Every game today counts
IN a gripping climax to the premiership season, all five games in the final round today will have a major bearing on the fate of either the minor premiership, the fifth semi-final berth or relegation from Far North Coast premier league soccer.
The minor premiership is destined for either Richmond Rovers or Goonellabah's trophy cabinet, while Lismore Workers and Ballina are still vying for fifth place.
At the bottom of the ladder, Lennox Head, Lismore Thistles, Bangalow or Alstonville will find themselves relegated, by the end of what looms as a dramatic final day.
In an ironic twist, Richmond Rovers are on the verge of their third straight minor premiership in their home clash against the only side to have beaten them all season, relegation-threatened Alstonville.
Villa managed to achieve what no other club has by downing the premiers 3-2 in the Anzac Cup and will call on memories of that success to help inspire them today.
With the threat of relegation after just one season back in the top flight, Villa need at least a draw to guarantee survival and are treating the game as their most important of the year.
“It's our grand final and we want a result that will reflect what has been a good first season back in the league,” Villa coach Mark Ambler said.
Ambler expects central defender Kurt Stephens to recover from an ankle injury in time to give him a full-strength squad, while Rovers still have Aaron Heffernan sidelined with injury and will run on the same side that downed Italo Stars 2-0 mid-week.
After their 3-0 win over Thistles last Saturday, Rovers will be backing up for their third game in a week but their good form has coach Scott Coster confident they can complete an undefeated premiership season by clinching the title in the final round.
“The loss to them in the Anzac Cup is not a concern at all; the emotion of the title chase will be more than enough to spur the boys on,” Coster said.
A draw would be enough for Rovers to secure the title and with quicksilver flanker Ben Casagrande in good touch after scoring both goals against Stars and strikers Troy Matthews and Tim Casagrande also hitting top form, Rovers will start hot favourites.
But they were also favourites before the Cup loss to Villa, which will look to key players such as midfielders Richard Russell and Andy Collins along with the third top scorer in the league, Troy Cook, to help relive that famous win for the fledgling club.Hornets' chance
IF Villa do upset Rovers, it opens the door for Goonellabah to snatch the premiership with an away win over an out-of-sorts Italo Stars.
The Hornets are in good form after two wins from their double-header last weekend, while Stars had a surprise 4-0 loss to Bangalow before their 2-0 loss to Rovers on Wednesday, leaving them struggling for goals as they back up for their third game in a week.
Goonellabah coach Brendan Logan will be forced to revamp his line-up, with key midfielder Ben Andrews unavailable, Marc Rosenstein recovering from a bout of swine 'flu and Jarrad Doyle out for the rest of the season with a recurring knee injury.
Experienced defender Joel Gosper and talented young flanker Nelson Burgess come into the side, but Logan is under no illusions about their premiership hopes.
“I don't think Alstonville have a chance against Rovers, leaving us second no matter what the result against Stars, so we'll concentrate on getting our game working well for the semis,” he said.
Stars are still in danger of losing fourth place and with it the home advantage in the elimination semi, leaving coach John Essex calling on his players to lift after announcing he will stand down at the end of the season.
“A draw or win would ensure fourth, but we'll need to put in more effort than our recent performances to achieve it,” Essex said.
“But the boys aren't scared of any side and if a few things start going our way, we can still have a big season.”All on the line
WORKERS' determination to make the semis for the first time since 2005 will collide with Lennox Head's resolve to avoid relegation when they meet at Richards Oval in Lismore today.
Only three players in Workers' young side have tasted semi-final soccer at the top level - Anthony Alvos, Zac Crowley and Josh Law - and all three will need to show leadership for a second bite.
The Redmen are generally smaller than the Sharks' big line-up that could use its height advantage by taking the aerial route to goals, where player/coach Paul Kirkland and Nick Hunter will be waiting.
The Sharks are on the bottom of the ladder but have found some form late in the season, with a win and two draws from their past three starts throwing them a lifeline to survival - but only if they take the full three points today.
“We won't be holding anything back and having some consistency in our line-up over the past few weeks has helped get us get into some good form,” Kirkland said.
Both sides expect to be at full strength and with so much to play for, the intensity will be high in what shapes as an unpredictable encounter.
With a draw bad news for both sides, the stage is set for both to go on the attack from the outset.On a knife edge
IN what could turn out to be a relegation grand final, Thistles and Bangalow will do battle at Thistles Park today.
The two sides are just a point above last-placed Lennox Head and if the Sharks win their clash with Workers, the loser faces the cut.
A draw would favour Bangalow, with their superior goal difference putting the pressure on the Blues for a big finish on home turf.
But their cause will not be helped by some recent breaches in discipline, leaving Matt Parrish and Jakeb Speers suspended after being sent off.
Coach Ken MacPherson will be hoping Jeremy Wraight is fit to return and stiffen up their leaky defence, with big games needed from midfield playmaker Darren Beardow, young striker Brenton Parrish and defenders Max Toovey and Grant Sinclair if the Blues are to survive at the top level.
“We've been a bit flat lately, but it'll come down to who's more desperate, we just have to make sure it's us,” MacPherson said.
Bangalow go into the game with plenty of confidence after their biggest win since joining the league three years ago, a 4-0 victory over Italo Stars last week.Striving for fifth
BALLINA will be hoping Lennox Head can defeat Workers to give them the chance to steal fifth place from the Redmen with a home win over Byron Bay today.
Byron will finish third no matter what the result, leaving them with little to play for but form before the semis, while nothing less than a win can help Ballina.
But to do so, the seasiders will have to break their uncanny record of drawing all eight home games this season.
With several players unavailable, Ben Coulter and Adam Izzard will come into their starting line-up, which will feature the experience of Troy Percival up front alongside the youthful exuberance of Matt Jeffery in an effort to end their goal-scoring woes.
• All games kick off at 3pm.
• Competition points: Richmond Rovers 39, Goonellabah 37, Byron Bay 33, Italo Stars 27, Workers 25, Ballina 23, Alstonville 12, Bangalow 12, Thistles 12, Lennox Head 11.
• Pottsville will return to the premier league next season after wrapping up the first division minor premiership.
The Panthers have wasted little time bouncing back to the top flight after being relegated at the end of their debut season last year.