The Macleay Valley Rangers have embraced the underdog tag ahead of their Football Mid North Coast Premier League grand final clash with minor premiers Wallis Lake this Saturday.
Rangers coach Keith Morn acknowledges his side’s backs are against the wall as they head to Wallis Lake’s fortress, a place where the Rangers haven’t tasted victory in five years.
Wallis Lake also head into the grand final undefeated this season and they are on a 16-game winning streak and have defeated Macleay Valley in their four meetings this season.
To add to the Rangers’ misfortune, they will be without four key players for the decider with the two-time defending champions.
Sam Applegate, Kurt Riordan and Brett Morn will miss out due to suspension while Ben Mitchell will join them on the sidelines as he hasn’t been cleared to return after suffering an injury a fortnight ago.
However, Morn claims the pressure is all on Wallis Lake’s shoulders.
“They are the minor premiers, undefeated for the season, playing on their home ground – it’s their grand final to lose,” Morn said.
“The pressure is on them to perform and to win, but they are very cocky and they think it will be a walk in the park.”
While Morn acknowledges losing four instrumental players is a brutal blow to his side’s chances, he still believes his team is capable of causing an upset.
“If we play to the best of our ability and stick to the game plan then we can do it,” Morn said.
“Everyone is saying ‘you won’t beat them down there’ because they always get favourable calls at home but if we can get our fair share of calls then I believe we will win.”
Morn hasn’t finalised his starting line up for the decider but he believes he will call upon Justin Crockford and Josh Tynan to step up to the challenge.
“I have confidence they can do the job, they are different players and bring different styles to the table but they are quality and I know they can do it,” Morn said.
“Justin is a quick player and when he’s switched on, he can terrorise defenders.
“Josh is experienced and he will rise to the occasion.
“We will obviously miss those players but there’s nothing we can do about that now so the replacements will need to be ready to go.”
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Tynan was a mainstay in the first grade side last season while Crockford has bounced between first and reserve grade for the past two years.
While the Rangers have finished on the wrong end of the scoreboard against Wallis Lake on four occasions this year, Morn believes his side will take confidence out of the fact they “could have easily won them all”.
“If a few decisions went our way then the result would have been different, especially in the last game,” Morn said.
“They got away with everything in the qualifying final and none of their players even got a yellow card.”
Rangers’ first meeting with Wallis Lake this season came in the pre-season FFA Cup competition.
The Rangers weren’t at full strength and had no substitutes but held a 3-1 lead late in the game.
However, the Rangers ran out of fuel in the tank as Wallis remained fresh with substitutes and completed a comeback to win 4-3.
In the second meeting, Rangers again had control of the game but a missed penalty disrupted their momentum and contributed to Wallis Lake turning the tables and snatching a 2-1 victory on the road.
It was a controversial decision which decided the third clash between the two rivals, as a goal was awarded to Wallis Lake despite Rangers players and Morn believing the attacking player was clearly offside.
The qualifying final between the two sides a fortnight ago ended in similar questionable circumstances.
The Rangers fought back from a goal down on two occasions but Wallis Lake were gifted a penalty shot which they converted with three-minutes remaining.
Morn believed it was a soft decision and insisted his players had been brought down in the opposition’s 18-yard-box in far worse challenges but didn’t receive a penalty.
Macleay Valley will be hopeful it’s fifth time lucky for them as they look to break their hoodoo at Wallis Lake’s home ground and snap their winning streak.
Wallis Lake are searching for their third straight title and fourth in five years.
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