On Friday night the Douglas United Dragons hosted the Mareeba Bulls in a qualifying final, the winner going directly to the Grand Final in two weeks, the loser having to face the winner of third v fourth next week. These two sides met last week in the last game of the regular season, it was a nail biting 3-3 draw, the Bulls playing with ten men for most of the game and the result confirming Dragons as minor premiers.
The Dragons hosted both finals which resulted in a later kick off but the die-hard fans were still there in numbers hoping the Dragons would continue their two season unbeaten run at home.
The Dragons kicked straight into gear, knowing the Bulls well they immediately started to push down the flanks and get in behind the defence, Adriano Gualtieri putting over several dangerous crosses one of which was met by Jamie Quinn in front of goal, but his glancing header going across goal and wide.
Mid way through the first half, the Bulls keeper failed to clear the ball properly, it was collected by Xavi Aranda inside the Bulls box, his left shot just wide of the far post, shortly after Gualtieri was free on the edge of the box, his left foot drive just grazing the crossbar. The Dragons were looking strong and dominating the game, Billy Pycroft again pulling the strings in midfield, the Bulls were offering little in attack.
The dominance by the Dragons wasn’t registering on the score sheet, this left them vulnerable to the opposition, a problem that has plagued them all year. In the 40th minute a rare push from the Bulls, a cross was put over which went through several players, then a slip by a Douglas defender left a Bulls striker unmarked in front of goal, his first time shot buried into the net. Half time and the Bulls 1-0 ahead, the Dragons were playing well and shouldn’t have been in this position, they would need to improve their finishing.
The second half was much more evenly contested, the Bulls tightening their defence and coming forward with more pace, the Dragons still having most of the ball and territory but finding it difficult to get within range of the goal. Dragons defender’s Adam Howell, Chris Allan Baker and Max Taylor were playing well, and snuffing out the Bulls attacks keeping the Dragons within reach, all they needed was to find the back of the net. In the 65th minute Dan Ferrero (who had made another huge effort flying up from Brisbane to play for a 2nd time!) took the free kick just inside his half, he kicked it long and high towards the Mareeba goal, the keeper misjudged the flight of the ball and it bounced over his head and in, Ferrero had scored from 60 yards to lock up the score 1-1, the Dragons had finally broken.
There was a buzz around the ground, the Dragons and supporters had renewed confidence, could they continue with this and finish off the Bulls. But the buzz was short lived, the Bulls as they always bounced back immediately, they started pushing forward in numbers and putting long balls into box. In the 75th minute a free kick was awarded to the Bulls about 30 yards out, it was driven low towards goal into a bunch of players, the Bulls reacted first and got in front of the Dragons defenders, the striker deflecting the ball in from close range.
Dragons behind again 2-1 with 15 minutes to play.
The Dragons were desperate to get back into the game they attacked relentlessly, but they were panicking and making a mess of it, free kicks and corners going astray, passes not finding their mark, the Bulls stacked their defence and shut the Dragons out, the final whistle went which saw the Dragons going down 2-1.
A solid first half from the Dragons with some good football, the second half was an even battle, the Bulls had few chances but a couple of mistakes gifted them two goals and the Dragons had a lot of good chances but failed to capitalise, Dragons beaten but not outplayed.