Around the Clubs

Men’s Premier League Roundup – Round 17

August 1st, 2018

By Tim Klingbiel

Westlawn come up with the goods as Storm fight out draw, Boambee march on towards Premiership and Craig suffers horrific injury for United.

MACLEAN BOBCATS 0

BOAMBEE BOMBERS 1

(SATURDAY)

It was no exaggeration to say this weekend was do or die in the context of the Bobcats’ season. Coming in off three losses on the bounce, each of which got progressively worse – 3-1 to the Lions, 4-0 to the Raiders and then 5-0 to Northern Storm – it was a form slump that Dennis Mavridis and his men in green were very keen to arrest, and they now faced the possibility, should they fail to pick up a point in back to back games against ladder leaders Boambee on Saturday and Sunday, of falling quite a substantial distance behind the fourth placed Thunder with just four rounds of football remaining.

The Bombers remained full of confidence and were yet to taste defeat in 2018. The double dose of Bobcats action presented them with an opportunity of a different kind – a chance to build a handy lead atop the ladder and take significant strides towards sealing up the Premiership with a month of football remaining – though they would be wise not to take the challenge lightly. Shane Duncan’s men have rarely found the going easy against the Bobcats in recent times, and the Wherrett Park denizens almost always prove a very tough out for the white and maroon.

Sean Potter was promoted to the starting lineup for the Bobcats in favour of Cullyn Stewart-Butcher, while the late scratching of Ben Arndell meant Nick Potente also got a start. The remainder of the squad was identical to last week’s lineup against the Thunder at the Cove. For the Bombers, Josh McIntosh returned and replaced Darby Sherrin in what was perhaps the youngest backline ever fielded in Premier League last weekend – Sherrin, Sam Crampton, Brandon Wyatt and Travis Lee – while Mitch Brewster’s return meant Jamie Newling made way in midfield. Ben Payne and Tom Frewen, both substitutes last weekend, were squeezed out of the matchday squad by the returning personnel.

The home side looked strong in the opening exchanges and were positive both with and without the football, but it took just 15 minutes for Bombers midfielder Lachie Moye to breach the green wall and deliver the opener for the visitors. The Bobcats refused to let the early set back deter them, despite early conceded goals being a common problem for them throughout the campaign, and got back to the task with aplomb. Both teams were looking to get into attacking areas early and the Bobcats created a couple of decent chances through Luke Hanlon, who blasted his shot wide of the mark, and Frazer Marsh, whose shot was adroitly parried by Stitt for a corner.

For the Bombers, the attacking trident of Parker, France and Penny – the latter two rather amusingly dubbed ‘beard guy and shaved head guy’ by the home coach – were constantly looking a threat and it took some great goalkeeping from Maclean custodian Alex Moffitt, combined with a few wayward shots from distance, to deny them. Both sides were scrambling well in defence and ultimately they went to the sheds at 1-0 and with the game still well and truly in the balance.

The second stanza saw the game open up somewhat though neither side were able to effectively capitalise on some strong efforts in patiently building up attacks. Mavridis observed that it wasn’t until the final quarter of an hour that opportunities finally started to present themselves. The Bobcats appeared to have created a major turning point in the game as an incursion into the box resulted in what the home fans vociferously believed to be a blatant handball, however referee Jason Hillier adjudged that there was nothing doing and waved away the Maclean cries. Mavridis was most aggrieved and received his marching orders shortly afterwards, meaning John Allen would take up the lead coaching role for the remainder of the match and the reverse fixture the following day.

In the game’s dying minutes, the Bombers had two great opportunities to kill things off through Parker and France, though both managed to shank their strikes wide with the goal at their mercy on each occasion. Very late on, a superb volley from Sean Potter looked goalbound but was smartly intercepted by the head of a Bombers defender. The Bobcats then had one final chance to snatch a draw right at the death, as Jarrod Doyle found himself unmarked in acres of space at the back stick only to see his header sail agonisingly wide. The whistle was blown and the Bombers had claimed a nailbiter 1-0.

