With a share or $10,000 prizemoney on the line, the Byron Bay Rams has thrown out a challenge to the other 63 teams contesting the inaugural Northern NSW Football Solo Cup with a 6-1 thumping of Port Macquarie on Saturday.
Teams from Newcastle to the Queensland border in seven different regions are taking part in the knock-out competition.
The Port club has been point score runners-up for two years in the strong Mid North Coast Premier League. However other than that they were an unknown quantity.
Both teams went head-to-head testing each other’s defences at the start.
Rams midfielders Shannan Maciejewski, Tim Knight and Sam Owen were unlucky with some early shots.
However it was Port Macquarie’s Matt Edwards who secured the first goal after 10 minutes of frantic play with a beautiful header in front of the Rams goal.
The small but vocal group of Port fans went wild and the goal lifted the travelling side. They continued to play skilful football as good as any side in the Far North Coast competition.
The Rams fought on and the hard working trio of Ben Coulter, Tom Ruhl and Sam Owens made attack after attack. But the outstanding Port defence line stopped them in their tracks.
At 20 minutes the Rams made a tactical substitution, bringing on 2009 golden boot winner Jordy Campbell in his first game of the season to bolster the front line.
It settled the Rams down and soon after they almost scored with Ruhl heading a Campbell free kick just past the net. With just four minutes to half-time, an excellent Rams attacking cross from the left flank deflected off Ian Lennie’s head and bounced up for Knight sprinting in from right wing. He leapt for the ball and struck a cracking mid-air volley into the net to level the score.
Two minutes into the second half the Port keeper deflected a shot from Ruhl and Yantra Whitling took advantage to score for the Rams making it 2-1. Ten minutes later Campbell attacked through the middle from half way, cutting the tired Port defence to shreds.
He fired a low thunderbolt at goal giving the keeper no chance. The Rams backline of Lennie, Bruce Knaggs, Sam Robinson and Coulter became impenetrable and turned every attack from the Port strikers around.
Rams workhorse Maciejewski directed ball traffic up the middle. The frustrated Port defenders started losing their cool. A resulting tactical free kick by Ruhl went behind the Port defensive wall to Knight making a run on the right.
He struck it low and hard past the keeper for his second goal.
The Port Macquarie strikers never gave up forcing Rams keeper Kai Connell to deflect a cracker shot with a sublime diving save to rousing applause.
With 15 minutes to go Campbell was brought down in the penalty box by two Port defenders. He took his own penalty and claimed his second goal to put the win beyond doubt at 5-1. Just before the final whistle, Sam Owens was rewarded for his persistence with a goal from a low strike into the net to ice the cake for the Rams.
During the post game reception at the Great Northern Hotel, the Port Macquarie squad were gracious in defeat and their players wished the Byron Rams success in the second round on April 28.
After the match, Rams coach Peter Ware was happy with the 6-1 result but careful not to get too carried away.
“The win is great but we are still keen to see how our local brand of football rates in the NSW-wide FFA competition when we play our next round match,” he said.
Two other local teams travelled away on the weekend with mixed results. Sth Lismore went down to Pacific Palms and Goonellabah defeated North’s United FC.
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