Rovers still in the box seat
AFTER taking the full six points from their weekend double-header, Goonellabah has snatched the lead from defending premiers Richmond Rovers in what has become a two-way race for the minor premiership in FNC premier league soccer.
The Hornets now lead Rovers by a point, but the premiers can regain the lead on Wednesday night when they play Italo Stars in the last catch-up game of the season, before the final round next week when Rovers face Alstonville and Goonellabah meet Italo Stars.
Goonellabah escaped with a 1-0 home win over Alstonville on Saturday thanks to a goal deep into injury time from striker Dave Arnett, before backing up for an emphatic 4-1 away win over Thistles yesterday.
The Hornets looked sharp from the outset against a depleted Thistles line-up with 2006 and 2008 Player of the Year Ben Andrews in fine form, setting up the opening goal for Arnett before scoring himself.
It could have been 3-0 for the Hornets if not for a fine penalty save from Blues goalkeeper Mitchell Pickford, but any hopes of a fightback were blown away when Thistles had Jacob Spears sent off for dissent.
Goonellabah extended their lead with a third goal from a powerful, low drive from Chris Matthews, before Thistles clawed a goal back before the break through young striker Brenton Parrish.
Goonellabah closed it out when Ben Andrews capped a fine performance with his second goal, putting the pressure on Rovers to win their mid-week encounter with Stars.
Rovers will go into that game at full strength and in good form after they a comfortable 3-0 win over Thistles on Saturday.
All three goals came in the second half, with Troy Matthews, Jessie Hartman and Tim Casagrande finding the net, leaving the Blues just a point off the bottom of the ladder and needing a win over Bangalow next week to guarantee survival.
Lismore Workers are one game away from securing their first appearance in the semi-finals since 2004, after collecting four points from their weekend double-header.
On Saturday the Redmen extinguished Byron Bay's minor premiership hopes with a sparkling 3-2 home win over the Rams, before backing up for a hard fought 1-all result against draw specialists Ballina yesterday.
Byron Bay started well in the Saturday match, with 16-year-old flanker Nolan Pierce marking his debut start by heading in the opening goal.
But that was as good as it got for the Rams, with the Redmen equalising by half time after a shot from Cory Loft could only be parried by Byron Bay goalkeeper Kai Connell, allowing striker Kurt Brewer-Charles to tap in the scraps.
Soon after the restart a brilliant goal from Zac Crowly gave Workers the lead, with his looping 25m blast sailing over Connell's head into the top corner.
Crowly slotted his second goal from the penalty spot to all but wrap up the win. Byron fought back with a late goal from Jed Wright, but it was too little too late to resurrect the Rams premiership hopes.
“We were flat and missed a couple of key players, but credit to Workers, they out-enthused us,” Rams coach Peter Ware admitted.
Workers midfielders Anthony Alvos and Zac Crowley combined well, with stopper Luke Pirlo and striker Kurt Brewer-Charles also having big games in one of their best performances of the season.
The Redmen were missing a few players when they backed up for the Ballina clash and trailed early in the second half after Matt Jeffery capitalised on a switch from Cerys Hawkins to score the opening goal.
Ballina hit the cross-bar as they searched for a second goal to wrap up a win, but Workers showed plenty of determination to stay in touch and were rewarded four minutes from time, when Jason Wilson hit a Josh Law cross with a low volley into the Ballina net to equalise.
Workers coach Paul Ianna was full of praise for his line-up, particularly young debutants in defence Jay Keevers, who is just 14, and Sam Sharkey, who is only 15.
“They played the full 90 minutes and had great games, they typified the spirit in the side,” Ianna said.
Workers now hold a two-point break over Ballina in the battle for fifth place and would cement their place in the semis with a win over last-placed Lennox Head in their final game.
A frustrated Ballina was left to contemplate what might have been, after somehow drawing all eight home games this season.
Bangalow has responded to the threat of relegation by clawing its way off the foot of the ladder with the club's biggest win, a 4-0 away victory over a 10-man Italo Stars.
The match was evenly contested until a minute before half-time when Stars had goalkeeper Dallas Guthrie sent off for bringing down Bangalow striker Joel Rudgley.
Rudgley dusted himself off to slot home the ensuing penalty and the Bluedogs went on with the job with second-half goals from Carlos Argent, Cale Johnstone and Christian Brown to keep their season alive.
Bangalow can now guarantee their survival in the premier league with a win or a draw in their final match against Thistles next week.
Despite putting in a spirited performance to hold local rivals Ballina to a nil-all draw at Saunders Park on Saturday, Lennox Head has again slumped to the bottom of the ladder.
The stalemate leaves Lennox facing the prospect of relegation, unless the Sharks can win their final game against Workers next week.
Alstonville is also involved in the four-way relegation dogfight, after a last-gasp goal from Goonellabah handed them a heart-breaking 1-0 away loss.
Dave Arnett hit the winner in the 92nd minute for the Hornets to keep their premiership hopes alive, but condemning Villa to face a tense final match against Richmond Rovers next week to guarantee survival.