Rams achieve their goal
BYRON BAY has secured third place and knocked Lennox Head out of the Football FNC Premier League soccer semi-finals in the process after a late goal from Jonathan Pierce gave the Rams a nail-biting 3-2 away win over the Sharks on Saturday. Tension was high with both sides knowing a win could mean a top-three finish but a loss might end their season. In the end the Rams' hunger to defend their major premiership proved the difference. The Bay opened the scoring after 15 minutes when Irish midfielder Conner McCalister headed home a telling cross from flanker Jonathan Pierce, but the Sharks drew level just minutes before the break. A ball from Troy Percival set up striking partner Paul Kirkland to hit a screaming left-foot volley that left Rams goalkeeper Kai Connell with no chance. Soon after the restart Kirkland again broke through the middle of the Rams' defence to unleash another thunderbolt that billowed the Rams' net, giving the Sharks the lead. But the Rams have come from behind several times this season and again showed their resilience, when a corner allowed Jordy Campbell to pounce on a loose ball and finish from close range, again tying up the scores. With only three minutes remaining it was the determination of Jonathan Pierce that summed up the Rams' performance and turned the game. After two shots at goal were deflected away, a third looked to be going wide of the far post until a desperate lunge from a sliding Pierce stabbed the ball into the back of the Sharks' net. Tensions rose during a long period of injury time, with the Rams' win marred by a late red card for wide defender Chris Cranmer for dissent. He will now miss the major preliminary semi-final against Italo Stars in Lismore next week, but Rams coach Peter Ware remains confident of back-to-back grand final wins. "The boys showed the sort of character out there that we'll need to go all the way again," Ware said. The match also saw the Golden Boot award determined, with Campbell and 2006 winner Paul Kirkland sharing the title with 18 goals apiece an average of one goal a game. Rovers on track !MINOR premiers Richmond Rovers look well-primed for their semi-final campaign after a hard-fought 3-1 win over Maclean at Woodburn. With Rovers' home ground Nielson Park closed due to the rain last week, the match was moved to Woodburn, but the disruption made little difference to the minor premiers who repeated their first round scoreline against the Bobcats. Maclean began well, scoring the opening goal within a minute when Travis Armstrong worked a one-two with Aaron Bylos before unleashing an angled finish across the face of goals. The match developed into a tough, fast-paced contest, with Rovers drawing level by half-time after a Ben Casagrande cross found the head of Troy Matthews at the far post. Maclean almost regained the lead early in the second half but were denied by a good save from Rovers goalkeeper Andrew Marshall, allowing them to take the lead soon after when Aaron Heffernan poked home a goal through a crowded box. At the other end, Maclean 'keeper Graeme Courte pulled off a series of sensational saves to keep the Bobcats in with a chance, but ironically he was eventually beaten for a third time by an own goal when a Ben Casagrande cross deflected off a defender. Striker Matthew Olley was unlucky not to score with a shot that rattled the cross-bar and was one of Rovers best, along with 'keeper Marshall and speedster Casagrande on the flank. Rovers will have next weekend off before meeting either Italo Stars or Byron Bay in the major semi-final at Nielson Park in a fortnight. Despite losing, Maclean still finished fourth and will have the home advantage against Goonellabah in the elimination semi. Hornets sneak in !GOONELLABAH scraped into the semi-finals by the narrowest of margins after grinding out a 1-all draw with Lismore Workers. The match was transferred from a sodden Richards Oval to a slightly less waterlogged Blair Oval, but both sides handled the difficult conditions well in an open contest. The Redmen resisted the temptation to rest players and held a desperate Goonellabah scoreless until midway through the second half, when a raking switch from Greg Huxtable found Daniel Morrow at the far post. Morrow's clinical finish gave Workers' stand-in goalkeeper Scott Collis no chance. But the Hornets' celebrations were short-lived, with the Redmen responding within two minutes. Young Workers striker Todd Gordon had used his pace to threaten the Hornets defence several times and created the goal when he burst down the right flank and cut back a pass for an unmarked Anthony Alvos to finish. While Goonellabah had the better of possession, both sides had chances to wrap up the game in a tense finish, but in the end a draw proved just enough for Goonellabah to knock Lennox Head out of fifth place on goal difference. The Hornets will meet Maclean on the Bobcats' home turf in the elimination semi in a rematch of their premiership encounter last week, won by Goonellabah. "We played great in that match and if we can reproduce that form there's no reason why we can't go through the semis unbeaten," exuberant Hornets coach Brendan Logan said. Stars finish second !A 1-ALL away draw with Ballina proved enough for Italo Stars to secure second place and with it the home advantage for the major preliminary semi against Byron Bay. Stars took the lead midway through the first half when a quick interchange between Jeremy Pollard and Jamie Austen set up Mark Maslen for a well-taken goal. Ballina equalised early in the second half when two of their best performers in Tyson Price and Chris Schomberg combined for Schomberg to score. The Seahorses had Stars under pressure at times but despite a string of corners and several chances, their usual problem of not being able to finish continued. The result gives Stars a solid foundation for their semi-final campaign with two bites of the cherry, compared to last year when they just scraped into fifth place, while Ballina finished eighth. Game of two halves !BANGALOW ended its best season on a high with a bizarre 4-3 home win over old first division rivals Burringbar. The two sides defied driving rain throughout the first half to score all seven goals by half-time, but when the weather cleared for the second half, neither side could find the net. Aryan Freriechs and Sebastian Bell each bagged two for the Bluedogs, while the Bandits goals' came from Josh Campbell (two) and Vince Stepto. The win was marred for Bangalow by a broken nose for Ricky Small and bad ankle ligament damage for Joel Rudgley. Burringbar finished with 10 men after captain Mick Williams was sent off for dissent late in their last game in the top ranks. They finished with the wooden spoon. In a nutshell Premier League results: Byron Bay 3 d Lennox Head 2, Richmond Rovers 3 d Maclean 1, Goonellabah 1 drew with Workers 1, Italo Stars 1 drew with Ballina 1, Bangalow 4 d Burringbar 3. Premier League final ladder: Richmond Rovers 40, Italo Stars 34, Byron Bay 33, Maclean 30, Goonellabah 28, Lennox Head 28, Bangalow 24, Ballina 21, Workers 11, Burringbar 4. Close in reserves !THE premier reserve division minor premiership came to a dramatic conclusion on Saturday, with Richmond Rovers pipping Byron Bay by a point to win their fifth consecutive title. Byron Bay had led for most of the season but stumbled to a 4-all draw with Lennox Head, opening the door for Rovers to snatch the title with a 4-0 win over Maclean.