Allstars hold advantage in Soccer
By MARK ROBINSON
DESPITE initial hesitation from some clubs and players, Football Far North Coast's (FFNC) director of coaching, John Sowter, has managed to assemble a strong if under-prepared Allstars squad for their inter-regional clash with Coffs Harbour-based North Coast at Oakes Oval, Lismore today at 5pm.
Four players from premier league leader, Richmond Rovers, have declined selection to concentrate on their crunch catch-up game with Maclean tomorrow, but Maclean midfielders Kevin Crofton and Aaron Bylos have shown a different attitude and will be in the thick of the action in what promises to be an entertaining clash.
The two sides drew 1-1 at Coffs Harbour International Sports Stadium in the first leg of the home and away series and despite not having any training runs together, Sowter is confident the Allstars can win on home soil.
"We won't be sitting back and defending, we plan to attack at every opportunity via our flankers Jonathan Pierce and Simon Hurcombe," he said.
"We want as many crosses and shots as possible. "We want to entertain as well as win.
"We'll use a conventional 4-4-2 structure, but will be able to quickly change to a 3-3-4 to attack in numbers." Sowter will try to counter the FFNC side's lack of preparation with club-based combinations up the middle of the paddock.
Italo Stars pair Rick and Jamie Austen will hold the centre of defence, with the Bobcats' deadly duo of Crofton and Bylos in the middle of the paddock, supporting Byron Bay strikers Bruce Morhaus and Jordy Campbell.
Experienced Rams custodian Kai Connell will be in goals, with wide defenders Joel Rudgley and Chris Cranmer supporting flankers Pierce and Hurcombe. On paper it looks a strong line-up and with the North Coast missing former Socceroo Gary Phillips from their squad.
The home-ground advantage could tip the scales and be enough to get the Allstars home.
The Under-19 FFNC Suns will play the curtain-raiser against North Coast Colts from 3pm.
The Suns have enjoyed a much more organised preparation under coach Howard Stubbs.
The side is laden with talented players, many with premier league experience, and is expected to produce some quality football.
They, too, returned from Coffs Harbour with a 1-1 draw in their first leg and will be out to prove a point.
"We hit the bar late in that game and the boys really felt they deserved to win, so they'll be fired up," Stubbs said. "A lot of them have come through the junior reps together and also play at club level together, so there's a natural understanding there and they've looked sharp at training, so we're expecting a big game from the boys."
Tom Inoue and Jake O'Grady will combine in central midfield and look to feed strikers Broden Hirst and Andrew Lundie, and with others such as Mario Tinning, Braden Burgess and Robert Cooper, currently enjoying good form in the premier league, the Suns look a good chance of starting the double-header with a home win.
FFNC ALLSTARS Kai Connell, Jonathan Pierce, Chris Cranmer, Bruce Morhaus, Jordy Campbell (Byron Bay), Rick Austen , Jamie Austen (Italo Stars), Kevin Crofton, Aaron Bylos (Maclean), Simon Hurcombe (Burringbar), Joel Rudgley (B'low), Shannon Maciejski, Tyson Price, James Tomlinson (Ballina).
NORTH COAST SUNS Tye McDonald, Andrew Lundie, Mario Tinning, Mitchell Oak (Lennox Head), Mitchell Pickford, Nathan McCann, Matt Parish (Thistles), Shane Summerfield, Sam Ferronato (Workers), Tom Inoue, Rob Cooper (Bangalow), Broden Hirst, Braden Burgess (Maclean), Jake O'Grady (Ballina), Ben Miller (South Lismore).
PREMIER LEAGUE Maclean has the chance to set up what could be a final round showdown for Football FNC's Premier League minor premiership, if the Bobcats can topple league leaders Richmond Rovers tomorrow. The two leading contenders for the title will be meeting for the first time in a catch up game after their first round fixture was washed-out, with Maclean having the home advantage for the 3pm kick off.
Undefeated on home turf this season, another win for the Bobcats would put them just two points behind the premiership favourites and could see their final round encounter at Nielson Park determine the eventual minor premiership winner.
Rovers are hungry for their first title since 2004 but have a much tougher run home, with all four games after tomorrow against semi-final contenders.
As a result, four of their players selected for the senior rep side will not be participating in the match against North Coast today, instead choosing to save themselves for tomorrow's vital clash.
In contrast, the Bobcats key central midfield duo of Kevin Crofton and Aaron Bylos have both made themselves available for the FFNC Allstars, along with Braden Burgess and Broden Hirst, who will run out with the under-19 Suns in the curtain-raiser.
Assuming all four escape injury free, the Bobcats and Rovers should both field full strength sides for what looms as not only the match of the season, but also an interesting contrast of styles.
Rovers have plenty of skillful players, but also play an uncomprimising, physical game and have the size to back it up in most positions, while Maclean concentrate on a fast-passing game to capitalise on their smaller, but generally quicker players.
The middle of the paddock will be vital, with Rovers in-form trio of Aaron Heffernan, Russell Dent and Ian McGregor having a possible edge over the Bobcats Kevin Crofton and Aaron Bylos, as they back up for their second game in two days. R overs also have two match-winning strikers in Troy Matthews and Matthew Olley, both former golden boot winners, who will stretch the Bobcats central defenders Gary Carmichael and Michael Piccoli.
But the defensive duo have a good understanding and have played a leading role in Maclean building a seven match unbeaten run, putting themselves in contention for their first minor premiership since 2001.
At the other end the Bobcats have another pivotal combination in ball-worker Grant Nielson and dangerous runner Travis Armstrong, who have racked up 14 goals between them.
The result will be a fascinating contest between two sides with the potential to win the title, but whoever can transform their desire for success into performance under pressure, will emerge the winner.