Byron Bay’s Jed Wright (front) and Goonellabah’s Matt Dorigo fly to contest the ball in their semi-final at Weston Park, Goonellabah, on Saturday.
Byron Bay’s Jed Wright (front) and Goonellabah’s Matt Dorigo fly to contest the ball in their semi-final at Weston Park, Goonellabah, on Saturday. DAVID NIELSEN

Goonellabah Hornets put sting on Byron Rams

A CLINCIAL Goonellabah continued its dominance against Byron Bay by outclassing a disjointed Rams outfit 2-0 in the major preliminary semi-final of Far North Coast premier league soccer at Weston Park, Goonellabah, on Saturday.

Goonellabah will now vie with minor premiers Richmond Rovers for a place in the grand final when they meet in the major semi-final next weekend, while Byron Bay is destined for a sudden-death showdown with Italo Stars in the minor semi.

Goonellabah had convincingly beaten the Rams in their two previous encounters this season and again looked the sharper side from the outset, coming close to scoring in the opening minutes when a shot from lively flanker Sam Ireland skimmed off the underside of the crossbar.

A disciplined Hornets held their shape well and used patient build-up to probe the flanks and stretch the three-man Rams backline, which looked fragile under pressure.

Striker Dave Arnett used his ball skills and ability to lose his marker to create several half chances, forcing Rams goalkeeper Kai Connell to make some vital saves, while their hard-working midfield combination of Ben Andrews and Kale Hopper played a major role in allowing the Hornets to have the better of possession and territory.

The pressure paid off for Goonellabah just minutes before half-time with a brilliant goal from Arnett.

Ben Andrews turned a loose ball in midfield into a deft through ball for Arnett, who shielded the ball from a defender, before beating him with a turn then hitting a curling shot over the head of Connell into the top corner of the net.

The Hornets continued to have the better of play in the second half, while the Rams persisted with a lone striker approach that left Jordy Campbell with little support.

Goonellabah effectively wrapped up the game with their second goal, a spectacular long-range effort from big striker Chris Matthews.

Again Ben Andrews was the provider, with a switch that found Matthews in space just over the half-way line with no-one between him and 'keeper Connell.

Connell charged in a vain attempt to shut him down, allowing Matthews to launch a towering 40m chip that bounced into the net.

Hornets coach Brendan Logan was full of praise for his players, who responded to some motivational work through the week based on lifting their determination.

“We were clearly the dominant side and when they're in that frame of mind they're incredibly hard to beat,” Logan said.

Strength in combinations up the middle of the paddock is giving the Hornets a solid look, with Paul Pomeroy and Daniel Morrow having a good understanding in central defence, Hopper and Andrews creative in midfield and dangerous strikers Arnett and Matthews working well together.

While Goonellabah were technically proficient, they also showed plenty of hunger and fire, something they will need in large doses to unsettle champions Rovers in what looms as a classic confrontation next week.

Stars down Workers

ITALO STARS ended Lismore Workers' brave challenge for a big finish to their season with a hard-fought 2-0 home win over the Redmen in the elimination semi-final on Saturday.

It was Workers' first appearance in a semi for four years and while they made Stars work hard for the win, in the end their youthful enthusiasm was no match for Stars' hardened line-up.

Stars hit the woodwork twice in the first half and forced several good saves from Workers' agile goalkeeper Thomas Chang, but eventually the Redmen conceded an own goal when Mark Maslen drilled a dangerous, low cross into the box.

Stars had already beaten the Redmen twice this year without conceding a goal and the trend continued when Clint Willoughby wrapped up the game with their second goal, a scorching 25m drive that found the top corner.

Stars striker Brentin Mumford had his best game of the season and captain Rick Austen was a tower of strength at the back as their standouts, and with depth on the bench growing, Stars look well prepared for their sudden-death showdown with Byron Bay in the minor semi.

While Workers coach Paul Ianna was disappointed to bow out of the semis, the newly named coach of the year will be able to reflect on a much improved season, a welcome change from battling relegation to a return to semi-final action.

“I was very proud of the boys the way they stood up to Stars and for the effort they've put in right through the season,” Ianna said.

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