The narrow victory meant the Bombers would enter Sunday’s reverse fixture as stronger favourites, with the home ground advantage coming into play and the stamina levels of their young charges perhaps becoming even more of a factor after wearing the Bobcats down in a tough scrap where both sides had to fight and sweat for every ball on the afternoon. With news of the Lions’ result coming through later in the evening, they now knew they had an opportunity to blow their lead out to eight points at the summit with another win, and that margin would prove incredibly imposing for the chasing pack with only four weekends to go before finals.

The Bobcats on the other hand would have been bitterly disappointed at being on the wrong end of the scoreboard, having shown their mettle and gone toe to toe with the competition leaders only to fall by the narrowest of margins. The spirited and accomplished nature of their display in footballing terms will count for nought and that will hurt, particularly with points accrual absolutely paramount in the battle for finals positions at the business end of the season. Mavridis described it as ‘a very entertaining and quality game’ but he was understandably frustrated by the way things had played out for his side. They would have to pick themselves up and dust themselves off quickly to regroup and atone the following day on their southward journey.

COFFS CITY UNITED LIONS 1

NORTHERN STORM 1

The Lions had built up a head of steam again and looked a force to be reckoned with, though the last time they met Northern Storm at Forsyth Park, they were mere minutes away from tasting defeat until sharpshooter Gum Mayak bailed them out with the latest of braces to snatch all three points on a cold and rainy evening. Glen Williams’ men are perhaps the competition’s most adept side at emerging on the right side of the ledger when they have their backs to the wall, and judging by the recent form of their opponents, they would need to call upon those attributes and that innate mental strength within the DNA of the club if they were to continue their winning run.

Two out of the Thunder’s last three games were about as impressive as it gets – a 6-0 thrashing of Coffs Coast Tigers and a 5-0 evisceration of the Bobcats, both at home, showed the potential within this side and put their finals credentials on striking display. That those two imperious performances were sandwiched with a scoreless draw against Grafton United away at Rushforth Park, though, spoke of the inconsistency that has dogged them throughout the campaign and perhaps explained why they currently lie in fourth position and not even higher up the ladder. They seem to aim up for away games against the Lions possibly even more than any other fixture on the calendar, though, and Jade Porter and his troops had the utmost conviction that they were a massive chance for the points on this occasion.

For the Lions, Jyelei McKell dropped to the bench in favour of the returning Alex Douglass, while Alik Santiago replaced the absent Caleb Lokpo, though the remainder of the XI were otherwise unchanged from the one who defated the Raiders last weekend at the Patch. Callan Allsop came on to the bench ahead of Abdul Kalifa. The Thunder made two changes to the side that faced Maclean last weekend – regular starters Mykel Watson and Beajay Wendt were both missing and were replaced by John Omtha – facing his former club for the first time in Premier League competition – and Jordan Wildman – on his first ever Premier League start for Storm. Otis Barney was edged out of the 15 man matchday squad in favour of Keiran Clerke and Matt Parkins.

The Thunder appeared very much in the mood for the occasion and opened the scoring through Jamie Kennedy. Both sides were giving as good as they got in a high intensity encounter, and the home side managed to equalise through Addisen Mallett. All 22 men on the field were going hammer and tong for the remainder of the contest in an attempt to find the crucial breakthrough, and not a single substitute was made over the entirety of the game by either side.

As the clock wound down in the second half, Porter decided to impart some tactical advice on his men, urging them to defend stoutly rather than going all out for the win and risking defeat, as Maclean’s result earlier in the afternoon had meant that a point was more important for the Thunder than anything else. Porter said his men did a great job of sticking to the task and indeed they were able to block the home side out and secure the draw despite still having some positive attacking moments of their own.

