By Tim Klingbiel
Maclean Bobcats vs Coffs Coast Tigers
The Bobcats rather frustratingly had to endure a week off after their heavy defeat to Northern Storm, owing to their scheduled opponents Boambee’s lengthy FFA Cup run which saw them travel to Newcastle and leave Dennis Mavridis’ side without a dance partner. They were champing at the bit to get out on the pitch and remove the bitter taste of defeat from their mouths, but would have to get past a Tigers side who were fired up and looking to exorcise their own demons.
With coach Felipe Barrera absent for a fortnight, Curt Dixon took the reins for the Tigers in the interim and looked to impart some of his own flavour upon the squad. Whether they could repeat the 2-0 victory over the Bobcats they had delivered at Polwarth Drive earlier in the season remained to be seen, but one thing was certain – they didn’t want to repeat their home display a week earlier where they slumped to a 2-1 defeat against Grafton United. The challenge was on to see if they could make any improvements and avoid their finals aspirations slipping further out of sight.
The composition of the home side was largely the same as the one battered by Northern Storm in round 9, Mavridis responding to the setback with faith in his charges and a ‘pick and stick’ philosophy. The only change to the XI was the inclusion of Cullyn Stewart-Butcher for Nick Potente, though their bench of Adam Penfolds, Josh Ackermans, Taylor Corbacho and Matt Farrell was certainly a new look from the previous round’s cast of Frazer Marsh, Brad Corbett and Lance Knibbs on the pine. The absence of such a key performer as Marsh for several weeks has left Mavridis lighter on attacking options than he would like, but with such a strong Reserve Grade squad to draw on, depth in other areas of the park appears to be a non-issue.
The interim coach rang the changes for Tigers, four of the previous week’s sixteen man squad being swapped in something of a new look outfit. Paul Dixon had an afternoon to forget in round 10 as he conceded a penalty late on – Grafton’s Braydon Jones sparing Dixon’s blushes somewhat with the ensuing miss – and was replaced in the starting lineup this week by the returning Josh Guy. Zack Smith came into the XI for Matt Guyatt, while equestrian enthusiast and gogoplata connoisseur ‘Squeezo’ was dropped from the 16 man matchday squad altogether and replaced by Luke Kliendienst, who hasn’t seen Premier League minutes for quite some time this season. Samson Bawiri was not offered the opportunity to build upon his debut Premier League appearance, replaced on the bench by fellow youngster Jye-Grant Buck.
Dave Connor took the whistle for what was sure to be a closely contested matchup, and it was a chilly afternoon of football for two sides chasing a top four spot. Ultimately Maclean were just a bit better in every department as they got home 3-1 courtesy of goals from Jarrod Doyle, who grabbed a brace and underscored why he was named NCF Player of the Year in 2017, and Riley Bender who chipped in with one of his own from midfield. Innocent David scored the solitary goal for the visitors.
The match was largely played in good spirits as Connor only had to issue two cautions over the 90 minutes – to Gary Burns and Scott Grey – and perhaps most encouraging for the Bobcats was the fact that they were able to get through the whole game with no injuries sustained, not even having to resort to the bench as the entire XI played out the 90. Buck and Maryar Majak were introduced for the Tigers in the second half for Smith and Joel Guy, but neither could provide the necessary X factor to turn the tide of the match in the visitors’ favour.
The Bobcats showed enough over the course of the game to suggest that they will be there or thereabouts come finals time, and at present they sit just a point outside the four with a game in hand and a vastly superior goal difference to the next team above them in the form of Grafton United. They take on United this weekend in what will be a golden opportunity to leapfrog their fellow northerners and further signal the legitimacy of their finals push. Having essentially a full squad to call on will be a great luxury for Mavridis, but Grafton have been in superb form and will be a tough out in front of the parochial Rushforth Park crowd on Saturday night under lights.
