Rovers' hopes on knife edge

RICHMOND Rovers may have defeated Goonellabah in the grand final last year, but since then the Hornets have removed the Anzac Cup from the defending premiers’ trophy cabinet and could also put one hand on the minor premiership today in Football FNC premier league soccer.

The two rivals will meet at Nielson Park, East Lismore, from 5pm.

With Goonellabah undefeated on top of the ladder with a game in hand and a six-point buffer over second-placed Rovers, a win for the Hornets would give them a virtually unassailable lead.

It leaves Rovers under enormous pressure to come up with a win and keep alive their hopes of an unprecedented fourth straight premiership double.

“We know the minor premiership is probably gone if we lose, but it’s also important psychologically to get a win over them before the semis,” Rovers coach Tim Sheridan said.

Goonellabah outplayed Rovers for a polished 3-0 win in the first round, but Sheridan says they have learnt from the loss.

“We were still building the side then, we’re stronger now and so long as we pick up their wide runners and not let them get behind our defence, we’re in with a good chance,” he said.

Rovers will run on the same line-up that disposed of Byron Bay 5-2 mid-week, while Goonellabah will also be at full strength.

In-form Goonellabah striker Dave Annetts will be a key figure and with 13 goals already, the league’s leading scorer will test Rovers’ sometimes dubious defence.

His strike partner Thiago Priori will add some Brazilian flair to the Hornets’ attack, while in midfield captain Matt Dorigo and the skilful Kale Hopper are set for a torrid battle with Rovers’ experienced duo of Aaron Heffernan and Brett Lane.

Rovers’ attack is likely to focus on the speed of flanker Bobby Bugden and striker Jonathan See, but Sheridan is always a threat up front as well, with his size, touch and powerful shot making him one of the most dangerous players in the league.

The semi-final prospects of Ballina and Thistles should become a little clearer today after their vital clash at Thistles Park, East Lismore, from 3pm.

The two sides are locked together in fifth spot, giving the winner a crucial edge in the run home to the semis.

Thistles will be missing livewire striker Jake Nind, but with an otherwise full-strength side they will be tough to beaton home soil.

The seasiders will be missing midfielder James Tomlinson for at least a month after he broke his collarbone in their impressive 4-0 win over Byron Bay last week.

Troy Percival is likely to shift into his role, with Andrew Lundie moving forward to partner striker Troy Cook.

“Lundie has good touch and likes to take on players, so we’ll give him a chance up front,” Ballina coach Rod Troughton.

An out-of-sorts Byron Bay will be hoping the intensity of their local derby against Bangalow will trigger a return to form when they square off at the Bay from 3pm today.

After losing three games in a row and conceding 13 goals in the process, the Rams now have the worst defensive record in the league.

“I can’t remember the last time we lost three in a row and we really need to snap out of it,” Rams coach Peter Ware said.

“We have to lift our concentration levels.”

The Bay won their first-round encounter 2-0, but Bangalow is in much better form now and will be confident after breaking their drought with a 3-0 win over Workers.

Free-scoring Pottsville will look to extend its six-match undefeated run when the Panthers take on Alstonville at Crawford Park today at 5pm.

Pottsville is the form side with 22 goals from its past six games and will look to complete the double on Villa after a 1-0 win in the first round.

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