Storm midfielder Omtha believes his team have a good core unit and work hard for each other, which he says is an essential factor in their success. Omtha described it as a very intense game and said he very much enjoyed being a part of it, feeling like his side could certainly have taken all three points based on their performance and the amount of pressure they put on their opponents.

Coach Porter echoed these sentiments, and was encouraged to see the squad’s depth come into play with some cattle out. Porter’s own summation – ‘in another tight battle it was pleasing to see the boys toe to toe with [the Lions] and the game could have gone either way’ – was fair and such is the confidence within the playing group that the draw came as little surprise despite their opponents being more fancied and playing at home. There was a great sense of discipline about the performance, as not a single Thunder player received a caution on the evening and errors were few and far between across the park.

They will have their work cut out for them this weekend against the Raiders at home, though not only are the Thunder in a rich vein of form but the Raiders have also hit a rare rough patch of two consecutive defeats including to the highly unfancied Westlawn Tigers at home in round 17. Perhaps the timing may be just right for the perfect storm to come together and make the path to finals that much easier for the men from Plantain Road.

Williams would no doubt have been less than effusive when analysing the game with his troops in the sheds post-game. The result, combined with Boambee’s successful weekend, leaves them marooned eight points behind the Bombers with just four games to go and at this point it would take an act of god to deliver another Lions Premiership. Of course, more bizarre things have happened before, but the reality of the matter is that the focus will more than likely have shifted to tightening up their game to get battle ready for finals as that is their most feasible route to making a tilt at silverware.

Next week’s encounter at Ayrshire Park with the ladder leaders offers the Lions a rare opportunity at atonement, having lost on both previous meetings with the Bombers by an aggregate total of 9-3. It’s not often that the Lions run into such a quandary, but a win this weekend would go a long way to covering over the scars of those previous defeats and would create a major shift in the battle for mental ascendancy heading into a likely finals matchup.

GRAFTON UNITED 1

COFFS COAST TIGERS 2

The men in purple had run a gauntlet in recent weeks, facing all of the competition’s top four sides and claiming just a solitary point – in a scoreless home draw with Northern Storm – from that cluster of fixtures. They hosted Coffs Coast Tigers this time around in a genuine six pointer – with United on 14 points and Tigers on 13, the victor would essentially catapult themselves back into finals contention while the loser could all but kiss their top four aspirations goodbye. Scott Elphic and his men have exhibited commitment for each other, conviction to the team task and the bigger picture plan, and a liberal helping of steely resolve throughout the campaign thus far, and each of those assets would need to be as strong as ever if they were to claim the points against a very evenly matched side.

Despite coming out on the wrong end of both of their previous meetings with United so far this season, Tigers were looking more confident this time around after reversing their lengthy streak of defeats in emphatic fashion last week. Having gone down 2-0 early at Barnier Park, the men in orange and black put the locals to the sword and ultimately sent out a statement in a 5-2 victory that they were not done just yet. A second consecutive Clarence trip awaited, and Felipe Barrera and his men were all too aware that every match from here on in would be nothing short of must win if they were to give themselves a chance of an unlikely finals appearance.

United’s Selwyn King was forced to sit out for another week after his straight red card against Northern Storm in round 15, though they were able to welcome back regular keeper Matt McMahon – which allowed Wylie Tynan to revert to his regular outfield role, in turn replacing Mick Fox. Nathan Daniels replaced Ryan Earp while Josh Patterson, Mick Unley and Jon Collen were replaced on the bench by Hung ‘Tony’ Phung and Jarred Illic in a trim 14 man squad. For the visitors, Josh Guy returned to the XI and forced Somchai Tha to the bench, while Mark Ifrah and the elusive aspiring mattress tester ‘Squeezo’ were dropped in favour of Matt Guyatt in an equally lean 14 man squad.