While mathematically Tigers are not far from the finals picture – only three points, comparatively a stone’s throw after 11 rounds of football – over the past four weeks they have looked nothing like a side who should be contending for silverware this season. Hammered by the Bombers, then labouring to an incredibly narrow home victory over bottom placed Westlawn and getting popped in consecutive weeks by Grafton and Maclean, they haven’t been showing nearly enough to suggest they are ready to hang with the likes of Boambee, Coffs and Urunga. This Saturday night’s game at McLean Street sees them meeting a Lions side who are wounded from their most recent defeat to the Bombers and it won’t be easy to get past Glen Williams’ men when they have a point to prove. The men from West Coffs will have to improve substantially for the scoreline not to make for ugly reading by the time the final whistle blows.
Coffs City United Lions vs Boambee Bombers
The Lions had been looking stronger than ever in recent weeks and appeared to be a genuine Premiership contender. The way they were playing had the feel of champion Lions sides of bygone years and the swagger was well and truly back. But none of the sides they had played in their recent run, not even the Raiders, had been able to inflict such a comprehensive defeat upon them as the Bombers had earlier this season. In fact, that had been their only defeat in their campaign to date, and their hunger to avenge the loss was greater in magnitude than a ghrelin IV shot.
The Bombers on the other hand had taken a brief leave of absence from NCF competition, as they travelled south on the long weekend to take on the Charlestown City Blues in the FFA Cup. The gulf in class between an amateur side and a semi-professional outfit who occupy a top four spot at NPL level proved just a little too much to overcome though, as the gallant Bombers went down 6-0. That stands as the only occasion they have been defeated in any competition since last year’s grand final though. The opponents on that night – Coffs United.
The stage was set for an epic contest and Williams named a strong lineup for the home side. Aside from the unavailability of regular custodian Josh Wiseman, paving the way for the rather leftfield inclusion of Stephen Meakins between the sticks, it was very much a first choice XI for the Lions as Caleb Lokpo returned from suspension to replace Thangkin Shetta in the starting lineup. The remaining nine players were the same ones as those who took the field in the 4-0 win over Northern Storm last round, with the only change to the bench being the demotion of Jyelei McKell in favour of Shetta as a result of Lokpo’s return.
For the Bombers, it was a first Premier League appearance of the season in goals for Jake Stitt, who was injured in a fiery pre-season FFA Cup clash against the Lions and only took up the gloves again for the game down south against the Blues last week. Darcy Newell thus dropped to the bench. Christian Penny and Josh McIntosh also returned from injury and replaced Tom Frewen and Darby Sherrin in the XI. Mark Norberry was again unable to find his way into the matchday squad in favour of a youthful backline, but multiple time Macksville Gift winner, avid rice burner tinkerer and notorious Star Hotel casanova Jack Mitchell was drafted into the squad as part of a four man bench.
The home side got off to the best possible start as influential captain Scott Goddard handed them a very early lead at Forsyth Park with barely a minute of play gone. The Bombers defence offered about as much resistance as a wet paper bag as Chris Dooley easily shook off the attentions of Sam Crampton and cut square for the unmarked Goddard who was not picked up by Brandon Wyatt. The strong and partisan home crowd were giving the boys in red and black an added boost as they looked to avenge the round 4 defeat at Ayrshire Park, and things only got better as a Bombers own goal doubled their advantage. With such an early two goal lead – inside 10 minutes of football – one had to wonder whether it was perhaps just not the Bombers’ day, and it seemed as if the potential was there for United to clock up a resounding and somewhat unexpected thrashing.
But it didn’t take long at all for Shane Duncan’s side to haul themselves back into the contest. Lachie Moye was able to halve the deficit barely a minute after his side’s own goal, then less than two minutes after that, a Stitt goalkick was headed on by Luke France for Brady Parker to latch onto. Parker showed great strength to shake off his marker and bury a low finish for the equaliser. It was an absolute flurry of attacking football and it felt like some genuine madness was going down – at this rate the final score could easily have been a 20-all draw such was the rate at which goals were being rifled home.
