Departing Hamilton coach Michael Bolch didn’t want to blame referees after his 10-man side went down 2-1 and 4-2 on aggregate to Lambton Jaffas in the Northern NSW NPL semi-finals on Saturday at Darling Street Oval.
WINNER: Lambton Jaffas celebrate Michael Sessions’ go-ahead goal in the 80th minute on Saturday. Picture: Max Mason-Hubers
But it was impossible for Bolch, after finishing an eight-season tenure at Hamilton, to hide his frustration atDaniel Bird being shown a straight red card by referee James Cleal for a rude gesture at Jaffas defender Liam O’Dell moments after Hamilton went ahead in the tie.
Andrew Swan scored in the 64thminute to put Hamilton ahead in the game 1-0, and in front in the tie on away goals. Bird then ran to O’Dell, who he had a running battle with, and stuck fingers up in front of his face.A minor scuffle then broke out when JaffaNathan Verity charged into the Hamilton celebration pack in retaliation.
The Jaffas then finished the stronger, scoring with a Michael Sessions header off a corner in the 80thminute and sealing the grand final berth with Pat Brown’s strike in the 87th.
Bolch, who will coach Maitland next year,was fuming about the send-off decision, especially given Verity was not sanctioned.
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facebookSHAREtwitterTWEETemailwhatsappcommentComments“[The referee]reckons he dated them up, and that’s what he’s got sent off for.I mean, c’mon, please.In a first-grade NPL semi-final?” Bolch said.
“He didn’t touch him. He was celebrating a goal, he dated them up and that’s a send-off?
“And it changed the whole game.”
Hamilton captain Kyle Hodges, one of only a few Olympic top-graders guaranteed to stay at the club next year, said Bird was devastated by his “silly” act.
“He knows he did the wrong thing, butI’m sure he didn’t think it would be a send-off,” Hodges said.
Hamilton, though,had their chances before and after the crucial call. NPL leading scorer Kane Goodchild cannoned a penalty wide off the crossbar in the 47thminute after Nathan Morriswas deemed to foul Scott Smith.
With the tie at 2-2, Jaffas goalkeeper Brad Swancott also made two great saves to deny his former club.
“At 1-0, Rhys Cooper has a one on one, Reece Papas hada one on one, we missed the penalty,” Bolch said.“We had plenty of chances to win. We were our own worst enemies.
“Then they get a free header on a six-yard box from a corner. The last goal was just a deflection, chasing the game, but we had enough chances before that.Even when we lost a man, I thought we were comfortable until we gave away the soft goal. At 4-4-1 we were soaking it up and had chances on the break.”
Jaffas skipper Jobe Wheelhouse, an on-field coach with boss James Pascoe bedridden with illness, was a standout for the victors, who missed great opportunities early to Joel and Ryan Griffiths.
”The first 15 we had two really good chances, but if you don’t take them, you invite pressure,” Wheelhouse said.
“It probably stunted us a bit but I think we were still comfortable first half. Second half we just didn’t come out of the sheds for the first five, 10 minutes. They got a penalty and then a goal, then we were chasing the game.
“But there’s no doubting the ticker of the boys, they showed plenty to get back in the game and score.”
Bolch was clearly emotional about finishing his time at Olympic, who he led to two grand finals and a premiership.
“I’m so proud of them,” he said.“It’s been a brilliant year. It’s a sad way to go out. I don’t want to blame referees, he makes the decision as he sees it, but we just shot ourselves in the foot.
Hodges said: “We would have loved to send Bolchy off with a win.
“He deserves it. He’s been successful for that long. He didn’t want to leave the club like that, but it happens.
“When you look at it, we lost Leo Bertos, Danny Ireland, Pete McPherson and Tommy Spencer. There’s four players that would get a start in any team in this comp.
“They are quality players and to lose them, and with others injured at the start, it was a very disrupted year, so I’m happy with where we finished, but I would have loved to finish with a grand final.”
Lambton play the winners fromthe Edgeworth-Broadmeadow semi-final on Saturday night at Jack McLaughlan Oval. Edgeworth lead the tie 1-0.