Bulls' rollercoaster ride dips
HOPING to continue the winning form displayed last week, the Jacaranda Hotel Grafton City third division Bulls journeyed to Rushforth Park on Saturday to take on the high-flying Westlawn Panthers.
After losing 5–0 to Coutts Cougars two weeks ago and then beating the Bobcats 8–2 last outing, the Bulls’ rollercoaster season continued with another loss despite putting in a spirited effort in a physical and bruising encounter against the second-placed Panthers.
The Panthers produced a spirited display to seal a 3-1 win over a brave Bulls outfit.
With the game moved to Rushforth Park after Barnier Park was closed following mid-week rain, the City Bulls kicked off into a stiff breeze.
While the Bulls were hoping for a much better showing than the 5–0 drubbing they received at the hands of Westlawn when these two sides clashed in mid May, it was the Panthers who showed their intentions early.
The Panthers were determined to make the most of possession and made the Bulls play a chasing game and would have had their first goal posted in the second minute of the match had Stuart Tait not shot high over the crossbar.
After this initial flurry, the match settled down into a bit of an arm-wrestle in midfield, but it was still the Westlawn team that dominated possession and territory with the Bulls hoping for a quick break on the counter attack.
The Panthers were unlucky not to score in the 20th minute when they had the Grafton defence at sixes and sevens.
The shot by Westlawn striker John Calleja by rights should have found the back of the net but City keeper Ray Hanna brilliantly deflected the ball with his foot.
Five minutes later the Westlawn attack nearly found the City defence wanting again but this time Panther midfielder Shorn Kippax, after making a break down centre field, hit the ball from close range straight into the safe hands of the City goalie.
Grafton, to their credit, kept fighting and came close to turning the tables a couple of times – none better than in the 27th minute when Luke Shipman shot wide of the mark after good lead-up work and a beautiful through ball by Luke Sopchak.
Right on the half-hour mark Hanna saved the day again for the Bulls.
When faced with a two-on-one situation, he managed to get a foot to the ball first and deny the Westlawn attackers.
Five minutes later his services were called on again when faced with Westlawn player John Calleja one-on-one who, luckily for City, hit the ball straight at the goalie.
Five minutes from the half-time interval, Michael Bowles should have put Westlawn into the lead after a nice one-two move, but his shot flew over the crossbar.
The half-time whistle saw both teams go to oranges after a scoreless opening 45 minutes.
The Panthers wasted numerous scoring opportunities and kept City in the game with wayward shooting in front of goal but were not to be denied and had the Bulls under the hammer right from the first minute of the second stanza.
With the second-half only three minutes old and the rain tumbling down, Stuart Tait dampened the spirits of the City team more when he had the easiest of tap-ins for Westlawn after a cross from left field just eluded the fingertips of the diving City keeper.
Westlawn’s lead however, only lasted seven minutes before City equalised in the 10th minute.
After good lead-up work and a nice one-two with under-16 player Luke Shipman, Sopchak hammered home from the right-hand edge of the 18-yard penalty box into the left-hand corner of the goal.
Ten minutes later Westlawn regained the initiative after City failed in a clearance attempt.
In the ensuing scramble, one Westlawn player and two City players went down – goalkeeper Hanna and defender Dylan Dunn-Smith were forced from the field with injuries – and the ball fell at the feet of Chris Pierse, who made no mistake to give the Panthers a 2-1 lead.
Try as they might, City could not get back on level terms but they came close a couple of times.
Michael Cooper hit the crossbar with a well-flighted free kick from just outside the penalty area and with only minutes left on the clock Dunn-Smith, back in the action after recovering from his injury, shot just wide about 20 metres out from goal.
Right on full-time, it was Westlawn who capitalised on City pushing forward looking for the equaliser.
A cross into the goal mouth found an unmarked John Calleja in front who hammered it home to give the Westlawn Panthers a well-deserved win by 3-1.
Despite being outplayed in a tough hard-hitting encounter, City Bulls can hold their heads high as they never gave up and battled right to the end, putting in a much-improved effort when compared to their previous encounter against this opposition.
This Saturday sees both the Jacaranda Hotel Grafton City sides return to McKittrick Park.
The third division Bulls face a daunting task when they take on leaders Iluka FC with the action kicking off at 1pm.
The second division Rhinos, desperate to stay in touch with the top 4 and keep their slim semi-finals’ aspirations alive, also take on rivals coming first on the points table, this time in the form of the Westlawn Tigers with play starting at 3pm.