The game started at a frantic pace and it was the away side who were able to draw first blood, scoring early through Innocent David after some good build up play out wide. Both teams went blow for blow in a game where Barrera knew his men ‘had to put it all on the line and play [their] best football’. As the intensity of the encounter grew, so did the tough, physical challenges, and on one particularly unfortunate occasion, Tom Mitchell and James Craig came together with a thunderous clap and both men appeared to be in excruciating pain. Heartbreakingly, Craig’s leg was broken in the tackle and with no available ambulances in Grafton, he was forced to wait on the field for 45 minutes until one arrived from nearby Maclean. Elphic says that as of Tuesday morning he was recovering well in hospital and the local footballing community wishes him all the best.

Upon the resumption of play, Barrera said the home side were approaching the contest with a newfound sense of purpose in the wake of their fallen comrade’s fate, and they pressured the Tigers defence on repeated occasions. Barrera admitted they were unlucky not to equalise in the remaining 13 minutes before half time. With both sides still clearly shocked by what had transpired, Barrera urged his men to lift and play better football if they were ultimately to come away with the win. Striker Jake Mahoney was substituted in favour of Somchai Tha, who was moved out to the wing with Josh Guy being elevated to a new role up top.

Early in the second half, Guy was able to make a crucial and almost immediate impact, smartly finishing off a move that started down the left flank to double his side’s advantage. At 2-0 up, confidence was breeding through the side and they began to hold the ball better, creating a few more opportunities without being able to score. United steadily dragged themselves back into the contest, however, and began to create some chances of their own. With just two minutes on the clock, United fed in a well executed corner and Nathan Daniels was on hand to convert and halve his side’s deficit. They were unlucky not to grab a near miraculous equaliser with just seconds of play remaining and had Tigers very much on tenterhooks as the game drew to a close.

Ultimately it was the men from West Coffs who came away with the chocolates in what Barrera described as ‘a hard fought battle by both sides with a bittersweet ending for us due to the injury to James’. They will finish their season with four straight home games, but face tough opposition – fifth, second, third and fourth place – and will need to not only maintain their winning streak right through to the end, but also hope other results go their way if they are to qualify for finals. They host Maclean in yet another do or die clash at 2pm on Sunday.

Slumping to their fourth defeat in their last five and sapped of morale as a result of the horrific injury to Craig, United will have a tough task ahead of them to regroup now and with just four games remaining and a seven point and 43 goal gap to make up to the fourth placed Storm, the finals dream would appear to finally be all but over. That said, they have had a stellar campaign and have another opportunity to impress this weekend as they take on the buoyant Westlawn Tigers at Junction Hill, fighting for local pride in a Clarence derby that may well be the most highly anticipated yet.

URUNGA RAIDERS 2

WESTLAWN TIGERS 3

The Raiders had looked better than ever in round 15 as they cast aside the Bobcats at Barry Watts Oval in a genuinely accomplished performance that yielded a 4-0 result. Elements of that dominating style of football were still on display last week against the Lions, in a game that represented their final realistic opportunity to overhaul those opponents and claim second spot on the ladder, but the men from Morgo Street were a trifle unlucky to come out on the wrong end of a 3-2 scoreline. Returning coach Craig Simpson would need to do everything in his power to prevent his men from suffering a hangover as a result of seeing second position all but slip away at the business end of the season, and the visiting Westlawn Tigers represented a more credible threat than many had initially believed.

They may not have received the credit they are due – as their results have hardly reflected the strength of their performances on most occasions – but the young Westlawn Tigers side, helmed by experienced defender and veritable club stalwart James Joyce, have been impressive on several occasions this season. The results will come with experience, but for now they have been patient in focusing on developing a brand of football that is wholly their own, opting to play within a system and philosophy where each and every player is a vital cog in a larger machine rather than simply shutting up shop and parking the bus, or alternatively lumping long balls up the park in a kick and hope brand of bush football worthy of lower divisions. It seemed only a matter of time until the verve and panache of the Junction Hill side would pay dividends in terms of the scoreline, something that very nearly showed through in their incredible fightback to draw 4-4 with the Bobcats a couple of weeks back.

