SOCCER: It’s now or never for Thistles
LISMORE Thistles face the prospect of missing the semi-finals for the first time since 2009 if they fail to win their high stakes home clash with a confident Goonellabah in Far North Coast premier league soccer tonight.
Thistles' 3-1 loss to Lennox Head has left the Blues three points behind the fifth-placed Hornets and in need of a win before their critical final round game against local rivals Richmond Rovers next week.
"There's no second chances now, it's crunch time," Blues coach Rod Lees said.
Goonellabah will be bubbling with confidence after becoming the first side to beat league leader Byron Bay last week and have Sam Eyears coming back in to bring them to full strength.
Thistles will be hoping top scorer Matt Armstrong has recovered from a hamstring injury in time to start, with Ryan Parmenter also coming back into the line-up.
Lees will push Jake Nind forward in an attempt to disrupt the Hornets' solid backline, and expects his players to be pumped up for their most important game of the season.
"There's no need for (extra) motivation, we all know it comes down to this game," Lees said.
"The key will be breaking down their defence and remaining patient."
Adding spice to the encounter, the Hornets have four former Thistles players in their ranks with goalkeeper Brad Robertson, Jason Woollett, Matt Weir and Damien Parker all looking for big games against their old club.
Strikers Batok Ring and Dave Annetts will lead the Hornets' attack, with Kurt Stephens, Matt Graham and player-coach John Eakin expected to be in the middle of a five-man backline to start.
"We'll play a similar style to our game against Byron and will treat it like a grand final again," Eakin said.
"We'll also need to guard against their wing play, which can be dangerous, but the side is gelling at the right time of year and our captain Brad Robertson is providing great leadership and confidence from the back."
A win for Goonellabah would all but wrap up a semi-final berth but Thistles won't go down without a fight and will look to experienced midfielders Darren Beardow and Luke McWaide to lay the platform.
Like the Hornets, the Blues also have a solid backline led by Max Hospers and Matt Cramp, who will give little away, so the key for both sides will be making the most of their limited chances.
Kick-off is 8pm.
HOW THEY STAND
Points ladder: Byron Bay 41, Richmond Rovers 39, Lennox Head 30, Lismore Workers 29, Goonellabah 24, Alstonville 22, Thistles 21, Casino 11, Bangalow 5, Ballina 3.
Other games this round: Saturday (all 3pm start), Ballina v Casino; Bangalow v Alstonville, Workers v Lennox Head; Sunday (2.30pm start), Byron Bay v Richmond Rovers.