has been Croatia's standout performer this year and surely team of the year honours are in the cards. A Croatia win could see them leap frog Steel in fourth and get a home final in the first week of the cup but Westlands are big favourites.