In a game where the defence was appearing to be mere window dressing and without any great function, France had given the away side the lead in the 18th minute, and the Bombers had completed a rapid and remarkable turnaround having gone two goals down and then 3-2 up before a quarter of the game had elapsed. The average of close to a goal every three minutes couldn’t be sustained, and sure enough the game did settle into an eventual rhythm after the early flurry.
The teams went to the break without any further trouble for the scorers but it still felt like there was more in this game. Knowing his side were still in the contest, Williams would no doubt have advised his troops to continue pouring men forward and indeed they retained an attack minded approach early on in the second stanza. The primary issue with such an approach of course is leaving yourself vulnerable on the counter.
A looping through ball from France found United caught short at the back, and Alex Douglass got himself all crossed up as he attempted a clearance under heavy pressure from Christian Penny. Penny snaffled the loose ball and some lax jogging from the rest of the Lions defence gave him the time he needed to slot the ball home via both Meakins and Douglass.
With over half an hour of play remaining and a two goal advantage, it was now very much the Bombers’ game to lose, and the Lions weren’t making things any easier on themselves when they committed a handball inside the area that saw Boambee awarded a penalty. Moye made no mistake, calmly placing the ball in the top right corner with Meakins barely moving an inch, and sealed his brace in addition to a three goal advantage for his side.
That would be the total of the scoring on the evening and the Bombers had claimed an impressive 5-2 win to consolidate their ladder lead. It would quite some time leafing through the annals of local football history to find the last occasion where a team beat the Lions by a three goal margin on two separate occasions during a single regular season, but that is the feat the Bombers have now achieved and they have very much cemented themselves as Premiership favourites.
They are still prone to brief periods of looking genuinely abject by their regular standards – the type of football they played during the first 10 minutes will not want to rear its ugly head too often, as it did during the first half against Grafton United in round 9, the last 20 minutes against Northern Storm in round 6 and the last 20 minutes against Coffs Coast Tigers in round 3 – but most of the side are still young and will no doubt develop in this area as mental strength, resilience and unwavering focus only grow with maturity.
The catchup game on Wednesday night against the Raiders would provide them with another opportunity to underscore those credentials, as the Raiders were the only side they had not yet faced in the season thus far. Another three points against a top contender would make the Bombers’ lead atop the ladder even more imposing, to the point that it would necessitate quite some collapse for their position at the summit to be relinquished.
It seems the Lions can quite comfortably account for any side in the competition this season not named Boambee. Over 270 minutes of football against the Bombers in 2018 – one FFA Cup game and two NCF regular season encounters – they have conceded twelve goals while scoring just four. Those figures don’t exactly make for flattering reading and there will be a concerted effort within the Lions camp to ensure there is no case of Groundhog Day come finals time.
Another home game this weekend – as part of a run of five straight 5pm Saturday games including four at Forsyth Park – in the local derby against Coffs Coast Tigers will offer Williams’ men a chance to kick start another winning streak. Barring a major disaster out of the Bombers camp, the gap – three points with one more game played – appears difficult to overhaul now for the Lions, who could find themselves ahead of the Raiders on goal difference only should the Raiders win their game in hand. Each game is now more crucial than ever for the red and black in order to avoid slipping yet another place down the pecking order.
Grafton United vs Westlawn Tigers
United were as jubilant as ever after returning home from Polwarth Drive last week with all three points, in doing so securing a home and away double over Coffs Coast Tigers – the first double over a Coffs based team, or any team for that matter, at Premier League level in the club’s history. They would take on Tigers of a different kind this weekend as they returned home to Rushforth Park to contest a Clarence derby with even more on the line than usual.
