ILLAWARRA PREMIER LEAGUE FOOTBALL
A Daniel Aliffi double has led Port Kembla to a come-from-behind 2-1 preliminary final win over Tarrawanna.
The skipper bagged the winner with extra time looming at Wetherall Park to send Port into the grand final for a rematch with Bulli next weekend.
"It was a really tough game that could have gone either way really," Port Kembla coach Stuart Beedie said.
"Neither team were really at their best but we just did what we have done all year, ground out a result there."
Beedie's men had trailed after only five minutes when Blueys' striker Illija Prenzoski converted from the penalty spot after Carlo Stella collided with Darren Stone.
But the lead didn't last for long, as Mitchell Scazzeriello whipped in a pinpoint free kick for Aliffi to guide the ball home.
Both sides had chances to add to the scoring before the break, with Port's Kaouna Michael and Blueys' Blaise Gassin guilty of wasting clear chances.
With scores locked 1-1 at the half, the match's main talking point arrived midway through the second stanza when Stella dragged down Stone, getting away with a caution.
Tarrawanna coach Luke McGuire had no doubts what the decision should have been.
"It's a red card, straight red," McGuire said.
"The referee did the same to us in a game this season, straight red card, and yet today the same referee makes a different decision. I can't work it out, it has cost us today."
Stella was free to play on but will miss next week's grand final through suspension.
Rick Goodchild tried to get the Blueys back on track with a weaving run that ended in a fierce drive that was well saved by Poiera.
In the end, Port's resolute defence kept Tarrawanna at bay long enough for Aliffi to come up with the winner as the clocked ticked towards the start of another 30 minutes of football.
The skipper finished off a clean passing movement with his head to seal a 2-1 win and earn the praise of his coach.
"That is one of his strengths," Beedie said.
"He has been battling for form over the last little bit but that should give his form a good boost for next week. He never shirks his task, he always stands up and is counted when required."
A dejected Tarrawanna coach McGuire reflected on how his season came to an end.
"I felt we dominated them for the best part of 85 minutes today," McGuire said. "It happened last time we played here, we took them to pieces yet they come away with a 2-1 win.
"I think two defensive lapses cost us. I am struggling to remember when Pretto made a save but you can't let two goals get scored from inside the six-yard box, you get punished for those things."