LAMBTON Jaffas coach James Pascoe believes Ben Hay hasn’t realised yet just how good he can be.
Everyone, though, was given a glimpse of his potential on Sunday when the former Jets Youth player hit a 92nd-minute screamer to give the Jaffas a 2-1 edge over Hamilton after the first leg of their Northern NSW NPL semi-final series.
Lambton took a deserved lead in the 32nd minute with a Ryan Griffiths header off Joel Griffiths’ ball in and Jobe Wheelhouse’s nod on.
Hamilton equalised in the 78th minute through Rhys Cooper, who raced on to a long ball over the top that Nathan Morris misjudged. Cooper then chipped keeper Brad Swancott to cap Olympic’s second-half revival.
A draw shaped as a moral victory for Hamilton ahead of their home semi-final next Saturday, but Hay’s 25-yard volleyed strike gave Jaffas the advantage. An unmarked Hay chested down a clearance before unleashing the bomb into the top left corner of goals, leaving Hamilton goalkeeper Tyler Warren rooted to the spot.
“He does it weekly at training, he’s a special talent Benny,” Pascoe said. “He does not know how good he can be. He hasn’t realised it yet.
“He’s one that went through the Jets youth system and people tried to see if he could make it as a left fullback, but he’s always been a very good player between the lines.”
Hay was “stoked” to score at a crucial time.
“It’s good for one to come off, especially to get it so late in the game,” Hay said.
“To be honest, I think we deserved the win. The first half we played really well and the boys were very happy with it, but in the second half we dropped off, which got them back with that goal, but credit to the boys.”
The strike was a bitter blow for Hamilton, who lost defender Tom Davies to concussion just before the opening goal.
The Jaffas created more in attack but Hamilton had their chances. Mat Swan hit the post in the 55th minute and Swancott did well to deny Reece Papas one-on-one two minutes later.
“They were better than us first half, and obviously the wind takes its toll, but I thought second half we did a lot better,” Olympic coach Mick Bolch said. “I would have been happy with the draw, but it is what it is. It’s half-time and we’re still in it.”
Wheelhouse, who came off in the 60th minute, and Morris made their return to the Jaffas starting side after long injury lay-offs.
Pascoe said the Jaffas showed more composure with the pair back in the side but he was still disappointed with the goal conceded. The win followed two 3-2 victories for Lambton over Hamilton in the regular season.
“We dropped a bit deeper in the second half because their default game is to go long when they chase games,” Pascoe said.
“I think the three games we’ve played them this year, we’ve given them at least one goal each time.
“Our fingerprints were all over their goal again, but I was happy enough with the way we set up tactically and we stopped them ripping us apart and really hurting us.
“It took a very nice goal to give us the advantage but it’s all there to play for.
“I’m happy with how we played and I’m really looking forward to playing on a better surface. Hopefully it’s better.”
Jaffas speedster Luke Remington missed the game with a calf injury and is in doubt for the return leg.