Westlawn were ever so close to nabbing a result at Polwarth Drive too, as they slipped to the narrowest of defeats a week earlier in round 9. Ultimately falling 4-3, their chance to get back on the park and clear the cobwebs out in round 10 was then snatched from them as inclement weather saw the scheduled fixture against Urunga Raiders at Barnier Park washed out before a ball was kicked. They made the short trip to Rushforth Park full of confidence after managing a 4-4 draw with United earlier in the season at Back Lane, and hoped to go one better this time around to close the gap to just 5 points between them and their Clarence rivals.
James Craig and Andrew Durrington were drafted into the starting lineup for Grafton as Nathan Daniels and Ali Irving dropped to the bench. Selwyn King was promoted from a substitute role into the XI as Dan Gavin made way, and Hung ‘Tony’ Phung secured a bench spot at the expense of Josh Patterson and Corey Ford. For the away side, Riley Keogh and Jordan Newman were promoted from the bench for the unavailable Anthony Wall and Luke Shipman, with Nicholas Lavender and Balla Traoré being drafted in as additional substitutes in a 14 man squad.
In conditions described by home coach Scott Elphic as ‘blooming cold’, it was the away side who got things underway most positively and had the run of play for the first 20 minutes of football. Early in the piece, Zac Benfield and Riley Keogh combined with an overlapping run down the right flank, with a cutback finding Sam ‘Pogba’ Brien at the top of the box. Brien drove the ball home to give Tigers the lead and there was a very positive feeling amongst the squad that a result might well be on the cards.
Westlawn captain-coach James Joyce said his men continued to fashion chances, building attacking plays both through the middle of the park and up the wings. A combination of excellent desperation defence from United, quality keeping from Matt McMahon and profligate finishing from the Tigers strikers meant that the men in yellow failed to convert their period of dominance into anything more than a solitary goal advantage. As is typical of the game of football, sides who fail to take their chances are punished harshly, and it wasn’t long before United did just that to the Westlawn boys.
Lumping a long ball between the Westlawn backs and goalkeeper, a moment of miscommunication allowed winger Wylie Tynan to squeeze through the gap and slot the ball home to equalise for the men in purple. The away side refused to drop their heads though, and responded well to the setback, continuing to create high quality opportunities to steal a march on the United defence and recapture the lead but failing each time to apply the decisive finishing touch. A looping shot from range by United on the counter clattered into the right hand post, but precocious custodian Charlie ‘Buckets’ Moar insisted to his coach that he had it covered all along and it was a case of good management rather than good luck.
Whatever the case may have been, the two sets of Clarence combatants went to the break with the score deadlocked at 1-1. The half time team talks were a tail of two approaches. The home sheds saw an animated Elphic going over the team task just as he does each week, and running through his customary white board statistics. Once Elphic had covered the main points, midfielder Nathan Daniels asked if he could say a few words, and promptly delivered an impassioned speech of his own. Elphic was immensely encouraged to see one of his players stepping up and said it was ‘awesome to see him getting the guys amped up’. Joyce on the other hand encouraged his boys to replicate the style and level of the first 45, feeling the chances would come as the law of averages came to be.
United responded well to Elphic’s top secret ‘three phase’ half time discussion system and realised what they were and weren’t doing, launching a few shots from range to test Moar and win some corners. One of these corners resulted in a well taken header from Ethan Piper finding its way into the net to give the home side the lead. The hunger to win every loose ball and regain possession as soon as it was lost was very evident among the purple horde, who occasionally spilled just over the line of what referee Reynolds considered acceptable and were issued with four yellow tickets throughout the game to their opponents’ zero.
Westlawn responded in excellent fashion to the adversity though, and Joyce said his side ‘did well to maintain patience, though on occasion [they] were drawn into playing too directly which played into [the hands of] United’s defence’. The flip side of this approach was that the midfield was freed up and the Tigers central players were able to push forwards with intent. They worked hard to try and find the equaliser and created more than enough opportunities to take all three points on another day. That McMahon was a strong candidate for man of the match was telling, and ultimately the result largely came down to Westlawn’s inability to convert attacking pressure into scoreboard dominance rather than a case of being on the back foot.