The Raiders put a new look squad out on the park due to several absences – regular custodian Lee Kennedy, and three of last week’s back four – Jake Leslie, Henry Gale and Jaxen Heward – were all out, so Matt Smith, James Power, Aaron Wolfe and returning player-coach Simpson slotted into the side in their places. Aaron Searle also swapped with Joe Soergel, while Darcy McGlashan and Emar Foran were replaced on the bench by Tom Rixon and the returning Tim Rupprecht. Tigers named an identical XI to last week’s defeat against Coffs Coast Tigers, though they were able to welcome back Jesse Benfield from suspension – despite his brother Zac still missing for the same reason – and he took up a place on the bench ahead of Harry Vidler. Luke Shipman and Balla Traoré were also replaced on the pine by Isaac Huxley and Will Pollock.

Joyce said from the outset he was conscious of the nightmare start his men had experienced on their previous trip to the Patch, where they were three goals down inside the first 15, so the focus revolved around ‘needing to implement a solid structure in the backline and then push that through to midfield’. This approach paid early dividends, as the Raiders were forced to play long balls in order to break the lines, and the Tigers defence, as well as Charlie ‘Buckets’ Moar between the sticks, were accomplished in dealing with that threat.

This pattern of play allowed for better quality ball to land in the five man midfield and to an extent the solitary man up top, and the travellers were looking to penetrate the Raiders backline whenever possible. Joyce said there was ‘a solid battle waged through the midfield, with both teams creating their best chances once the ball was won in this area’. Some dogged work in the midfield by Sam ‘Savage’ Brien allowed the away side to win a free kick, with Michael Allen slotting the resultant cross with a sumptuous header at the back post to hand the men in yellow an early lead.

The Raiders looked somewhat shell-shocked by the early developments, but refused to take their eyes of the prize in terms of general play, and before long they were able to fashion some chances at the other end. A string of corners saw them fail to convert on each occasion, and the momentum then swung back to the Junction Hill warriors. Of particular note, said Joyce, was ‘a punch counter attack down [their] left flank which put Nathan Grayson one on one, only to have his scuffed shot deflect off the toes of the wrong footed keeper’. Tigers were able to preserve their lead and take a 1-0 margin into the sheds. Joyce eschewed emotional platitudes and rejected any sort of discussion on the magnitude of the opportunity that lay ahead, preferring a more generalized discussion around the things that were working well and the areas that needed tweaking – and of course, some gentle, playful ribbing of Grayson for his recent finishing profligacy.

The home side emerged from the break with renewed vigour, approaching the contest with greater intensity and adopting a few positional changes that took the visitors some time to adapt to. The Raiders were keeping possession well early on and linking passes much better than they had in the opening stanza. Additionally, Joyce noted that they ‘were pressing higher up the park, which resulted in a bit more ball turnover from [Tigers] in the backline’. Indeed, the Clarence side were punished when they failed to pressure the Urunga winger after he had expertly kept the ball in play from Tigers’ lost ball further up the park. The ball was distributed well to Kale Hopper, who held off three defenders and created just enough space to rifle the ball into the bottom left corner of the net.

There was an almost palpable feeling that the tide had turned, and with Urunga playing good football as well as creating chances and ramping up the pressure on the Westlawn backline, the onus was on the travelers to stay in the fight. Joyce gave full credit to his men for doing just that, though, as they saw out a tough period and started to find space down the Raiders’ right flank as the maroon men committed numbers forward. They began utilising this outlet to good effect and they recaptured the ascendancy with some decent attacking opportunities of their own. The solid defensive effort of the Tigers was being matched by their ability to get forward in numbers, and when a break down the left was driven to the centre of the park, the overlapping Brien proved himself an assist maestro as he cut the ball back to Tom ‘Helmet’ Westman who slotted the ball past the stationary Smith between the sticks.

