Billed as the 'match of the round,' the epic struggle between the SAE-Quantm Byron Bay Youth squad and arch rivals Lismore Thistles last Friday more than lived up to expectations. With two rounds to go and Richmond Rovers holding an almost insurmountable goal difference lead, this match was, effectively, a battle for second place. Spectators could have been forgiven, however, for thinking they were watching a grand final!
Both teams had a lot of pride on the line, with the young Rams facing their first championship loss since 2010 and Thistles looking to avenge their Premiers' Grand Final defeat in September.
The action was fast and furious from the kick-off, with attack and counter attack from the two quality teams sweeping from one end of the pitch to the other.
Both teams had their share of chances, but luck was with the Lismore boys and, after a long, scoreless, first half stretch, Thistles took a 2-0 lead into the break.
The second half was even more exciting, with both teams turning up the heat as the rain came down. Youngster Tai Flanagan finally opened the account for Byron with a superb long distance strike that energised the Rams and put them back into the game. A header from Sequoya Rawson Smith soared high over the Thistles keeper to equalise shortly after. Sequoya soon had the big crowd roaring again as he beat the defence and the keeper before nodding into the net to take Byron into the lead.
The intensity increased even further as Thistles threw everything at the Rams to try and retrieve their lead. A desperate goal-mouth skirmish at the Byron end saw Thistles equalise with just minutes remaining.
Again and again, play swung from end to end, with neither team ready to settle for 1 point.
The decisive moment finally came just before the final whistle with another header — this time from tireless Ram, Nolan Pierce (who also takes out the award for the most exuberant and spectacular goal celebration of the season)! Outstanding performances (once again) from the Byron boys, with special mentions for Pierce, Mav White, Sequoya Rawson Smith, Sam Robson, Tai Bui and Tai Flanagan. Final score: Byron 4, Thistles 3.
Should the Rams win their final round against Casino this Friday, they will finish the tournament on equal points with Lismore's Richmond Rovers but, short of an extraordinary result will finish in second place on goal difference.
[mainpic] MAINPIC / Byron's winning goal-scorer, the indefatigable Nolan Pierce click any image to view the full gallery / all images © Dogwhistle Creative[/mainpic]