On Friday night, the Douglas United Dragons played the Mareeba Bulls in front of a very large crowd at the Port Douglas Sporting Complex. The Raiders, Crocs and Junior Dragons, as well as lots of other supporters had come along to cheer the Dragons on. This was the last game of the regular season and a showdown between top-of-the-table Dragons and second placed Bulls.
This season has been the toughest and most competitive second Division season to date. The Bulls were trailing the Dragons by two points and this would decide the minor Premiership and the team to play Townsville in the Crad Evans Trophy, a win or draw by the Dragons would see them Champions for a third consecutive year.
The Dragons fielded a near full strength side, Captain Ben Syrett recovering just in time, and able to replace the suspended Chris Allan Baker in defence. A big effort from Dan Ferrero, flying up from Brisbane a hour before kick-off to take the field. A fine night, pitch in great shape and three qualified officials-the match was set up to be a blockbuster.
The Dragons started well, Billy Pycroft as always, taking charge of the midfield. Both teams playing timidly for the first 15 minutes testing the water and not wanting to take too many risks.
The Dragons were pushing forward with some flowing football, Rodrigo Navarro using his skills on the left to get in behind the defence, the Bulls not really worrying the Dragons defence and shooting from long range.
At the 20-minute mark the Dragons were handed a gift from the referee, a Bulls player who had previously been warned about his foul language, persisted. He was given a red card, and the Bulls were down to ten players.
The Dragons started to build in confidence, pushing harder and honing in on the Bulls’ goal. Navarro down the left again, he cut back and put in a far post cross, Manu Dominguez made the perfect run and headed the ball into the top corner.
A quality goal Dragons 1-0 mid-way through the first half.
Dragons were dominating the game the Bulls not posing any problems for the Dragons defence. A corner to the Dragons and Adam Howell out jumped his opponents, his powerful header just over the crossbar, another good chance a few minutes later and Xavi Aranda was free in the box, his shot just missing the top corner.
In the 42nd minute and against the run of play, the Bulls pushed into the Dragons’ goal box. The Bulls striker got to the by-line and pulled the ball back in front of the Dragons goal. There was confusion in the Dragons defence as to who was clearing the ball, and a Bulls player pounced in and tapped it in.
Half time and the scores locked at.
Dragons dominated the half but their finishing was lacking and a mistake at the back cost them dearly. Down to ten men, the Bulls were still a threat and Dragons needed to be wary.
The second half started terribly for the Dragons, a long throw-in to the Bulls went over the Dragons defenders, a Bulls striker running onto it and sliding it passed the advancing Dragons keeper.
Bulls 2-1 but there was plenty of time left.
The Dragons lifted their game, they hadn’t lost at home for two years, and weren’t going down without a fight. They pushed the Bulls defence to the limit, peppering the goal, but the finishing wasn’t there for the Dragons, a problem they’ve had all year, out-playing teams but failing to score and offering hope to the opposition when they shouldn’t.
Finally, in the 75th minute, the tidal wave of black and white broke through, a far post cross from the left found Manu Dominguez unmarked, he brought it down and neatly slotted the ball down low past the Bulls keeper.
With the Bulls such a dangerous side, the Dragons knew they had to keep pushing, some good work by Adriano Gualtieri down the left, he crossed the ball over and a goal mouth scramble had the ball in the back of the net, an own goal from the Bulls player.
Dragons now 3-2 up with ten minutes to go. The Bulls had nothing to lose, they risked their defence and advanced up the field, Dragons battling to keep them out. The Bulls were given a corner, the ball bouncing off the crossbar and in front of the Dragons goal into a dangerous area, everybody crowding in to get a piece of it. A Bulls player headed it toward goal, Dragons keeper Heath Melton moving forward to block the shot, his arm held and he was pulled back, in the melee the referees vision was obscured and he was unable to see the infringement, the ball going in.
A few nervous minutes remaining, the Bulls threw everything at the Dragons, even their goalie was pushing forward but the Dragons held on and the draw was enough to secure the minor premiership.
,A magnificent and nail-biting game of football, the Dragons dominated the middle, but some poor finishing and defensive errors made it a closer game than needed. They will need to improve as the finals begin immediately. First on the ladder versus second will see a repeat of Friday’s game.
Dragons will take on the Bulls at the Port Douglas Sporting Complex at 6.30pm this Friday, the winner advancing directly into the Grand Final, the loser playing the winner of third versus fourth. The elimination final will follow at 8.30pm between Marlin Coast and JCU.
Thank you to all our supporters that came down, Mathew Smith and the other volunteers who hosted, and Katy Olsen our photographer, for the action shots below.