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[singlepic id=285 float=right]A beautiful day at Saunders Oval, Ballina saw the Rams take on a Ballina side that is anchored firmly to the foot of the table and struggling to avoid relegation.
The Byron squad welcomed back Sam Owens to the mid-field following his recent holiday and Kazahiro Tsukamoto to the forward line after his wedding in Japan.
Aaron Richter-Steers was unavailable and with Ian Lennie and Tom Ruhl still nursing injuries, the Rams starting line-up was Layton Barton in goal, Toby Barton, Sam Robson, Nolan Pierce, Tom Baker, Shannan Maciejewski, Corey Montgomery, Sam Owens, Jonno Pierce, Kazahiro Tsukamoto and Jordy Campbell.
On the bench were Mav White, Jack White, Tane Meek, Farren Lathen-O’Brien and Herick Scheunemann.
Wary of complacency after the 6-2 and 8-1 mauling of Ballina in two previous meetings this season, the Rams started in bright fashion with some good passing and movement down both flanks. Disaster struck in the third minute as a speculative 30m drive from a Ballina mid-fielder seemed to wrong foot Layton and found the net despite Layton getting a hand to it.
Byron have come from behind before, however, and the Rams soon took a firm grip on the game. It seemed only a matter of time before the inevitable equliser. The back four, with debutante Tom Baker, were solid and Ballina posed little threat. Campbell and Tsukamoto were busy up front, ably supported by Pierce, Owens, Maciejewski and Montgomery.
Three good chances were missed before the Rams were awarded a penalty kick for a hand-ball from a Ballina defender. A fairly weak strike from Campbell was stopped by the Ballina keeper and the score remained 1-0. More good chances were missed by Campbell, Kazahiro, Owens and Jonno Pierce, leaving Byron one goal down at the break.
The Rams’ build-up play was excellent, with chances created almost every time the play moved forward. Once again, more of the same – but with better finishing – was the call for the second half. Mav White replaced Corey Montgomery at half time. In the first minute of the second half Tsukamoto missed a good ball from Campbell from five metres out, hitting a Ballina defender when it did seem easier to score.
Moments later Jonno Pierce crashed a shot over the bar from the edge of the box, Sam Owens completely missed a volley as a cross came in from the left and Campbell missed another two. Another chance fell to Campbell when he opted to let the ball run across him – he narrowed his angle hit it straight at the keeper.
The lost chances were enormously frustrating for players and supporters as wave after wave of Rams attack came to nothing thanks to exceptionally poor finishing.
The equaliser finally came when Sam Robson headed home a great Campbell free kick. This should have settled the nerves and served as the catalyst for the Rams to go on and win the game – a game they had absolutely dominated against a very poor Ballina side.
More (yes there’s more!) chances fell to Campbell, Kazahiro, Owens (who blazed over from 10 metres), Pierce (who can, apparently, blaze over from any distance and angle), Mav White and Scheunemann who had replaced a tiring Owens.
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Ballina managed another attack against the play and Layton made a superb save to salvage two points and a lot of face. Byron has been plagued for much of the season with great build up play followed by very poor finishing. Unfortunately, there are no points for aesthetics or artistic interpretation in this competition and, with an increasingly tight top five, squandering these two points may prove very costly in the weeks remaining.
Man of the match was Shannan Maciejewski.
The Byron reserves continued their belated and still unlikely tilt at a semis spot with a solid 2-1 win, Jack White equalising an early goal and Bruce Morhaus returning from injury to drill home a spectacular winner. Lachlan Baynes was in good form in goals and contributions from Scheunemann, Gray and Lathen-O’Brien saw the reserves hang on for a win.
Next Saturday, The Rams host Goonellabah at the Byron Rec grounds for a 3.00p.m. kick off.
It’s a top 4 clash that both sides need to win to have any hope of catching Rovers in the race to the title.