Byron Bay’s Northern Hotel Rams took north coast football to new heights by representing the region all the way to round six of the FFA Cup competition in Newcastle over the June long weekend, but were beaten 3–2.
The Rams put in a strong performance against the much-lauded, semiprofessional Maitland NPL side despite playing with depleted numbers.
Going into its biggest-ever challenge the Rams were without their top two goal-scorers. Gianluca Bongiovanni was sidelined with an injury and Joel Wood by a red card suspension.
The game was fast and very physical from the opening whistle, with a tough end-to-end battle for dominance.
Byron surprised the Maitland side, pressing hard on the Maitland goal from the kick-off and leaving no doubt about their ability or intent.
The Magpies responded with some very tough play, apparently bent on intimidating the visiting country boys. Seventeen-year-old Byron speedster Ronan Karup was hospitalised by a dreadful tackle early in the match – his badly broken leg requiring surgery over the weekend to re-attach ligaments and insert a pin in his ankle.
Byron fought back with renewed determination but the first goal fell to Maitland fifteen minutes in when a lofting free kick was bundled over the Byron line.
The Rams responded 15 minutes later with a soaring cross from Quinn McDonald that found the head of Aaron Walker to claim the equaliser.
The Byron boys seemed to have a slight edge over Maitland, pressing hard and giving nothing away to their more fancied opponents.
The Rams took the lead 10 minutes into the second half when a tap on from Walker sent Sam Shepherd bursting through the Magpies’ back line to drive home a 25-metre screamer and spark a most exuberant goal celebration.
The Rams’ jubilation ended quickly three minutes later when a long cross and header gave Maitland the equaliser.
A gritty to-and-fro battle lasted for much of the 30 minutes of extra time until a heartbreaking own goal by the Rams put the Magpies in front with minutes to go and a recovery was just beyond the tired lads of Byron.
Overall, a pretty even match-up with the Rams probably more deserving of a result – if only for their underdog heroics. It was a spectacular whole-team performance from the Rams with outstanding work from keeper Griffin Bambach, Quinn McDonald, Harper Hain, James Tomlinson, Ben Ahern, Aaron Walker and 17-year-old Sam Shepherd.
The Rams returned to their winning ways when they beat Bangalow in the local league last Saturday playing at home.
The 3–0 win has fast-tracked the Rams into second place on the table behind the Richmond Rovers, but they’ve three games in hand.