Elphic, on the other hand, remained enthused by the display from his men, who he said were ‘pulling off passes and combos that [they] were training on for so long, [which was] so so good to see’. As the clock wound down late in the second half and United were low on fuel, Elphic urged his men, ‘Dig in guys, pick up the tempo, let’s go!’ and indeed they refused to take their collective foot off the gas pedal right until the final whistle. On this occasion, it was not Elphic pacing the technical area like a caged lion but rather his fellow backroom staff in Chris Piper and Andrew Collen. After the Reserve Grade side had secured their first win of 2018, it was another three points in the bank for Premier League boys, who quite impressively still hold a top four position in the competition after 11 games played.
Ahead of this weekend’s home game against Maclean, United will have to deal with a new challenge entirely – the weight of expectation. By now well accustomed to being underdogs and having local football critics continue to write them off and prophesise their imminent demise, the concept of now being expected to perform well week in week out is something altogether different than anything these boys have encountered thus far. Maclean will provide a stern test, and were able to put United to the sword last time the two met at Wherrett Park, so Elphic and his men will have some work to do if they are to gain the ascendancy in that particular matchup.
Joyce said his main takeaway from the game was that his boys need to continue playing their own style of football, but with an added focus on being clinical in terms of their execution in front of goal. They will need to take every chance on offer if they are to snag a result this weekend, as they travel to The Cove to take on Northern Storm Thunder – a team who swept them aside 3-0 at Barnier Park in round 5. The chance of making finals now is barely mathematical for the Tigers and the rest of their season will be primarily about both pride and improvement on the park, and the great aspects about this side are that there is already talent within the ranks, and that these players are malleable and will continue to get better and better. The longer they spend together as a playing group and the more they develop their own footballing identity – something they have already begun with aplomb – the greater a threat they will pose to the competition’s top sides.
Urunga Raiders vs Northern Storm Thunder
The Raiders were clamouring to get back out on the park and put their disappointing away defeat to Coffs United behind them, having been denied the opportunity to do so last week at Back Lane against Westlawn in a fixture that was washed out due to a waterlogged pitch. Craig Simpson – serving a touchline ban after the events at Forsyth Park, with Luca Paolacci, Paul Pomroy and Tom Campbell instead marshalling the technical area – and his men had looked less convincing this campaign than the dominance and surgical precision they have exhibited in previous years, but were continuing to get the points on the board in most of the tight ones. 2-1 and 1-0 wins over the Bobcats and 3-2 and 2-0 wins over Coffs Coast Tigers and Grafton respectively were all games that could have gone either way, but the Raiders were consistently coming out on top when it counted and would have been installed as justifiable favourites ahead of this one against Northern Storm, particularly having already beaten them 4-1 at Korora in round four.
The Thunder were equally keen to banish the demons of round 10, where they fell 4-0 to the Lions on an afternoon where nothing really worked out in their favour. A powerful round 8 and 9 diptych of 5-1 destructions over Grafton United and Maclean seemed to suggest Jade Porter’s troops were finally primed and ready to consolidate a position in the top four and push for higher honours, but the mood out of the Storm camp seemed slightly more crestfallen after the magnitude of the Lions defeat. The Raiders would prove another stern test, particularly at their home ground – the infamous Cabbage Patch, which has become a veritable fortress over the years – but the three points on offer were not ones the Thunder could afford to kiss goodbye.
The home side made a few changes after the Lions game, Jordan Tree making way for veteran defender Jaxen Heward while Ben Dooley and Joel Teece were replaced by Jack Martin and Cale Simmonds. James Power was replaced by Dylan Wellington and Grant Homes was also drafted into an extended 15 man squad. Storm swapped goalkeepers once again as Felix Sinzinkayo came back in for Josh Harrigan, while the unavailability of Tristan Albert meant the talented Otis Barney was unleashed in a starting role. Grant Scully returned to the starting XI in lieu of John Omtha, who dropped back to the bench.
