Penalty denies FNC a win
By MARK ROBINSON A CONTROVERSIAL penalty denied the Football FNC Allstars a win over North Coast in the first leg of their home-and-away soccer series at the Coffs Harbour International Stadium on Saturday.
The teams played a 1-all draw.
North Coast fielded a strong outfit that included former Socceroo Gary Phillips and the game quickly developed into a tough, physical affair with several yellow cards dished out early.
The Allstars took the lead after 14 minutes when midfielder Kevin Crofton cracked a 30-metre thunderbolt that gave the goalkeeper no chance.
They held their lead until five minutes into the second half, when the penalty was awarded.
Acting on a linesman's call, the referee ruled a hand ball in the box that stunned the Allstars players. It left the scoreline tied up.
Both sides went on to spurn chances that could have won the game, but the draw leaves the series delicately poised for the re-match at Oakes Oval, Lismore, in late July.
Aaron Richter-Steers and Rick Austen combined well in the Allstars' central defence, with Crofton and Bruce Morhaus also playing leading roles in midfield.
On the flanks, Simon Hurcombe impressed on debut and Jonathan Pierce looked threatening.
"It was a big step up for the boys but they met the challenge well, their workrate was high and every player deserves credit for a very pleasing performance," coach John Sowter said.
The Under-19 North Coast Suns also came away with a 1-all draw after leading at the break.
Andrew Lundie slotted a penalty for the Suns in the first half, but North Coast equalised with a well-constructed second-half goal.
The Suns almost snatched a win just minutes from full-time, but striker Broden Hirst's blistering shot hit the crossbar.
"There are a lot of new faces in the side and it was a good first-up performance," coach Howard Stubbs said. "Once they settled they knocked the ball around well and there's a lot of potential in the squad."
Hirst had a strong game, while Joel Rudgley was tireless in midfield and defenders Murray Wade and Braden Burgess were solid at the back.