Stingrays left empty-handed despite late-season flurry

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Stingrays coach Graham Shaw.

Stingrays coach Graham Shaw.

Illawarra Stingrays fell agonisingly short in their bid to make the finals despite a 5-0 win over Blacktown Spartans on Monday night.

Needing seven goals and a win to bridge the gap to fourth-placed University, the Rays finished two goals short of the Students on the competition ladder.

Signs were positive early for Illawarra when they climbed to a 2-0 advantage inside the opening 10 minutes.

They improved the scoreline to 3-0 before the break but could only find the net twice more in the second stanza.

"Any other day a 5-0 win is a great win and you are celebrating but it wasn't what was needed," coach Graham Shaw said.

"We all left there with our heads down and a bit disappointed, but it has been a great year to come from where we were at the end of round one.

"We were bottom of the table and then to only miss out on goal difference in the end is a great effort. I am proud of all the girls."

After winning the pre-season Cup, the Stingrays won their opening two matches this season before almost a month passed without play or training due to wet weather.

It would cost them in the long run as they failed to find momentum after the break and slid to the bottom of the competition.

A mid-year revival and five consecutive wins to finish the season ultimately wasn't enough for them to make the finals.

The Rays finished level on 40 competition points with University but an inferior goal difference means the club will be a rare absentee from the finals.

"As a season as a whole, we played good football. At the moment it is hurting but we will start looking at next year and our squad, we know we will be up there again next year," Shaw said.

"To be out of the top four in a tough competition, in the new format of only eight teams, but still level with the team in fourth on points ... I still see the season as a success."

The Stingrays can still claim a third successive club championship with several catch-up matches to be played.

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