Having gone down once again, the Raiders were less than pleased, and piled on the pressure over the final 20 minutes of play. They pushed forward with numbers but the chances they were creating were largely of a scrappy nature. Hopper was able to squirm free on one occasion but could only hit the post, and having won a few corners and failed to convert, they began to grow rather frustrated. With just three minutes remaining, however, some strong work from the Raiders’ Aaron Searle, whose mazy dribble into the box through some broken Westlawn defence brought about a deflection that was adjudged to have been handled, earnt his side a penalty. Joyce deemed it ‘disastrous for [Westlawn], but deserved by Urunga for the weight of effort they had put in offensively’. Hopper stepped up and made no mistake, converting calmly into the bottom right corner to level proceedings with time expiring.

It would have been easy for Westlawn to get all hands on deck at the back and resign to holding for a draw, but that sort of mentality is not in the DNA of this side, who are as proactive as one will find in the competition and refuse to back down for any opponent. They continued to push forward, as did the Raiders, and a frantic final three minutes saw both sides with chances to claim victory. ‘Turtle’ Simpson had a great chance for the home side, but could only push the ball wide at range with Moar advancing on him. The visitors retained their discipline throughout the firestorm, staying out of referee Jack Schafer’s book for the entirety of the game, in contrast to the home side’s three yellow cards.

A cross from a free kick was volleyed wide by Tigers, then another free kick was awarded to them in the dying stages. Allen was again on the receiving end at the back post, and this time opted to head across goals towards an advancing trio of Westlawn players. Ultimately it was Brien who got his head to the ball and buried a tap in to restore the advantage for the travelers. Mad scenes abounded from the dedicated band of away supporters, but the Raiders still weren’t quite done. Pushing forward into the box, a cross found Hopper, on a hat trick, who came ever so close to getting free from some tight defence, only to be met with a last minute tackle that deflected the ball out for a corner. With that, the curtain was brought down on one of the season’s most exciting games and surely its biggest upset thus far.

The result was a true watershed moment for the Tigers club, and it is nothing less than they have deserved after a string of positive and proactive performances this campaign without just reward in terms of points. Their advancement is now tangible – that ‘1’ in the win column representing so much more than a mere three points – and the outcome of Sunday’s trip to Morgo Street may well prove the catalyst for an added layer of belief within this squad.

Whenever the chips are down going forward, they can look back to this game knowing they are capable of mixing it with even the competition’s most decorated sides. It’s easy to say that in theory, but now they have hard proof behind that mantra, not to mention some delightful memories to recall over beverages in the beer garden.

Whether they can repeat the trick as they return to Back Lane this weekend to host Grafton United in the Clarence derby remains to be seen, and they will need to knuckle down even more to try and convert this result into a winning run. But in any case, they’ve already created an incredible, defining moment for season 2018 that will live long in the consciousness of the Junction Hill faithful.

The Raiders will no doubt be licking their wounds but there are two sides to every story. One way to look at this result would be that a side of the Raiders’ calibre should never be letting a home game against a winless travelling outfit lie so precariously in the balance so as to render defeat even a possibility. Another is that every dog has its day and on that afternoon in particular, they ran into a side possessed who simply approached the outing with greater enthusiasm and hunger for a result, while they were done in due to a host of absentees.

Whatever way you slice it, the men in maroon failed to take a point, and even despite the Lions’ draw with Storm, they could not close the gap any further and even after factoring in their game in hand, their ten point deficit to the Lions now looks insurmountable and it would appear they will need to settle for third spot on the ladder. It’s not every day two consecutive visitors score three at the Patch and the maroon faithful will be hoping the returns of a few key personnel add some much needed defensive surety to the side.

They now turn their attentions to their nearest challengers, Northern Storm Thunder, in a trip to Korora that now shapes as even more of a potential banana skin in the light of both sides’ round 17 results. Simpson will need to motivate his men more than ever to prevent a run of defeats – even with ten points either side of them to second and fourth and essentially nothing to play for until finals football comes around, two defeats on the bounce are not something any side goes searching for and three straight may start to signal a few alarm bells at the Patch.

