Four-way leadership tussle
By MARK ROBINSON
IT couldn't get any closer than this.
Four sides ? Goonellabah, Byron Bay, Ballina and Italo Stars ? are now sharing the lead after the weekend's round of matches in the Soccer FNC Tursa Premier League.
Goonellabah heads the pack on goal difference after striker Peter O'Neil continued to break new ground with his scoring exploits, netting a hat-trick in the Hornets 5-1 home win over Lismore Thistles on Saturday.
Along with five of his team-mates, O'Neil had been competing for SCU at the University Games in Cairns all week and stepped off the bus back in Lismore just three hours before kick-off.
Despite the hectic schedule, O'Neil showed no signs of weariness, shrugging off the Blues defence to add another three goals to his tally, taking him to a remarkable 18 goals from 10 matches.
The scoring machine is eight goals clear of his nearest rival in the Golden Boot standings, and barring injury or suspension, O'Neil looks likely to pass the current record tally of 31 goals, set by his Goonellabah team-mate Matthew Olley back in 1996.
Olley and Will Marwick joined O'Neill on the scorer's list against Thistles and while the Hornets continue to look premiership material, Thistles are now left entangled in a three-way relegation battle with Casino and Bangalow.
Bluedogs upset Rovers
AFTER a frustrating season marred by numerous close losses, Bangalow were overdue for an upset and it finally arrived on Saturday.
The last-placed Bluedogs produced an emotion-charged performance to stun minor premiers Richmond Rovers 3-2 in front of their own home crowd for just their second win of the year.
A first half penalty was hotly disputed by Rovers, but gave Reid Campbell the chance to finish from the spot, giving the Bluedogs a surprise lead.
Rovers applied plenty of pressure as they searched for an equaliser, but stoic defence led by ageless sweeper Nick Rudgley and the safe hands of keeper Alex Pratt kept them at bay.
Midway through the second half Bangalow took advantage of a poor goal-kick to capitalise, with Glen Sheldrick finishing at the near post for a 2-0 lead.
Just two minutes later it was 3-0 as Sheldrick again punished Rovers with a deflected shot that left keeper Andrew Marshall with no chance.
Goals in the shadow of full time for Aaron Smee and Adam Gray were too little too late, giving Bangalow a well deserved win.
Bay stuns Ballina
BYRON Bay has announced its arrival as a genuine premiership contender with an impressive 3-0 win over coastal rival Ballina. The Rams fast-paced game had Ballina chasing the ball for much of the match, with goals from Tom Ruhl, Paul Bird and Patrick L'Orange wrapping up a strong showing that has the Bay's supporters optimistic about their first minor premiership.
The only downside for the Rams was a late cameo from Adam Bostock after his return from England. Bostock came off the bench with 15 minutes to go and quickly attracted two yellow cards to make an embarrassing exit.
Workers stay alive
A SOLITARY goal from Steve Morrissey was enough to keep Lismore Workers semi-final hopes alive in their 1-0 home win over Italo Stars yesterday.
While Stars had the better of the first half, the closest they came was a Wayne Mortimer shot that hit the crossbar.
The Redmen looked a different side after the break, playing with more structure and purpose and holding possession well, eventually forcing the goal when Anthony Alvos found space at the far post to drill a ball into the path of Morrissey who slammed in from close range.
Maclean have also kept their slim semi-final hopes alive after an emphatic 5-1 away win over Casino on Saturday. Two goals in the first half from Aaron Bylos got the Bobcats away to a dream start, before the Cobras responded with a penalty from Stewart Coughran for a 2-1 half time scoreline.
Veteran striker Grant Nielson rolled back the years with a vintage performance in the second half, scoring a hat-trick to seal a vital win for the Bobcats.