From the moment the ball was first kicked at Morgo Street, it was evident for all and sundry that this was not going to be a game decided by any great margin – a midfield tussle early on setting the tone for two sides constantly battling for every possible scrap of possession and attempting to fashion a shot on goal from the smallest of gaps. Clear cut chances were indeed at a premium and if anything it was probably the away side who looked the more likely.
The goalkeeping effort on display from the Raiders’ Lee Kennedy was something to behold as he denied the Storm attackers on a number of occasions. There were strong shouts for penalties at both ends, but only the home side were fortunate enough to be awarded one by referee Jason Hillier, which Kale Hopper coolly converted to hand the maroon men the lead. It was otherwise a refreshingly non-tempestuous afternoon of football as only a solitary yellow card was issued – to Storm midfielder Mykel Watson – over the course of the afternoon.
The Storm coaching staff felt aggrieved at the way things had panned out, particularly once the final whistle was blown and the strike from 12 yards proved to be the only thing separating the two teams, but the men in white had given an excellent account of themselves at one of the toughest venues in the competition to take points. Porter remained optimistic despite the tough to swallow nature of the result, and says his outfit will ‘look to carry and better [their] level over the coming weeks, which [will] prove very important if [they] are to run with the bulls come semis’.
They will look to right the ship this weekend as they return home to The Cove to host Westlawn Tigers, having defeated the same opposition by a convincing 3-0 margin the last time the sides met at Back Lane in round 5. Not only will the three points be absolutely essential if the Thunder are to maintain a credible finals charge, but goal difference could prove an important extra factor as they sit dead even with the side directly above them – Maclean Bobcats – on -2 at this point in the season, with one more game played.
The Raiders continue to eek out results without exerting their customary level of dominance in general play, and with just a four day turnaround to their next fixture against the ladder leading Boambee Bombers at the Patch on the following Wednesday evening, they would need to improve that facet in short order if they were to maintain the fortress status of Morgo Street and see off the competition’s strongest side.
Resolute defence would certainly need to be on the menu to keep an attack currently tracking at exactly 5 goals a game – 45 from 9 – at bay, and Simpson would no doubt have been drilling his men relentlessly on those structures and how to counter the varied threats of Messrs Parker, France and Penny on the training paddock in the lead up.
Urunga Raiders vs Boambee Bombers
The Raiders collected another three points on the weekend against Northern Storm, but they could barely consider themselves the better side in a game the Storm could easily have won. Though they remained in the hunt for the Premiership as far as the points tally was concerned, a run of largely unconvincing performances meant that they had won only one match by more than a one goal margin – a 2-0 home victory over Grafton United – since April, and just three in 10 games total. They have looked like the type of side who will make every game close though, no matter the standard of opposition, and particularly at the Patch they are very tough to beat, having not dropped a game there all season thus far.
Shane Duncan’s Bombers look every bit Premiership favourites and headed into this midweek fixture with Urunga looming as perhaps the final frontier of their regular season campaign as far as proving their credentials was concerned, having played every other club already and defeated all comers bar the plucky Northern Storm Thunder, with whom they drew 2-2. A win over the Raiders would cap an impressive week travelling to the home grounds of their two closest Premiership contenders and taken all points on offer, so motivating these Bombers was hardly going to be a difficult task.
Craig Simpson returned to the dugout for the Raiders, having served his one match touchline ban, and occupied a place on the bench in a 15 man squad. Tim Rupprecht was unavailable and Jack Martin was dropped to the bench, with youngsters Aaron Searle and Joe Soergel coming into the starting lineup to replace them. Josh McGovern was named on the bench for the first time this season. Boambee named an unchanged XI from the strong win over Coffs at McLean Street, with the solitary change to the 15 coming in the form of a first naming of the season for Jamie Newling of the bench in place of Darby Sherrin, though both players were ultimately unused substitutes in each game.
