Big weekend for Ballina
AFTER falling agonisingly short of the semi-finals last season, Ballina has the chance to make amends this year and will seal their place in the top five if they can take the full six points from their weekend double-header in Football FNC premier league soccer.
Both games loom as torrid encounters for the seasiders, with a home clash at 5pm today with a desperate Italo Stars side battling relegation, then the trip to Lismore to face an equally determined Thistles outfit at 2.30pm tomorrow with the Blues fighting to stay in the hunt for the play-offs.
After being hot and cold for most of the season, Ballina coach Rod Troughton finally has his side playing with some consistency.
Midfielders Cerys Hawkins and Dylan Monnox have been in good form, with Hawkins now their top scorer with nine goals.
Wily striker Troy Percival is also in good touch and while not scoring many himself, he has set up plenty of goals for those around him, including strike partner Troy Cook, who is also starting to return to his best.
Troughton will use the same line-up that took four points from a double-header last weekend.
“The boys have settled into a groove now that we lacked earlier in the season and we’ll be sticking to our usual game plan; it’s not the time of year to be changing things,” Troughton said.
“But we know Stars will be desperate and will come out with all guns blazing, so we need to be braced for that.”
Stars are only a point above last-placed Bangalow, who they meet in the final round next week, leaving coach Rick Austen with a simple equation.
“We want to be at least three points clear of them to take the sting out of that last game, so a win over Ballina is vital,” Austen said.
With the return of Clint Willoughby and possibly Austen himself, Stars will field a line-up that belies their place on the ladder in what is likely to be a close contest.
Ballina will be hoping to get through without injury for the clash with Thistles tomorrow, with the Blues having a day off to refresh after their game against Alstonville last night.
Thistles will be without suspended top scorer Matt Parrish, but his strike partner Jake Nind will return from a one-match ban.
With the possibility of Darren Beardow also making an early return from a hamstring tear in a last-ditch effort to get the Blues into the semi-finals, Ballina will need to be at their best to turn their semi dream into a reality.
Panthers on the prowl
IN just its second season in the top ranks, Pottsville can guarantee its first appearance in the semi-finals with an away win over Lismore Workers at 5pm today.
The Panthers have been the surprise side of the competition and despite the absence of suspended defender Jarrad Lee, they will start favourites against an out-of-form Workers.
A sensational 6-0 win over Thistles three weeks ago had raised hopes in the Workers camp of a place in the semis, but since then the Redmen have had two bad losses, conceding six goals and scoring none.
Pottsville’s attacking prowess and fitness should give them the edge today, before they back up tomorrow for the second leg of their double-header against Alstonville, who have the home advantage for the 2.30pm kick-off.
The consistent Villa is also chasing a place in the semis for the first time and is starting to hit top form, setting up a fascinating encounter.
A second win over Villa would seal third place for the Panthers and with it two chances in the semis, but coach David Lonie is not getting carried away.
“We have two tough road trips against sides both pushing for the semis, so we’ll need to get away to positive starts in both games to give ourselves a good chance,” he said.
Rams’ hopes fading fast
BYRON BAY must win today to keep their rapidly fading semi hopes alive, but unfortunately for the Rams they play in-form premiers Richmond Rovers on their home turf at Nielson Park at 3pm.
The Rams are experiencing their worst slump in memory after eight games without a win, while second-placed Rovers have settled into a stable line-up and are steadily building momentum leading into the semis.
Byron will welcome back captain Tom Ruhl after he missed their 3-1 loss to Alstonville last week, but still have a depleted line-up, while Rovers’ only issues are who to leave out of their talented squad.
Ruhl will combine with dangerous Japanese striker Kazuhiro Tsukamoto up front.
Goonellabah is expected to take a virtually unassailable grip on its first minor premiership since 2005 when the Hornets travel to Bangalow to take on the last-placed Bluedogs at 3pm today.
Only central defender Paul Pomroy will be missing from an otherwise full-strength squad for the Hornets, who should have too much class for a Bangalow side running out of time to avoid the cut.
With a six-point buffer, a substantial lead on goal difference over Rovers and only two games to go after this week, a win today would all but guarantee the title for Goonellabah.