HAMILTON Raiders will take on Jetty Flat Rangers in the Warrnambool District Soccer League grand final this weekend.
The Raiders booked their spot in the decider after accounting for Merri Stingrays 4-1 in the preliminary final at Warrnambool’s Harris Street Reserve.
Mikaere McCarthy put Hamilton in front in the 23rd minute and Jordan Nice doubled the advantage in the 67th minute.
Sam Blackburn converted a penalty one minute later to give Merri hope entering the final stages.
But Hamilton goalkeeper Ralph Behrendt restored the lead with a freak goal at the 72-minute mark. Teammate Anthony McFarlane then rounded out the scoring with 10 minutes remaining.
Hamilton coach Josh Franks said he was pleased his men had qualified for the grand final, having been bundled out of the 2012 finals in straight sets.
But Franks said they were rarely comfortable in the match, despite creating most of the chances.
“We had plenty of opportunities but we couldn’t make them stick. It wasn’t until we got a couple of goals in front we felt comfortable about it,” he said.
“We were in a similar situation last year. We had a really good season but lost the two finals and were out of the running.”
Franks said Behrendt’s goal was one to remember — for good and bad reasons.
Merri had passed the ball back to Behrendt after a drop-ball following an injury to Stingray Engin Torun.
Behrendt launched it 50 metres and watched as it bounced in front of his Merri counterpart Austin Del Rio and into the back of the net.
“He hoofed one up and it went over both teams and we were the fastest to respond,” Franks said.
“Little Austin, he came out but one of our strikers was bearing down on him. In the end it bounced in front of Austin and straight over him. He was caught in two minds.”
The grand final will be a rematch of the qualifying final, which Jetty Flat won 4-2.
Jetty Flat also beat Hamilton 8-3 in round nine and took a 3-0 forfeit win in round 14.
But Hamilton took the points in a high-scoring affair in round four, 5-4, and is confident of victory on Sunday.
“They’ve got the jump on us the last couple of times but we’ve got nothing to lose,” Franks said.
“We’re going to give them everything and whoever comes out in front, good luck to them.
“I wouldn’t write us off.”