On a lively surface under lights, the away side started the more positive and within a quarter of an hour had the opener. A long ball from Jake Stitt found Brady Parker on the left, who controlled the ball nicely and cut it square for Christian Penny at the back stick. The Raiders’ Jake Leslie lunged for the ball at full stretch but could only help it into Penny’s path, and the chrome domed assassin made no mistake to put the Bombers up 1-0.
Another 15 minutes of play elapsed and Parker launched a long range daisycutter that Lee Kennedy could only parry onto the right post. Penny picked up the scraps on the right flank and knocked it back to former Urungan Nick ‘Rooster’ O’Mullane who had floated up from right back. ‘Rooster’ played a pearl of a ball into the box off his right foot and Lachie Moye timed his jump just right to beat the Urunga defence and the poorly positioned Kennedy.
There is an old football adage that 2-0 leads are the hardest to defend and so it proved for the Bombers. With around 38 minutes on the clock, the Raiders advanced up the right flank and cut the ball right across goal to Kale Hopper who was stationed wide on the left. A clever turn inside from Hopper left Mitch Brewster all at sea and with all four members of the Bombers defensive line marking nothing but the chilly night air, Hopper unleashed a perfectly placed strike off his right foot into the bottom right hand corner from the edge of the box, sailing past the outstretched left paw of Stitt. The deficit had been halved and the onus was back on the Bombers to get on the front foot again and move things forward.
That they did, though, as a lofted Parker corner with just a minute or so left in the half could not be cleared by the Raiders defence, as one hapless fullback could only pass the ball directly to Luke France in what would up the other end of the park be a perfectly weighted assist. Unfortunately for the defender, there were no such plaudits as France thumped the ball into the back of the net emphatically off the outside of his right foot, with Ben Dooley’s acrobatic attempt to block the shot only helping it into the top corner.
At half time, the Bombers led 3-1 and the Raiders had quite a mountain to climb. The second stanza was barely a couple of minutes old, however, and the home side had won a free kick in a promising position, just outside the box. Cometh the hour, cometh the man – the talismanic Hopper stepped up to the plate and deposited a perfectly placed strike into the top left corner past a seemingly unsighted Stitt to reduce the deficit once again. It was game on and suddenly any outcome seemed possible once again.
It shaped as a highly entertaining second half of football, and that it was, both sides going toe to toe as the men in maroon desperately pursued the equaliser and the visitors looked to put the result beyond doubt. Several chances went close but both goalkeepers were in fine fettle during the game’s latter stages. There was a brief scare for the Bombers as Parker was taken out by a stray but unintentional knee to the head from Hopper, but he was deemed fit to continue. Both teams were well disciplined with not a single caution being awarded by referee Dave Connor over the course of the entire match.
Ultimately, neither side could find another and the final outcome was a narrow Bombers win. An away win of any magnitude at the Patch is an impressive feat and the boys from Boambee have now claimed two big scalps on the road inside a week of football. The results have impacted the complexion of the ladder in a massive way, with the Bombers now leading by three points from their nearest rivals in the Lions, with a game in hand, and six from the Raiders, who have played the same amount. They are a virtual two games ahead after eleven rounds and with a vastly superior goal difference to both the other contenders. The men in white will play the Raiders again on Sunday at Ayrshire Park, and would perhaps expect to be able to open the gap up even further and take steps towards effectively putting the Premiership race to bed with half a season still to go.
Some soul searching is probably in order for the Raiders – although the margin of defeat was narrow on the night, they would not have been banking upon dropping points at home and they will need to improve very quickly if they are to reverse the result at Ayrshire Park on Sunday. There are some experienced cattle within the ranks who will be able to guide the youngsters through the tough times and show them what title contendership is really made of, and even if they don’t come away with the chocolates on Sunday afternoon, one would be foolish to write off a side with such a long and storied pedigree of success in local senior football. Expect them still to feature right near the top of the pile come September and write a few more chapters of the 2018 story.