After weeks of FFA Cup qualifiers and an early season disrupted by weather, the Northern Hotel Byron Bay Rams face a busy schedule to get back on track in the FFNC Premiership season.
Saturday’s round of the general comp saw the Byron squad head to Lismore for a face-off with traditional top-of-the-table rivals, Richmond Rovers.
With six undefeated rounds under their belt, Rovers are sitting comfortably at the top of the table. The Rams were also undefeated but had played just three games.
With regular Prems keeper Griffin Bambach out with an injury, Byron had to improvise across the grades and a couple of goalkeeping howlers got Byron’s Reserve grade off to a shaky start. Despite the early scoreboard deficit, the Reserves were too strong for Rovers and convincingly dominated the Lismore crew.
Two goals to Jono Pierce, one to Sam Tomlinson and a cracker to birthday boy Alex Kempnich corrected the balance and gave the Rams a pretty comfortable 4–2 win.
The top squad Rams proved to be equally impressive in their match. Despite a dogged fightback and some spirited counterattacks from Rovers, the Byron side once again dominated.
Spectacular work from Rovers keeper Chris Jones kept the Rams at bay until late in the opening half when a corner from Quinn McDonald and a superb long-range header from flanker Sam Owens finally broke the deadlock. Minutes later, Jones clashed with Rams number 10, Joel Walker, inside the box giving Byron a penalty that was cleanly despatched by Gianluca Bongiovanni to take the Byron lead to 2–0.
Fifteen minutes into the second half, a clean turn and cross from Sam Shepherd put Joel Wood on the spot to take Byron’s third goal.
Moments later, a trademark counter saw Rovers slip a face-saving goal past stand-in keeper, veteran Damien Smith. Just two minutes later, history repeated itself with Joel Wood brought down in the Rovers box and Bongiovanni driving home a penalty.
It was a convincing 4–1 win for the Rams and, for the first time in many seasons, there just might be a glimpse of daylight between the competition heavyweights.
While the Rams appear to have the edge, a heavy schedule of makeup games and the FFA Cup qualifiers in Newcastle in coming weeks will test the depth, fitness and endurance of the Byron squad.