Football Far North Coast's top two Premier Division teams, the Byron Bay Services Club Rams and South Lismore Celtic faced off in Byron Bay on Sunday in a Major Semi that was billed as the Match-of-the-Season.
In their last encounter, the Rams came from behind late in the match to steal a spectacular 3-2 victory over Souths. On Sunday, a big and vocal crowd saw Souths turn the tables on the Rams – fighting back from 3-1 down to equalise and finally take the Rams down in a tense penalty shoot-out.
The contest was fierce with both sides pressing hard from the opening whistle.
Byron had the upper hand early, hammering the Souths goal repeatedly while Souths responded with dangerous counters.
The pressure from the Rams bore fruit eight minutes in when veteran midfielder Benny Ahern fired home the opening goal from the corner of the box. Four minutes later, hard-charging youngster Rick Muir belted in Byron’s second goal and the Rams were looking unstoppable.
Souths responded with renewed intensity and, midway through the first half, had the Byron defence scrambling. A power strike from the Lismore attack was deflected by the Rams defence to beat keeper Pierce Essery and the scoreline tightened to 2-1. Game on!
Byron responded in kind and four minutes later a flanking run and cross from Lisandro Luaces and a superb diving header from Rick Muir restored the Rams lead at 3-1.
The intensity from both sides waned a little in the second half. Despite some spectacular shots from Diego Vazquez and Golden Boot Luaces forcing equally spectacular saves from the Souths’ keeper, the Byron side seemed to flatten into a more defensive stance.
After a relative lull in the battle, Souths again stepped up the pace and found their second goal from one of a flurry of corners midway through the second half and equalised only four minutes later.
The Rams fought hard to regain their advantage for the remainder of the half and the ensuing twenty minutes of extra time with Luaces and Vazquez continuing to pepper the Souths goal while Rick Muir put in an outstanding performance in both attack and defence.
But the South Lismore keeper’s run of saves carried through to the penalty shoot-out and the Lismore squad finally celebrated a hard fought victory.
The win puts Souths through to the Grand Final while the Rams are forced to take on Lismore Thistles to earn their place in the decider. The Preliminary Final will be played on Sunday 15 September at the Byron Recreational Grounds. Kick-off is 2pm.