Another hat-trick to the QSL’s top scorer, Matt Thurtell, helped to propel the Brisbane Strikers to a thirteen point lead at the top of the QSL table as the Strikers completed a clean sweep over the Gold Coast with a 5-1 win at Perry Park last night.
Midfielder Michael Angus joined Thurtell on the scoreboard for the Strikers, and Lorenzo Sipi scored his first goal for the club, while former Logan Striker Bangally Sheriff scored for the visitors. But while the win over the basement dwellers was predictable enough, and the scoreboard suggested a walk in the park, in truth it was anything but that as the Gold Coast produced easily their best performance against the Strikers this year and were in the contest with a chance until midway through the second half.
Strikers coach David Large made a couple of changes to his starting eleven, bringing Jack Boxell into the left back position filled against the North Queensland Razobacks a fortnight ago by Josh Searle, and also returning Angus in place of Jordan Mason. Sipi was moved forward out of his usual right back role and started on the wing, while Searle went in at right back.
The Gold Coast started the game well, playing some good passing football, and had the Strikers pinned back inside their own half for the opening few minutes. But as soon as the Strikers broke out Gold Coast goalkeeper Luigi Cordova was forced into a good save with his legs as an attack that started on the Strikers’ left flank was rounded off by a pass from Thurtell that played Sipi into the Gold Coast’s penalty area for a chance to hit a hurried shot that was blocked by Cordova as he came off his line.
As the Strikers began to get their passing game into its groove the visitors were forced to defend for long periods. For the most part they stuck to their guns well over the opening half hour, despite riding their luck at times, as the Strikers got their wide players to the by-line on three or four occasions. On one those occasions Gold Coast defender Josh Longhitano did exceptionally well to slide in and whip the ball off Thurtell’s toes as he was about to tap home a low cross from Greg King, who had combined with Chay Hews and Boxell to open up the visitors’ defence down the Strikers’ left touchline.
The Stars survived a shot from twenty yards by Angus that went too high, and then an overhead kick by Thurtell from an improvised lob by King, before the Strikers eventually broke the deadlock with a move that began just inside their own half after a Gold Coast passing movement had been broken up. The ball was played to Angus, who spun around as he clipped a pass with the outside of his right foot that cut out Gold Coast left back Zane Cotmia and found Sipi sprinting into the clear down the Strikers’ right touchline. Sipi took the ball to within ten metres of the byline before looking up to see Thurtell arriving in the Gold Coast penalty area. Thurtell then made the most of the opportunity created by Sipi’s exquisitely weighted low cross, beating Cordova from close range with a first-time finish to put his team in front.
Within a minute Thurtell was to double his tally and the Strikers’ lead. Straight after losing possession from the kick-off, the visitors were pressed back into their own half and Cotmia found himself twenty yards out from his own goal but hemmed in on the touchline by yellow shirts. He chose the wrong way out of his predicament, looking up to aim a lofted pass towards right back Longhitano, thirty yards away. Instead of finding his teammate the pass found the predatory King, who nipped in to intercept the ball and stabbed it towards Thurtell as it dropped. Thurtell was fifteen yards out, and with his back to goal, but showed excellent awareness to see Cordova coming off his line to narrow the striker’s shooting angles. Thurtell didn’t bother turning to face Cordova. Instead, he spun around and chipped the ball in one movement over Cordova’s right shoulder and watched as the ball dropped below the visitors’ crossbar and into the top left corner of the goal.
It was a cheeky and precise finish from Thurtell for a quality goal and, coming so soon after the first goal, it could have been expected to rip the heart out of the battling ‘Coasties’. But that did not happen. Cordova did well to throw himself to his right to palm away a shot from Chris Di Sipio in the thirty-ninth minute, and produced another good save to claw a thirty yard free kick from King away from the top right corner of his goal and, with diligent defending and a little luck, the Gold Coast made it to their dressing room at half time without further damage.
And four minutes after the restart they were back in the contest after they won a corner kick on the right. Former Brisbane Striker Jason Doherty flighted his left-footed delivery towards the back of the Strikers’ six yard box where the tall Sheriff, substituting for Raphael Agudelo, outjumped everyone else to power a header past David Chambers and high into the back of his net to the joy of the visitors, who found themselves suddenly in with the chance to make a real game of it.
For the next ten minutes they played with their tails up as the Strikers made rudimentary errors and gave away possession frequently under pressure. The speedy Daniel Bina, now switched to the left wing in the absence of Agudelo, gave Searle and Sipi a torrid time on several runs to the byline that eventually came to naught, and Chambers had to be wide awake to make sure he saved a surprise back-heeled shot from Sheriff after both Sherrif and Boxell had slipped over in chasing a long ball towards the Strikers’ six yard box.
While the score was at 2-1 and the Coast were pressing the home team there was briefly the sniff of an upset in the air, and when centre forward Blake Kallis hit a shot on the turn from nearly thirty yards that fizzed across the face of the Strikers’ goal without truly worrying Chambers their excitement was visible for all to see.
