Derby win primes Rams for final
The Premier League football local derby between Bangalow Bluedogs and Byron Bay Rams is always one of the main events on the Far North Coast football calendar.
And last Saturday was no different, with a large and passionate crowd at Bangalow to watch the clash.
A controversial split in the Byron Premier squad last year led to several Byron reserves players transferring to Bangalow this season, adding fuel to the rivalry. With two losses from their last two encounters last year, the new-look Bangalow squad was out to prove they were a match for the in-form Rams outfit.
The Rams have had a busy pre-season schedule, playing in the Anzac Cup and Northern NSW FA Solo Cup, and had been undefeated in six games already this year.
However, it has taken its toll with serious season-ending injuries to talented midfielders James Packham and Shannan Maciejewski. Irish defender Greg McDonnell was also on the bench with an ankle injury.
Before the game Rams coach Peter Ware said with three games in a week and a 1-0 win over last year’s competition winners Lismore Rovers on Tuesday night in the Anzac Cup, the heavy schedule had left the team with a few fitness worries.
The two teams fought hard right from the start and the hit-outs in the midfield were intense.
Bangalow’s central midfield playmaker Joel Rudgley distributed the ball to his striker Conner Benfield and the wingers beautifully, however the Rams’ defence, led by American ‘enforcer’ Ian Lennie and Trinidadian Bruce Knaggs, continued to shut them down each time.
The play moved all over the pitch with each team looking for weaknesses. Both teams looked quite even until the 18th minute when Rams central midfielder Jonathan Pierce distributed a ball to Sudanese winger Baitok Thoingkol and he took off down the left wing and played a lovely ball to Jordy Campbell.
He evaded the Bluedogs’ defence of Mark Shepherd and Josh McInerney, then knocked the ball under the Bangalow keeper to break the stalemate.
The two teams looked evenly matched on the park for most of the game, however, the statistics told a very different story, with the Rams’ 20 shots on goal to the Bluedogs’ two shots.
The Rams just couldn’t seem to get on target, with numerous strikes from Thoingkol, Tom Ruhl, Yantra Whitling, Tim Knight, Ben Coulter and Campbell missing their mark.
Bluedogs striker Benfield looked dangerous, almost scoring twice, but Rams’ outstanding 15-year-old defender Sam Robson stopped him in his tracks.
In the last few minutes Ruhl sent a beautiful through ball to Rams striker Jordy Campbell and in a one-on-one confrontation with the Bluedogs’ replacement keeper, he made no mistake to ensure the win for Byron Bay.
However, in the dying moments Bangalow returned fire, forcing Rams keeper Kai Connell to work hard to parry a cracking shot.
The Bay’s 2-nil win added to the Bluedogs’ disappointment after they also lost to the teenage Rams’ 1-0 Premier Reserves team in a scrappy and often spiteful encounter earlier in the afternoon, despite having a much more experienced squad.
The Rams’ high-level schedule continues on Sunday when they contest the Anzac Cup grand final against Goonellabah, then they will travel to Woolgoolga the following weekend to play Tamworth in the next round of the Northern NSW FA knockout Solo Cup.
The Bluedogs will have a bye next weekend then play Thistles in Lismore on May 1.