A 26th minute strike from Jack Schein was enough to book Wagga United’s finals berth but the men in orange exceeded expectations against Lake Albert on Sunday.
United held fast against the undefeated ladder leaders, grinding out a 1-all draw at Rawlings Park to deny the Sharks a 10-game winning streak.
Kane Baumer found the net for Lake Albert in the first half but was the only player to do so as United put on a clinic in scrambling defence.
The match started fast and refused to let off the accelerator throughout as both sides looked to outmaneuver one other through the outside channels.
Lake Albert’s Fred Gardner had the first real chance of the afternoon in the 10th minute after weaving his way through United’s back line but was denied by a lunging Andrew McCracken in goals.
A period of sustained pressure ensued with the Sharks launching six corners in quick succession before Henri Gardner’s 17th minute strike ricocheted off the left goalpost.
Lake Albert almost scored again in the 21st minute through Fred Gardner before a Nazar Yousif break sparked a momentum shift.
United’s midfield clicked into gear and Tyler Allen took full advantage, darting in off the left wing to set up Schein for the first goal of the afternoon.
Finding themselves in the unfamiliar position of chaser, Lake Albert redoubled their efforts and pressed ahead with Baumer sliding one past McCracken in the 35th minute.
A late header from Fred Gardner almost handed the Sharks a half time lead but it wasn’t to be with the deadlock holding fast.
Yousif shot out of the blocks in the second stanza with a blistering run in the 49th minute and team mate Richard Horvath followed suit with some quality touches.
Yousif was shut down again in the 57th minute before a United raid almost resulted in a miracle goal.
A corner rebound found an unmarked Ben Smith on the volley but the shot flew high, keeping the Sharks alive with 20 minutes on the clock
Frustrations threatened to boil over for Mitch Tinnock’s men as midfield communication went out the window as United hunted a breakthrough goal.
However, it wasn’t to be as the whistle sounded on an enthralling 1-all affair.
“Honestly, we didn’t play very well and United did play well,” Tinnock said.
“I’m still pleased that we held to a draw. It’s not really the end of the world for us.”
Schein was a standout for United and constantly threatened in attack but it was Liam Brown who impressed most at the back.
Brown was a terrier in defence, hounding Henri Gardner and covering plenty of clicks in a dogged display for his side.
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