It was becoming apparent to the home team’s supporters that the Strikers needed to up the ante a little to subdue the visitors’ enthusiasm. In the sixty-sixth minute they did just that. Skipper and centre half John Costello started an attack with a forty-yard crossfield pass from just inside his own half that flew like an arrow to Sipi on the right touchline, who then found Searle with his pass. Searle came infield and aimed a pass towards Di Sipio. The diminutive attacking midfielder allowed the ball to run across the face of the Coasts’ penalty area towards Angus, who blasted an unstoppable shot with his right foot high to the left of Cordova to finish in the top right corner of his goal.
Angus’s brilliant strike knocked the wind out of the visitors’ sails and they found themselves doing plenty of defending for the next fifteen minutes as the Strikers went for the kill. The home team found their fourth goal immediately after Gold Coast midfielder Daniel Gecic had given Chambers a scare with a shot from the centre circle that found Chambers off his line but passed a foot or two over the Strikers’ crossbar. From the very next play, as the Strikers passed the ball out from their backline to Angus, stationed on the left touchline near half way, the home team struck again. The midfielder, who was having an inspired game, turned quickly to thread a forty yard pass through a crowded midfield to pick up a forward run from Sipi who, released into the penalty area with only Cordova to beat, completed the movement by driving a shot past the Gold Coast ‘keeper and into the bottom left corner of his net.
As frustration got the better of the visitors nearing the end of a contest that had occasionally become niggly and produced some flashpoints as tempers flared, Sherrif spoiled what should have been a memorable half of football for him when he brought King down from behind to earn a second yellow card and a slightly early shower. The Strikers then rubbed salt into the Gold Coast’s wounds when, in the third and last minute of stoppage time, Hews cleverly threaded a short pass forward from a free kick to Di Sipio, who had peeled away from his defender and had time to turn and hit a shot that Cordova did well to save with his left hand. However, the rebound fell kindly for Thurtell who completed his hat trick by driving the ball high into the Gold Coast’s net on the angle with his right foot.
So the final scoreline perhaps had an unflattering look about it for a Gold Coast team who had played some good football at times, had stuck hard to their defensive duties when needed and had shown enough ability and tenacity to suggest that they might be able to finish the season with some respectable results and several more points on the board.
Gold Coast coach Simon Tanti certainly indicated in his after-match comments that he thought the team he began coaching mid-season, and which has had an influx of new players, is getting close to a win.
“I’ve been here six weeks, and we’ve been together six weeks, and the boys and myself –we can see a difference from the first week I took over to where we are now”, Tanti said. “We are close to a win, but it’s not really just about that. It’s about the boys getting used to each other and starting to work together. We do have a few good players, but it’s a matter of getting them working together”.
Despite the winning margin, Strikers coach David Large was not particularly enthused about the way his team had played.
“I certainly don’t think we played our best game tonight”, Large said. “We looked rusty. If I’m looking for excuses, I’d say I thought the (re-sized) field was a little bit long and it made it very hard to get our passing game going. But again, it’s three points. If we play ordinary and we get three points I’m quite happy with that”.
The win for the Strikers again has the effect of again applying the blow torch to the Sunshine Coast Fire in second place, who must win what looms as a tricky encounter with the Whitsunday Miners at Stockland Park tomorrow to keep their championship defence supplied with oxygen. The evening’s other fixture tonight finished in a 1-1 draw between the Far North Queensland Bulls and the North Queensland Razorbacks, which opens up the opportunity for the Miners to go into second position if they can beat the Fire.
Brisbane Strikers 5 (Thurtell 29, 30, 90+3; Angus 66, Sipi 82) v Gold Coast 1 (Sherrif 49)
Brisbane Strikers: David Chambers (gk), Josh Searle, John Costello (c), Alex Henderson, Jack Boxell, Chay Hews, Michael Angus, Chris Di Sipio, Greg King, Matt Thurtell, Lorenzo Sipi. Non-playing substitutes: Jordan Mason, Ryan Mottin, Chris Maher, Nathan Ryland, Will Rockett (rgk).
Gold Coast: Luigi Cordova (gk), Jonny Dwayne (c), Josh Longhitano, Zane Cotmia, Luke Hartstonge, Daniel Bina, Daniel Gecic, Arnold Mouako, Blake Kallis, Jason Doherty, Raphael Agudelo. Substitutes: Bangally Sheriff, Kenneth Onyema, Luke Humphries. Non-playing substitute: Jordan Longhitano.
Shots on goal: Brisbane Strikers 14, Gold Coast 4
Shots on target: Strikers 9, Gold Coast 2
Crosses: Strikers 10, Gold Coast 7
Crosses into dangerous areas: Strikers 5, Gold Coast 4
Corners: Strikers 3, Gold Coast 3
Fouls: Strikers 9, Gold Coast 15
Offsides: Strikers 2, Gold Coast 2
Yellow cards: Gecic, Mouako (Gold Coast)
Red cards: Sheriff (Gold Coast)