Byron Bay hopes for win over Stars in soccer

By MARK ROBINSON

REIGNING premiers Byron Bay will be hoping the return from suspension of talismanic central defender Aaron Richter Steers will trigger their first win in six games when they host high-flying Italo Stars today at 5pm in Football FNC's Premier League.

The league's 2005 Player of the Year has missed the last three games of the Rams' slump which has dropped them to fifth place, but his composure and organisational skills at the back will be welcomed for a crunch game they must win to have any chance of defending their minor premiership title.

His return will be doubly important, considering the absence of another defender in Sam Clarke, who was sent off in last week's costly 2-1 loss to Maclean. And defence will be a critical area for the Bay against Stars' talented striking duo of two-time golden boot winner Wayne

Mortimer and young-gun Brenton Mumford, who has emerged as one of the best new strikers in the league this season.

With Stars in second place they have a good chance of inheriting the Bay's minor premiership trophy but, with several key players missing, their depth will be tested.

The Latimer brothers, Max and Billy, have been a big part of Stars success this season but will both be unavailable, along with Jeremy Pollard, whose comeback suffered a setback with a bad knee injury in last week's 2-0 win over Burringbar. With Mark Maslen also doubtful with a knee injury, Stars coach Darren Cormick remains cautious.

Consistency and cohesion have been the key ingredients for Maclean to string together five games without defeat and emerge as genuine premiership contenders and today the Bobcats will run on an identical lineup for the sixth week in a row, when they travel to Skenners Head to face a Lennox Head side desperate to turn around their recent form at 3pm.

Last week's win over premiers Byron Bay bumped Maclean up to third place with a game in hand, while the Sharks have dropped out of the top five after consecutive losses and on form will go in as underdogs, despite having the home advantage.

Their inability to get on top of a ten-man Goonellabah in last week's 2-1 loss to the Hornets summed up the Sharks recent form, but with striker Paul Kirkland returning from a quad strain, hopes are high his combination with striking partner Troy Percival will deliver a much-needed win.

Standing between them and success is the Bobcats central defensive pairing of Gary Carmichael and Michael Piccoli.

On paper, league leaders Richmond Rovers should have little trouble accounting for eighth-placed Bangalow in their home clash at Nielson Park today from 3pm.

But with central defender Beau Weeks still suspended and joined on the sideline by midfielder Aaron Heffernan after yellow cards caught up with him in last week's 3-0 win over Workers, it looms as a danger match for Rovers before they enter a tough closing section of the draw in the final weeks.

Bangalow has strung together consecutive wins for the first time over Lennox Head and Ballina, following a draw with premiers Byron Bay and cannot afford to be underestimated by Rovers.

Goonellabah prides itself on being a technically proficient side, but will also have to prove they have the intensity and desire to match the enthusiasm of Ballina's spirited lineup, when the Hornets travel to the coast for their 5pm showdown with the Seahorses today.

Despite some average form in their last two games, Ballina has proven a tough side to beat for some of the leading .

Goalkeeper Lucas Wagland is still missing, but hopes are high young striker Daniel Bostock could return from injury, while Goonellabah have top scorer Ben Andrews suspended and doubts over Greg Huxtable and Matt Gordon.

Ballina coach, Dwayne Smith will be hoping to play a significant role himself from central midfield, saying: We'll go back to the original structure we used at the start of the year with some success and could experiment with our shape from there.'

Lismore Workers and Burringbar will both be trying to avoid the dreaded wooden spoon when the Redmen host the Bandits at Richards Oval today from 3pm.



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