SHOALHAVEN United had two miraculous escapes to become the first team to go through to the grand final after they defeated Culburra on Saturday.
After 10 minutes of injury time and extra time, it took a penalty shootout to finally separate the two teams in a thrilling qualifying semi at Ison Park.
The competition champions appeared to be down and out on two occasions, but snatched last-minute goals, with just seconds remaining in regular time and extra time to take it to penalties.
In a fast-paced first half, United grabbed the lead in after 37 minutes, when Michael Binney slipped one into the back of the net.
Culburra had their share of chances, but were never able to take the opportunity and went into the break trailing 1-nil.
Despite their one-goal advantage, United struggled to get it together in the second half and it was only some great saves from Nathan Murphy that kept them in the lead.
It seemed only a matter of time before Culburra would find their first goal and returning striker Corey Ryan coming off the bench in the second half only helped their cause.
Culburra finally got their first goal through Kasey Kulscar and they really had the ball rolling when Steve Gray added a second a few minutes later.
But just when it looked like Culburra might cause an upset in regulation time, Jason Button found an equaliser, with about 20 seconds remaining to push the game into extra time.
Culburra had the advantage when Corey Ryan scored their third goal in the first half of extra time, but once again, just when it looked like United were done, they had one last throw of the dice.
With barely 10 seconds remaining, Ryan Miller found an equaliser to force the game into penalties.
There must have been a sense of deja vu for United fans, with their second grade side also winning through on penalties.
If the players weren’t already tired enough, they all still had a part to play, with everyone on the pitch having to take a penalty.
The spotlight was well and truly on goalkeepers Nathan Murphy and Scott Merivale when they had to focus on scoring a penalty instead of saving it.
Murphy stepped up to the mark on both occasions, first coming up with the save and then made no mistake when it was his turn to take a shot.
United coach Trevor Skingle said it was so intense he could not bear to look every time his team took a penalty.
“I can only sympathise with Culburra and their coach,” Skingle said.
“We were knocked out after penalties two years ago, so I know exactly how it feels,” he added.
Skingle said he thought they played well in the first half, but was less than impressed with the second.
“Culburra were all over us,” he said.
“We were at sixes and sevens.
“I don’t think we’ve played that badly all season, but for some reason we decided to save it for a semi final.”
While he was always confident they could come back when they were down 2-1, Skingle admitted he had doubts that they would come back again.
“I was starting to think about having to play next week.
“But to the boys credit they hung in there with a never say die spirit.”
In his assessment of the game, Culburra coach Steve Melocco said there were obviously highs and lows.
“I left that oval pretty disappointed,” he said.
“I thought we had more than enough chances to win, but that’s just the way it goes,” he added.
Melocco said he felt confident they could hang on both times they hit the lead, but they simply panicked and United were let out of jail twice.
While they missed out the first time, Culburra will get another crack at joining United in the grand final when they play Illaroo In the preliminary final next week.
Melocco said they will have no trouble finding the motivation to get back out there and compete.
“Oh don’t worry about that,” he said.
“We’ll be ready to rock and roll.”