Thistles hold onto Grand finals hopes by a thread

LISMORE Thistles hopes of a third consecutive grand final appearance will hang in the balance, when they host danger side Alstonville in the elimination semi final of Far North Coast premier league tonight.

The Blues costly 2-0 loss to Richmond Rovers on Tuesday night left them in fourth place and needing to win three sudden-death semis in a row to reach the decider again.

While Thistles have had just three days to prepare and are carrying the burden of expectation, Villa go in with a totally different mind set. Their season is already a success after achieving their long-held ambition of reaching the semis for the first time, and anything else will be a bonus.

Villa will also be fresh after more than a week off since their impressive 6-0 win over Goonellabah, leaving coach Mark Ambler quietly confident.

"The boys can relax, enjoy themselves, and play with freedom, knowing all the pressure is on Thistles," Ambler said.

With a full-strength side led by a cohesive strike force of Liam Giles, Phil Francis and Josh Cole, Villa pose a serious threat to Thistles, who could be without key playmaker Darren Beardow

The midfielder has been struggling with injury for much of the season, but the return from suspension of striker Jake Nind and central defender Matt Cramp will boost their stocks.

While Blues coach Rod Lees was disappointed by their performance against Rovers, he is confident his players still have the desire to lift for the semis.

"We know they will try and hit us with their speed up front, but having Matt back alongside Max Hospers in defence will help settle things down" Lees said.

While Thistles won their two premiership encounters, the current momentum appears to be with Villa

The winner will go on to meet the loser of tomorrow's major preliminary semi, when Richmond Rovers host Lismore Workers at 2.30pm.

Kick off tonight is 8pm.

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