The Tigers hit the road on Saturday to take on first grade competition leaders Manning Valley Rangers, who were also sitting in second in reserve grade.
A win to the Tigers would see them still holding their season’s destiny in their own hands, but it was always going to be a big task against the Rangers who have lost once all season, and had beaten the Tigers twice already this year.
In reserve grade an upset win for the Tigers would see them leapfrog the Rangers into second place on the table.
The game couldn’t have started much worse for the Tigers, who gifted the home side two corners inside the first four minutes.
On the first one, an unmarked Rangers’ captain Paul Thurlow was allowed a free header which went straight to Curtis Jones, but on the second Thurlow made no mistake and put the Rangers ahead 1-0 before most players had even broken sweat.
This saw the Tigers coaching staff throw out the game plan for the day, with the visitors switching back to a more open style as they went in search of an equaliser.
Excellent attacking football followed, with Shaun Glover in the Rangers’ goal the far busier of the two keepers, tipping several efforts over the bar, and having to come out to intercept some dangerous crosses from the wide areas.
Perhaps the best effort came from Codey Chick, with his low shot seemingly goal-bound until a slight deflection from a Rangers player diverted it to the post with Glover beaten.
The Rangers were being limited to more counter-attacking play, but still looked dangerous in doing so, with Sam Applegate in particular causing some trouble with his close control.
Applegate had the opportunity to extend the Rangers’ lead a couple of times but his back-post heading was wayward. Curtis Jones was controlling his penalty area well, and on the limited times he was called into action in the first half dealt with everything very effectively.
It’s gutting to have played so well but come away with nothing.
The second half continued in much the same vein as the first, with relentless attacking play from the Tigers interspersed with counter-attacking raids from the Rangers.
Andrew Potter in particular looked to be on the way to adding to the home side’s tally as he was played through, but Jones once again was equal to the task.
Chances came, and went for the Tigers with Pete Goonan, Blair Smith, Mitch Minors and Chick all having good opportunities kept out by Glover or going away from the goal, and as the game wore on one could sense that it just might not be the Tigers’ day despite them, in the main, outplaying their opponents.
Late in the game the visitors sacrificed a defender, and with around 30 seconds to go, with no-one left at the back, were finally caught out by the Rangers, who managed to add a second goal with virtually the last kick of the game, rounding out the score 2-0.
“It’s gutting to have played so well but come away with nothing” Tigers coach Jonathon Newman said.
“I thought we were excellent today after a horror start which caused us to have to change our game plan.
“Every player gave everything they had, but unfortunately that’s football sometimes - we’ve played worse and still won. When the opposition’s keeper is the referee’s choice for man of the match it really says something about the game overall. It’s all about taking the chances that come your way.”
In a beaten side, Pete Goonan, Jones and Blair Smith were the point getters in the player’s player vote, but all the players who took the field for the visitors played very well.
Second place was on the line in the reserve grade encounter, and the Tigers grabbed it with both hands, scoring early through Jack McDonagh and controlling the match from that point on.
Dave Hardy’s return to the starting lineup really strengthened the visitor’s defence, and apart from one slip up, the Tigers’ defensive group really limited the home side’s scoring opportunities.
Tackling machines Matt Scarff and Adam Christensen dominated the middle of the park, and Nick Chapman in his first start this season deputised well for the absent Daniel Barry up front.
Chapman added his own name to the scoresheet in the second half, as did Logan Wilkins who played very well on the left.
Hardy was a clear winner of the player’s player vote though, and the Tigers reserves now look to round the regular season off with further strong performances as they remain within touching distance of a home semi-final and even the minor premiership. Final score MVR reserves 1 TFFC reserves 3.
Next Saturday sees the Tigers’ last home game of the season, with the second instalment of the local derby with Wallis Lake.
There is plenty on the line for both sides in both grades. In first grade Wallis Lake won the first round encounter 2-1 in a typically tight affair, but were over-run in reserve grade by a fast-finishing Tigers reserves, who took the match 4-2.
A big crowd is expected at the Tuncurry Sports Complex for what is always one of the biggest games of the season. Reserve grade kicks off at 1.15pm, with firsts at 3pm.