BOAMBEE BOMBERS 3

MACLEAN BOBCATS 1

(SUNDAY)

It was a repeat dose of Bombers and Bobcats action as the teams headed back down the highway to Ayrshire Park to run it back. After the closeness and difficulty of the previous day’s at times fiery fixture, it shaped as a potential war of attrition with both sides running on fumes. The Bombers looked to continue their roll while the Bobcats were more desperate than ever to atone and keep their season on track.

The Bombers made just one change to the starting lineup, promoting Nick ‘Rooster’ O’Mullane in the backline as Travis Lee dropped to the bench. The remainder of the substitues were identical to the trip to Wherrett Park the afternoon beforehand. The Bobcats recalled Cullyn Stewart-Butcher in favour of Riley Bender, while James Austin was rested and Ben Arndell included in the XI in his place. Matt Farrell dropped out of the matchday squad as stand-in coach John Allen – taking care of the boys in Dennis Mavridis’ suspension-induced absence – named just 14 players rather than the previous day’s 15.

It took just 12 minutes for the Bombers to take the lead, in an almost identical start to the previous day. On this occasion, Brady Parker fired what looked to be a cross in towards James Lowe at the back stick. The ‘cross’ floated with a higher degree of curvature than either Lowe or Bobcats keeper Alex Moffitt had initially anticipated, and ultimately the ball sailed into the far top corner of the net without anyone else touching it.

Parker and Luke France had each had a number of chances and had combined well, regularly looking dangerous, though Maclean were bringing themselves back into the contest and hit the woodwork on a couple of occasions. Their attackers were giving the Bombers defence a few headaches and coach Shane Duncan’s stress on the sideline was evident. Broden Hirst was eventually able to produce an equaliser for the travellers before the break, and the sides headed for oranges at 1-1 and with very little to separate them in terms of general play.

The second stanza saw stamina begin to play more of a role, as the Bombers just started to edge ahead of their northern opponents in each facet of the game. At around the 55 minute mark, an overhit back pass from France was brought down on the chest by Christian Penny, who essentially boomeranged the ball back to France. France controlled the ball on the deck, turned, found himself in far too much space, and deftly dinked a bouncing through ball over the top for the onrushing Lachie Moye who ever so exquisitely chipped it over the advancing Moffitt. The ball bounced softly into the empty net and the home side had restored their advantage.

With just under 20 minutes on the clock, Penny produced a great strike of his own and marked the occasion with a trademark backflip goal celebration. A well placed Parker corner with just five minutes to go was parried high in the air by Moffitt, and the rebound found a well positioned James Lowe at the top of the box. Lowe gleefully took it on the volley, bouncing the ball down and looping it over the scrambling Moffitt only to see it thud against the crossbar and out for a goal kick.

Full time came around and with the score at 3-1, the Bombers had claimed yet another win and kept their overwhelming run of momentum going for yet another week. They had now extended their lead atop the ladder to eight points with the same amount of games played as their nearest chasers the Lions, and with an 11 goal superior goal difference. Their defence has continued to improve and they are now just two goals off the Lions, who are statistically the best side in the league in that department. They will face that very side this weekend at Ayrshire Park in what promises to be a genuine clash of the titans, with a win to the Bombers mathematically guaranteeing them the 2018 Premiership with three rounds of football still remaining.

The Bobcats are now sitting on an eye-watering run of five straight defeats and will need to reverse that trend immediately if they are to keep their chances of finals football alive. They now sit five points behind Northern Storm who currently occupy the all important fourth position on the ladder, and will have absolutely no room for error if they are to make up that deficit. With three consecutive games ahead of them against lower ranked sides, they are still in with a shout, but will need to make sure they pick up every point on offer and hope the Thunder slip up at least twice. They travel to Polwarth Drive this weekend to take on Coffs Coast Tigers in a must win clash, having split their two previous meetings with that opposition this campaign one apiece.

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