Lake Albert have completed a stunning 12-month turnaround to claim Football Wagga’s top prize.
The Sharks completed their fairytale season with a 3-1 victory over Cootamundra Strikers in the Pascoe Cup grand final at Wagga’s Equex Centre on Sunday night.
In the twilight decider, the Sharks were forced to fight back from a goal down on a wet pitch.
But a double to Fred Gardner, scored either side of half-time, set them on course for victory before coach Michael Babic sealed the win with an 88th minute sealer.
The coach’s sole remark said it all:
“Tell them Fred told you so,” Babic said.
That was in reference to Gardner’s pre-season promise that the Sharks would win the premiership – a brave claim given their eighth-placed finish in the competition last year.
Sharks captain Ben Angel couldn’t have been happier with the way they went about the win.
“Really proud,” Lake Albert captain Ben Angel said.
“It definitely wasn’t our best match of the year but conditions didn’t really allow anything near a regular game of soccer.”
Cootamundra defender Rowan Davison was the unlikely first scorer, putting the Strikers in front in the 42nd minute. But it didn’t rock the Sharks boat.
“It’s always tough against them but every time we’ve gone down (on the scoreboard) this year we’ve scored a goal and levelled it within five minutes,” Angel said.
“So we’re confident even when we go down that we can come back from it.”
So it proved. And Lake Albert’s most potent attacking weapon was the man to show the way.
Fred Gardner replied within a couple of minutes to level the scores heading into half-time.
He scored his second eight minutes after the break to hand Lake Albert control, proving the faith of his skipper was well-founded.
“Team spirit and confidence,” Angel said.
“I know we’ve got the players – we’ve got the deadly strikers up front, a midfield that are dangerous and we know we’ve got six or seven guys that can score goals regularly.
“There’s nobody in this side that came here expecting or willing to lose.”
Although the Sharks led from early in the second half, the game was far from over with the Strikers continually on the attack.
But Lake Albert’s defence, led by Angel and man of the match Chris Durnan, stood firm. Ben Mavor was also a rock at the back.
In an intense decider there were more yellow cards than goals – to Cootamundra’s Josh Purtell, Adam McPhail, and Brenton Forsyth and Lake Albert’s Jamie Rankin and Ben Mavor.