Alstonville’s Phil Francis takes on the Ballina defence at Saunders Oval.
Alstonville’s Phil Francis takes on the Ballina defence at Saunders Oval.

Heat on winless pair

ALSTONVILLE and Lismore Thistles will both be hungry to kick- start their premiership campaigns when they meet at Crawford Park, Alstonville, tonight in the match of the Football FNC Men's Premier League round.

Both sides were a little unlucky to suffer narrow losses to quality opposition in their first games, with a controversial late penalty against Villa handing it a 3-2 loss to Rovers, while a spirited second half fightback from Thistles fell just short, as it lost by the same scoreline to Goonellabah.

With both sides desperate to avoid starting the season with consecutive losses, each will be feeling the pressure to come away with the vital three points.

Villa will hold a slight psychological edge after beating the Blues 3-2 in their Anzac Cup encounter, with coach Troy Taylor confident they have improved since then.

"We've evolved from there and our formation has become ingrained in the side," he said.

"There'll be a couple of changes, our player of the year last season, Phil Francis, is back and will slot into right back, while Eamon Banks will move from midfield into central defence with Nick Steel, who's in great form."

Thistles will welcome the return of keeper Nick Baker, but are still without new signing Joel Rudgley, whose recovery from an ankle injury is delaying his debut.

After a disastrous first half against Goonellabah, Blues coach Paul Parmenter will be calling on his players to be focused from the opening whistle.

"We need to start with the right attitude, Villa is a well organised side and will hurt us if we don't concentrate for the full 90 minutes," Parmenter said.

The two sides have a lot in common, fielding quick, youthful line-ups that reached the Anzac Cup semis, only to lose to finalists Workers and Byron Bay.

While little separates the two sides on paper, a key factor that could be in Villa's favour is its discipline, an aspect of the game in which Thistles has struggled in recent seasons.

The match kicks off at 8pm.

Three games will be played tomorrow, with Richmond Rovers at home from 3pm against Casino and expected to register a big win after the Cobras suffered an 11-1 mauling at the hands of Workers in their opening match. Goonellabah will also be odds on to win its away clash with Italo Stars, as will Byron Bay when it hosts Lennox Head, both from 5pm.

One game will be played on Sunday, with newly-crowned Anzac Cup champions Lismore Workers hot favourites in their home clash with Ballina from 2.30pm.

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