The Brisbane Strikers are steeling themselves this week to fly into a football storm as they prepare for their return bout with the tetchy Far North Queensland Bulls in Mareeba.
That the match throws the Strikers, as the current league leaders, into battle against the third-placed team in the league would ordinarily be reason enough to expect fireworks. But when you add to it the fact that the Bulls are apparently still seething over the scoreline when the teams last met a fortnight ago (a 3-0 win to the Strikers), the scene is set for a contest that could ‘go off’.
The Bulls’ stand-in coach at Perry Park that night was Martin Docherty, and he made it plain in the post-match press conference that his team felt hard done by. “Three-nothing just sort of flattered them just a little bit’, Docherty said. “(But) only in the sense that just two mistakes cost us two goals. Three is not a fair reflection on the full game as far as we are concerned, anyway”.
Last weekend the Bulls bounced back to beat the Whitsunday Miners 3-0 at home, but even that effort was apparently not enough to soothe the hearts of the savage beast. Head coach Peter Tokesi, by then back in control, was quoted afterwards saying that there was “still a bit of a sour taste in our mouths” about the loss to the Strikers.
The obvious implication of these words is that the only way for the Bulls to remove that taste is to reverse the result against the team who last week went four points clear at the top of the table after beating QAS Football 4-1.
Strikers centre-half Nick Robinson said that, while he understood the Bulls’ perspective on the match the last time they met, he did not necessarily agree with it.
“I guess I can see maybe where they are coming from. In the first half it was very, very even I think – it was probably a 50-50 game in terms of possession and I think they worked the ball into some good areas, but they maybe lacked a bit of final product at times”, said Robinson.
“But in the second half I think we came out and applied ourselves very effectively and, to be honest with you, if anyone sees a video of the game I think it will be pretty clear that we dominated the second forty-five minutes. In fact, I don’t really remember them even getting out of their half too many times. So I think it’s maybe a fair call for their first half performance, but certainly in the second half I think we commanded the game and they were quite lucky to get away with 3-0, in fact”.
The Bulls should be a stronger unit this time around thanks to the availability of striker Joe Rusch and defender Alex Plowman. Rusch will pose a potent goal scoring threat alongside top scorer Jamie Carroll, while Plowman’s presence in their back line will add solidity and also a goal threat from set pieces. If the Strikers allow a full strength Bulls team to build up a head of steam on Saturday, and get a vocal home crowd behind them, they could find Borzi Park a challenging place to be.
Robinson admitted that he expected a sterner test for the Strikers as the away team.
“You’ve always got to take into consideration elements of a football match in terms of the away side having the travel and obviously not being too familiar with the surroundings”, Robinson said. “We’re going to be the ones having to deal with the travel, so there’s all those things that can maybe add to a potential banana skin if we’re not well and truly focused and concentrating on the job at hand.
“But I’m more than confident that this group of players are well and truly focused and very much know exactly what’s required of them on a weekly basis. I do anticipate a more rambunctious Bulls team – they’ll probably be a lot more up in our faces, trying to put us under pressure, and we know they’ll probably try to play at a very high tempo.
“But it’s also important that we just remain calm and remain collected and concentrate on the things that we’ve been doing well. And I think, if we do that, I’m more than confident we’ll come away from this trip with a much-needed three points”.
Robinson said that the Strikers were not expecting the Bulls to change their tactics or formation but that they were relishing the thought of having an opposition team come at them with attacking intentions.
“Whatever they do (tactically),one thing is for sure – they’ll try and play us a hundred and ten miles an hour”, Robinson said. “I remember last season when we played them up there I was very, very surprised at the pace of the Bulls and by the way they got the ball into forward areas. It was quite pleasing, in fact, for a team to come out and come at you. Usually we face teams who will try and sit in behind the ball and make things difficult for us, but the Bulls are a team that, certainly on their home pitch, they well and truly come out and give you a good game.
“So we are anticipating a very exciting game, actually, on Saturday”.
For their part, the Strikers are in good form, are playing with confidence and have only two players unavailable through injury. Defender Ryan Mottin is still a week or two away from returning to the team after an ankle injury, and Jonti Richter this week underwent keyhole surgery on his injured left foot.
So the Strikers’ attacking stocks, which have seen the team scoring at an average of exactly four goals per game, remain at a high level and will be the factor that the home team will need to be most wary of. The QSL’s top scorer, Matt Thurtell, will naturally be the player the Bulls wil be watching most closely, but in recent weeks the Strikers have been adding goals through the likes of midfielders Chris Di Sipio and Chay Hews, winger Josh Searle and even defender Alex Henderson.
If the Bulls come out and play as expected, and the Strikers continue to play with all of their attacking guns blazing, Borzi Park will be no place for those of a nervous disposition on Saturday night.