Ballina and Stars set the pace
BALLINA and Italo Stars are the new joint-leaders of a top-heavy ladder, following vital wins on Saturday in Soccer Far North Coast's Tursa Premier League.
Ballina once again got the better of Goonellabah with a 3-1 home win in their Anzac Cup final re-match, while Stars became the first side to return from Maclean with the full three points, after a hard-fought 1-0 win.
Ballina and Goonellabah produced a fast-paced encounter, with two quick goals early in the second half giving the Seahorses a winning edge.
Evergreen striker Troy Percival is enjoying a good season and opened the scoring with a classic goal after Adam Izzard took the ball to the bye-line and cut back for Percival to finish.
Midfielder Brendan Davis netted their second soon after, before Goonellabah brought scoring sensation Peter O'Neill off the bench to score a characteristic high-quality goal.
His curling, angled shot found the top corner of the net, but his effort was soon overshadowed by a cameo from Ballina coach Dean Klower.
Running short on players, Klower put himself on for the first time this season for the final 10 minutes and scored the seasiders' third, clinching victory.
A ball from Justin Stockham set up Klower to curl his shot through a crowded box into the Hornets net.
While the Hornets were technically proficient, they couldn't match Ballina for passion and commitment, with David Betterridge, Troy Percival and Adam Izzard leading by example.
A SOLITARY goal from predatory finisher Wayne Mortimer allowed Italo Stars to end Maclean's unblemished home record 1-0.
While the Bobcats had the better of the first half, they failed to capitalise, allowing Stars to dominate after the break with a glut of possession.
The winner eventually came from a free kick floated in to the far post, where Mortimer lurked to nod it home.
Jamie Austen, Clint Willoughby and Callan Starrett all had strong games for Stars, who have quietly worked their way into premiership contention with the win.
Best for the Bobcats were Gary Carmichsel, Matt Bryant and Grant Nielson, but the loss leaves their semi-final hopes hanging by a thread.
TWO quick goals early in the first half provided a mountain too steep to climb for Lismore Workers in their home clash with Richmond Rovers on Saturday.
Keen to atone for losing to Workers in last year's grand final, Rovers punished the Redmen for some defensive lapses with two well constructed goals, the first coming just 15 minutes into the game.
Brett Lane burst into the box and set up Ben Cassagrande to finish, before brother Tim Cassagrande provided a perfect cut back for Adam Gray to drill home their second goal, just two minutes later.
A shell-shocked Workers held on till half-time but came back a different side after the break and clawed a goal back when a free kick swirled into the Rovers box and fell to Joel Gosper to finish.
Anthony Alvos came close to equalising with a shot that drifted just over the bar, but with eight minutes to go Rovers defender Scott Crouch drifted forward and wrapped up the win with a curling shot that found the corner of the net.
Rovers even missed a penalty in the shadows of full-time, but the crucial win lifts them within two points of leader Ballina, who they play next, tomorrow week.
BYRON Bay has consolidated its grip on a top five position after a 2-1 home win over Lismore Thistles on Saturday.
It was the Rams' third win on the trot, but didn't come easily, after an early penalty from Darren Beardow gave Thistles a surprise lead.
The Blues worked hard to protect their lead, but Byron stuck to their game plan of attacking down the flanks and it paid dividends with second-half goals from Bruce Morhaus and Patrick L'Orange.
Both goals came from headers, with Eden Robinson providing the cross for Morhaus and John Bradbury setting up L'Orange.
"It was our third game in a week so we were a bit flat," conceded Rams coach Peter Ware, "but we've taken the maximum nine points and were back in the hunt."
CASINO has taken a giant step towards avoiding relegation, thanks to a 2-0 home win over fellow drop-zone candidate Bangalow on Saturday.
The two sides waged a desperate battle that appeared destined for a scoreless draw until two late goals from the Cobras delivered three vital points.
A deft chip from Paul Wiltshire allowed Stewart Coughran to head in the first, before 16-year-old sub Josh Innes drifted across the face of goal to hit a nice left-foot finish for the second.
Goalkeeper Brent Casey defused two one-on-one situations in one of his best games of the year, with striker Casey Wraight and Andrew Rooney, who backed up from reserves, also having big games.
Ballina 20, Italo Stars 20, Richmond Rovers 18, Goonellabah 17, Byron Bay 17, Lismore Workers 14, Maclean 9, Lismore Thistles 7, Casino 7, Bangalow 3.
Senior men's results
Premier Division: Byron Bay 2 d Thistles 1, Italo Stars 1 d Maclean 0, Richmond Rovers 3 d Workers 1, Ballina 3 d Goonellabah 1, Casino 2 d Bangalow 0.
Premier Reserve: Maclean 3 d Italo Stars 0, Ballina 1 drew Goonellabah 1, Byron Bay 4 d Thistles 0, Rovers 3 d Workers 1, Bangalow 2 drew Casino 2.
First Division: Lennox Head 6 d Nimbin Headers 2, Bangalow 1 d SCU 0.
First Reserve: SCU 3 d Bangalow 0, Lennox Head 2 d Nimbin Headers 1.
Second Division: Eureka 1 d Italo Stars 0, Workers 13 d Kingscliff 2.
Third Division: SCU 4 drew Lennox Head 4.
Fourth Division: Goonellabah 4 d Workers 2.
OVER 35: Thistles 1 d Nimbin Headers 0.