Bay blitzes stars
BYRON BAY has earned a place in the Far North Coast Tursa Premier League soccer grand final for just the second time after a stunning 4-1 win over Italo Stars in the preliminary final at Byron Bay yesterday.
Stars' much-vaunted defence had gone four games without conceding a goal, including semi-final wins over last year's minor premiers Richmond Rovers and major premiers Lismore Workers, but their premiership charge collapsed in the face of the Rams' rampant attack.
Byron raced to a 2-0 lead after just 20 minutes as their pace and ball movement left Stars in disarray.
Good lead-up play from John Bradbury and Paul Bird put Stars under pressure for the opening goal, in which goalkeeper Trent Battistuzzi was forced to save a back pass from defender Clint Willoughby.
It bounced off the woodwork into the path of young striker Tom Ruhl, for a tap-in finish.
Minutes later the Rams struck again, with Ruhl capitalising on a stretched Stars defence by chipping to an unmarked Paul Bird at the far post for another simple finish.
A shell-shocked Stars tried to regroup and managed to create pressure around the Rams' box at times as Wayne Mortimer and Craig Wiblen pushed forward.
But Byron Bay sweeper Aaron Richter-Steers marshalled his defence well and defused most chances, leaving goalkeeper Kai Connell with only a few shots to deal with.
Down 2-0 at the break, Stars coach Kevin Wilson pushed right back Clint Willoughby into midfield and played a more attacking structure, which put the Rams under pressure.
The result was a well-taken goal from Max Latimer after Wayne Mortimer drifted across the edge of the box before laying off a flat pass for Latimer to drive a superb first-time hit past Connell.
At 2-1 Stars were back in the game, but Byron put the issue beyond doubt when awarded a free kick 25 metres out.
Todd Knaus hit a dipping shot that forced Battistuzzi to make a fingertip save, but the ball rebounded off the cross-bar into the path of the alert Paul Bird, who smashed the Rams' third goal into an empty net.
Stars' fate was sealed when Craig Wiblen attracted a second yellow card for dissent late in the game, leaving them with 10 men, little time and little chance of recovery.
Midfielder Bruce Morhaus capped a fine game with the Rams' fourth goal, a brilliant individual effort, beating two defenders with clever footwork and then slotting a low angled shot to the far post past the 'keeper.
Byron now has the chance to win its first major premiership when it takes on minor premiers Goonellabah in the grand final at Oakes Oval, Lismore, next Saturday night.
n Stars had more success in premier reserve division, with a 1-0 win over Goonellabah putting them into the grand final against Richmond Rovers.