Rangers AFC, having swept all before them this season, tripped at the final hurdle in Nelson on Saturday.
Bidding for the league/cup double in the Nelson division one competition, Rangers lost 3-1 in the Price Charity Cup final to Nelson FC at Guppy Park.
Having wrapped up the league title a few weeks ago, as well as having previously beaten FC three times during that competition, Rangers were favoured heading into Saturday’s game but went down to a side who made the most of the chances that came their way.
Manager Wolfie Waechter said although Rangers side were naturally disappointed after the tight encounter, “their heads are not down, they played a great season and today was no different.
“It was just one of those games … sometimes there are just a couple of big moments in the game that decide which way it goes.
“It was a really good game, two close teams and it could have gone either way. The boys were well up for it.”
Early on Rangers, who began strongest, created a couple of prime opportunities to open the scoring.
“In any other game we would have scored from both those chances and game over, but we didn’t and they came back into the game and scored just before halftime, catching us on the break,” explained Waechter.
Rangers had keeper Dan Diamond to thank for the narrow margin at halftime, a couple of superb saves in one-on-one situations keeping the visitors in the game.
Rangers came out in the second spell with an attacking mindset, but were caught out again after five minutes.
“We didn’t clear the ball, they squared it back into the box and then scored from around five metres. Our keeper had no chance,” said Waechter.
However Rangers were far from done and, with 25 minutes to play they were on the scoresheet. Carl Connor-McClean played a fine one-two with Liam Sluiter then slammed the ball into the top left hand corner to drag the visitors back into the match.
At 2-1 it was game on, and play see-sawed up and down the paddock. Both sides had chances but Rangers pressed harder, exposing themselves at the back and, with just a couple of minutes to play, FC Nelson wrapped it up with their third to place their hands firmly on the trophy.
“Our guys gave their all,” said Waechter, “at the end they were absolutely exhausted. We had to use the entire bench to keep some fresh legs out there.”
He said it was a real team effort by Rangers, although a few players stood out in the season finale including Diamond, the energetic Sluiter, winger Aaron Hayes, target man Connor-McClean, replacement Ollie Baker, Sam Pearson, following a long injury break, Keagan Mortimer and workhorse Martin Delgado.
“I know the lads are not too down because they know they put a really good shift in … that’s the thing about sport, sometimes even with your best efforts things don’t go your way and that’s how it was today.”
At the end of proceedings Rangers were presented with the league trophy, reward for a superb campaign and recognition of the effort required to compete in a Nelson-based competition.
They made 10 trips over the Whangamoas during their 18-match season, usually in the Blenheim Toyota-sponsored Community Van.
Waechter said although they spent plenty of time on the road the frequent trips helped bond the team together, making them a very tight unit as the season progressed.
“All in all it was a fantastic season and after the match the FC Nelson people acknowledged that we were the strongest team, who played the best football and were the team to beat all season long,” he added.
Meanwhile, in the women’s final at Neale Park, the Richmond Foxes were too good for Nelson Suburbs, claiming the title in a 4-1 win.