Wollongong Olympic had stared down Corrimal to win the Illawarra Premier League title, so it seemed inevitable the first grand final spot would be theirs, when Ben Zucco was sent off moments after half-time.
The premiers were locked at 1-all, when the Rangers man was sent off for a sliding tackle and a second bookable offence.
Beaten 2-nil when their shot at the league trophy was on the line, how on earth would they prevail now, down to 10?
But the clock kept ticking. And ticking.
Extra-time they went, deeper towards the penalty spot lottery.
Then late on in the first period of prolonged anxiety, the man most likely broke through, striker Yusuke Ueda blasting a volley home to put them ahead 2-1 up and within reach of a remarkable IPL double.
"They sat back in extra-time and we wanted to avoid going to penalties so we just kept pushing," Olympic coach George Antoniou said.
"But we created enough to win the game, we had an offside that we thought was a bit unlucky and went close on other occasions.
"It took us a little while to adjust after they had the man sent off, but Ueda showed his class, that's what he's there to do. Now we can focus on a final."
The finals appeared to be reflecting the league campaign early on, Olympic had struck early against Corrimal though Ueda's breathtaking touch at JJ Kelly Park.
Over at Tarrawanna Oval, Albion Park, who had finished second but succumbed to Corrimal last weekend, were in front through Joel Beattie inside half-an-hour.
But the potential fairytale remains alive for Tarrawanna.
With the benefit of home ground advantage despite being the lower-ranked team, by virtue of regulated but often flawed finals logic of applications and allocations, Blueys were back on terms by half-time.
Rick Goodchild converted from the penalty spot, the same position which threatened to define Olympic and Corrimal across town.
Goodchild may well have had a megaphone to announce why he could yet have the biggest say in Tarrawanna's grand final chances, when his intercept pass set up teen sensation Nic Tomasiello for their second on 63 minutes.
Because Goodchild had already played a crucial role in the Blueys squeezing past Wollongong United on penalties in the first week of finals and they'd only made the knockout games by way of a 1-all draw with Woonona on the last day of the league.
Or perhaps it will be Ueda's boots to do the talking at WIN Stadium in the decider, as they await the winner of Corrimal and Tarrawanna next weekend.
Corrimal had levelled through a moment of desperation, which resulted in an Olympic own-goal, trying to snuff out a Rangers raid before the break.
Fortunes turned quickly when Zucco, the famed penalty scorer in Port Kembla's dream run to the 2017 championship, saw red upon resumption.
While you're with us the Illawarra Mercury is offering sport readers 20% off an annual digital subscription. Sign up to stay up to date with all the local sports you love for only $3 a week. Terms and conditions apply.