IN CONTROL: Byron Bay player Barthock Thongial controls the ball during the game against Thistles in Lismore last Saturday. Thistles won 4-2.
IN CONTROL: Byron Bay player Barthock Thongial controls the ball during the game against Thistles in Lismore last Saturday. Thistles won 4-2. Marc Stapelberg

Clubs double up after rain

THE wettest season in years has culminated in a backlog of washed-out matches that is finally starting to catch up with clubs in Football FNC premier league soccer.

Coastal clubs Ballina and Pottsville have fared worst, with Ballina facing double-headers this weekend and next, while the Panthers will be forced to back up for Sat-urday and Sunday games over all three weekends before the semi-finals.

The two sides will start their gruelling schedules with games against the two lowest-ranked sides today, before squaring off tomorrow in a vital clash for both.

Ballina is expected to win its away match with relegation favourite Bangalow today at 3pm, while Pottsville should also overcome an Italo Stars side missing several key players in their clash at Stars field from 5pm.

Ballina is at home for the 2.30pm kick-off against Pottsville tomorrow, with coach Rod Troughton optimistic.

“After the important 4-1 win over Alstonville mid-week, we’ll be able to run on the same side for the first time this year when we play Bangalow, and if we can maintain that against Pottsville, we’ll be in with a good chance,” Troughton said.

The Seahorses are just a point outside the top five and know a six-point weekend would go a long way towards sealing a place in the semis.

But the third-placed Panthers will start favourites tomorrow after an impressive season, despite having to tinker with their backline with Josh McQueen out and doubts over new signing Steve Pilcher.

Strikers Mike Kolovos and Josh Boag are in good touch and with the creative David Lonie in close support, the Panthers have a fearsome attack that will test the Ballina defence to breaking point.

Peak fitness has also been a vital part of the Panthers’ success this year and could be vital late in the game.

It’s desperate times for Byron Bay and Alstonville, with only the winner of their tussle tomorrow to stay in contention for the semis.

Byron has the home advantage for the 2.30pm kick-off, with the two sides equal seventh, two points short of the top five.

After seven games without a win, Byron has finally had some good news, with the return of the Pierce brothers, Jonathan and Nolan, along with Greg McDonnell, giving the Rams their strongest line-up in a month.

“We have four games to go and we’ll need to win them all to make the semis, so it’s time to pull our fingers out and get going,” Rams coach Peter Ware said.

In contrast, Villa will be forced to revamp their backline after a disastrous 4-1 loss to Ballina mid-week, when defenders Kurt Stephens and Matt Gordon were sent off by referee Mark Predebon.

With another key defender in Gary Kunz having a broken toe, big midfielder Richard Russell is likely to move back and combine with Josh Campbell in central defence, while Joel Perkins will move to left back.

“Our defence has been strong all year and keeping it that way will be crucial, as will shutting down their danger player Tim Knight on the flank,” Villa coach Troy Taylor said.

Goonellabah will be fired up to bounce back from their first loss of the season when they take on Thistles, who need a home win to tighten their tenuous grip on a semi-final berth.

The Hornets’ 2-1 loss to defending premiers Richmond Rovers mid-week postponed their minor premiership celebrations, leaving them needing to win two of their remaining four games to wrap up the title.

Thistles coach Ken MacPherson is wary of the wounded Hornets.

“It’s probably the worst thing that could have happened, they’ll be hungry to make up for it,” he said.

The Blues are still without Darren Beardow, Adam Buckley and Max Hospers, but they were missing last week when Thistles jumped up to fourth place with a 4-2 win over Byron Bay.

With dangerous strikers Matt Parrish and Jake Nind in good form and plenty of enthusiasm, Thistles’ young side will force Goonellabahto work hard.

Kick-off is at 3pm.

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