NERVES OF STEAL: Rovers Aaron Heffernon, right, steals the ball from Ballinas Shannon Magiewski in the game at Nielson Park,
NERVES OF STEAL: Rovers Aaron Heffernon, right, steals the ball from Ballinas Shannon Magiewski in the game at Nielson Park,

Stars continue to sparkle

By MARK ROBINSON ITALO Stars maintained their place at the top of the Football Far North Coast Premier League soccer ladder with an incident-packed 4-2 win over Goonellabah at Weston Park, Goon-ellabah, on Saturday night.

Both sides defied atrocious conditions and driving rain to produce a remarkable contest that included six goals, a penalty save, bizarre misses off the woodwork, goal-line clearances and some entertaining football.

The early signs were not good for Goonellabah as Stars' pace and aggression allowed them to get behind the Hornets' defence regularly, racking up three goals by half-time.

Wayne Mortimer terrorised the Hornets all night and drilled a left-foot volley to open their account after 15 minutes, before livewire midfielder Billy Latimer charged down a clearance from goalkeeper Craig Attewell for the second.

The third came from a set-play free kick, Craig Wiblen running the ball to the bye-line before launching a low cross that beat everyone in the box except the ever-present Mortimer, who slid through the mud at the far post to poke the ball in.

Goonellabah regrouped during the interval and within minutes of the restart a superb header from Ben Andrews delivered their first goal and, with it, a glimmer of hope.

But in a cruel twist of fate, two minutes later Andrews was free again and confronted goalkeeper Trent Battistuzzi on an acute angle, but his shot somehow rebounded off the far post and spun back across the face of goal just in front of the near post.

From there Stars immediately cleared the ball down-field and scored through a scorching near-post drive from Mark Maslen.

Goonellabah had another chance from the penalty spot, but Peter O'Neil was denied by a diving save from Battistuzzi.

Ironically, the Hornets did get another goal from the head of Andrews, despite Daniel Morrow being off side before hitting an accurate cross for Andrews to finish.

"Our first half defence lost it for us; we didn't respond as we should when they got behind us," Goonellabah coach Brendan Logan said.

Stars are emerging as genuine premiership candidates and with Jeremy Pollard waiting in the wings and Brenton Mumford due back from suspension, they have the depth and potential to go all the way.

Bluedogs fight hard

!BANGALOW maintained bragging rights over Byron Bay after a fiercely contested 1-all draw at Bangalow.

After losing their opening round encounter, the Rams were desperate for revenge and looked on track when they went to the break with a 1-0 lead, thanks to a headed goal from Jordy Campbell.

Speedster John Bradbury made his return from Palm Beach on the right flank and looked dangerous for the Rams until injured soon after the restart, but Bangalow was also playing well and deserved their equaliser when it came midway through the second half.

Carlos Argent delivered a well-weighted far-post ball for Marchello Piabianco, whose pinpoint header gave Rams 'keeper Kai Connell no chance.

Both sides squandered opportunities to clinch the game over a frantic closing 20 minutes, but the draw will assist Bangalow more in their efforts to stay above the relegation zone than the Rams' premiership defence. Rovers do enough

!RICHMOND Rovers required a touch of luck to finish with 10 men and still get away with a 2-1 win over a spirited Ballina on a greasy Nielson Park at East Lismore.

The seasiders started as underdogs but looked the better side for most of the first half as their enthusiasm flustered Rovers into some wayward passing and cheap hand-overs of possession.

Despite being below their best, Rovers still managed to open the scoring just before the break, Matthew Olley poaching a close-range finish in a crowded box.

But Rovers had hardly finished celebrating before the seasiders struck back, Tyson Price sliding the ball past Rovers 'keeper Andrew Marshall to make it 1-all at the break.

Rovers' moment of good fortune came with a free kick midway through the second half, with Russell Dent skidding a ball from 30m out that spun through the hands of 'keeper Lucas Wagland into the net.

With the result still in the balance, a bit of feeling crept into the game with heavy tackling and Rovers defender Beau Weekes was shown his second red card of the season.

His dismissal should have helped Ballina over the closing 20 minutes, but instead it was Rovers who lifted to produce a string of scoring chances that went untaken or were saved by Wagland.

Joel Saye was strong at the back, particularly near the end, while Marshall did well in goals to ensure Rovers hung on for an important win that keeps them in second place.

Ballina remains two points shy of the top five, but showed they can trouble any side and remain an outside chance of making the semis if they can unearth a regular finisher. Lennox back to third

!LENNOX Head regained a share of third place after just getting the better of a 10-man Workers 2-1 at Richards Oval, Lismore, yesterday.

Little separated the sides until the 30-minute mark when the Redmen took the lead thanks to a low, whipping corner from John Wraight, that was headed home by Sam Ferronato.

But once ahead Workers proceeded to shoot themselves in the foot by conceding a goal to Troy Percival from a poor goal kick and then having Liam MacPherson sent off for an unnecessary second yellow card.

Reduced to 10 men for the entire second half and without Anthony Alvos, who suffered a groin tear, Workers could have collapsed, but conceded only one goal when a Paul Kirkland cross found Adrian Zakaras unmarked at the far post.

The Redmen missed several late chances to tie the game, leaving them at the foot of the ladder and likely to be without Alvos and MacPherson for several weeks. Bobcats win 5-1

!MACLEAN kept its semi-final hopes alive with a 5-1 away win over a plucky but out-gunned Burringbar.

The Bobcats' goals came from strikers Travis Armstrong (two) and Grant Nielson, along with flanker Jeremy Walters and defender Gary Carmichael, who drifted forward.

Joel Davidson scored the Bandits' consolation goal, but the real indicator that the first Tweed side to enter the Premier League is destined for a short stay came in reserves.

The Bandits' lack of depth and numbers were exposed by an 18-0 loss to the Bobcats a sign the club is not yet ready for the top ranks. Premier League: Italo Stars 4 d Goonellabah 2, Bangalow 1 drew with Byron Bay 1, Richmond Rovers 2 d Ballina 1, Lennox Head 2 d Workers 1, Maclean 5 d Burringbar 1.

Premier League points: Italo Stars 21, Richmond Rovers 20 (game in hand), Byron Bay 18, Lennox Head 18, Goonellabah 16, Maclean 15 (game in hand), Ballina 13, Bangalow 9, Burringbar 4, Workers 3.

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