Blues belt Ballina to semis spot
AFTER some tense finishes the semi-final draw for Football FNC's Tursa Anzac Cup has been resolved.
Lismore Thistles will face Byron Bay and Lismore Workers will take on Alstonville for a place in the Anzac Day Cup final.
While Workers, Byron and Villa all went into their final-round fixtures virtually assured of a place in the semis, Thistles needed a winning margin of at least five goals in their home clash with Ballina to scrape in on goal difference.
And that's exactly what the Blues did, with a 5-0 result keeping alive their hopes of consecutive appearances in the final.
Despite playing into a howling gale in the first half, the Blues' pace allowed them to penetrate the Seahorses' defence almost at will with their first goal coming from a stinging drive off the underside of the 'bar from star midfielder Darren Beardow.
Matt Weir drilled home their second from the penalty spot before predatory striker Jake Nind netted their third goal before halftime.
With the wind at their backs for the second half, Thistles kept Ballina pinned in their own territory as they mounted constant pressure which led to a second penalty from Weir.
Needing one more goal and with time running out, Max Toovey was on hand to finish off yet another attacking raid for their vital fifth goal.
Goalkeeper Nick Baker had to tip a late chance for Ballina over the bar to ensure the Blues' place in the semis, leaving relieved coach Paul Parmenter full of praise for his squad.
"It was a great turnaround after our lacklustre loss to Villa last week but it showed the boys can respond positively to the pressure of a situation," he said.
Beardow, Weir and Baker stood out as the Blues best in a strong all-round performance, while the only Ballina players to look constructive were striker Blake Astley and veteran Dave Betteridge in midfield.
Alstonville had to rely on a late goal to ensure their place in the semis on goal difference, after a nervous 4-2 home loss to Workers.
The Redmen raced to a 3-0 lead by halftime with two goals from Zac Innes and Martin Kelleher to put Villa's semis hopes under threat.
Villa lifted after the break with Josh Cole scoring, but a fourth goal from Workers defender Jay Keevers meant Villa had to score again or they would miss out on the semis.
New recruit Hayden Briggs stepped forward to do the job on debut with the former Lennox Head flanker capitalising on a goal-mouth scramble to flick in the crucial goal four minutes from time.
Byron Bay topped their pool with a 3-2 win over Lennox Head at Skennars Head Oval.
Lennox stunned the visitors inside the first few minutes with a well-taken left-foot drive by Paul Kirkland but then Tom Ruhl netted a hat-trick to secure the points. A late rally by Lennox, and a second from Kirkland, had Byron sweating on the final whistle.
In other matches, Richmond Rovers missed out on a semis berth despite a 5-0 home win over Italo Stars and Goonellabah notched their first victory with a 4-0 home win over Casino.
Byron will play Thistles on Sunday while Workers and Alstonville will play on Wednesday, April 4.