It was once again a weekend of contrasting fortunes for the two Queensland State Youth League teams under the “Strikers” banner, with the Brisbane Strikers going down 2-1 to Sunshine Coast Fire at Perry Park on Saturday before the Logan Strikers won 2-0 against Gympie Fire at Stockland Park on Sunday.
The Brisbane Strikers continue to be riddle within a puzzle, wrapped within an enigma as far as their coaching staff, Martin Large and Milos Strugar, are concerned. Often they can perform with both brilliance and mediocrity within one match – and that was again the case when they took on the Sunshine Coast.
After yet another fortnight without match football due to both bad luck with the weather and a bye, the Brisbane boys could have been expected to open up looking a bit rusty. But that was not the case, as they passed the ball and combined beautifully in an impressive first half display that, in a huge injustice, saw them go into the half time break 2-1 down to a team that managed just one venomous shot on target.
Sunshine Coast goalkeeper Jakob Smith performed heroics in the fourth minute to tip away Ryan Cokell’s header to a cross from Delors Tuyishiime, and repeated the feat shortly afterwards to tip a header from Jake Harvey on to the underside of his crossbar after Cokell’s headed flick-on from a corner.
With Kai Halliday, Chris Maher, Nathan Ryland and Scott Coulson dominating in the centre of the park the Strikers continued launching raids on the visitors, who appeared to have little but the long ball to offer in response. But midway through the half the long ball proved to be more than enough when Strikers centre half Jarrod Ray turned towards his own goal to chase one that was hoofed at least forty yards in the air and over his head. Goalkeeper Brayden Nielsen came off his line to assist but, with no opponent within touching distance, Ray got his back pass horribly wrong, over-hitting it and leaving Nielsen wrong-footed as the ball headed rapidly into his own net.
So the visitors were 1-0 up without having had so much as a shot in anger. Undeterred, the Strikers continued playing their game of passing and movement and carved out several more opportunities. A shot from Cokell after Maher’s initial shot had been blocked by a defender sailed over the top, and Cokell then miscued with a header in front of goal from Coulson’s cross, before Maher, Cokell and Harvey combined to play Coulson in on goal and the winger finished well from a tight angle to get the Strikers level.
But then, right on the stroke of half time, the visitors attacked down their right touchline and got their fullback away on an overlapping run for him to cross low towards Reece Dalton, who produced a violent shot from eighteen yards to blast the ball into the top left corner of Nielsen’s goal and restore the visitors’ lead.
Although they were a goal down, on the basis of their first half showing the Strikers were entitled to believe they could again draw level and go on with the job of gaining three points. Perhaps they were guilty themselves of believing it was only a matter of time, because in the second half they produced a much different level of performance. They simply never got going again and the Sunshine Coast were able to hold them at bay quite comfortably until, in the latter stages, becoming the better team.
Midway through the half another ‘route one’ attack straight from a goal kick that was poorly defended by the Strikers almost produced a third goal for the visitors, as substitute Jed Nalin was left one-on-one with Nielsen. But this time the goalkeeper was able to spare his defenders’ blushes as he came out on top, dropping on the ball as Nalin attempted to dribble around him.
Aside from that there was little of note to describe in a second half that rather drifted to a close. Brisbane Strikers co-coach Milos Strugar was nonplussed after the match when asked if he had seen two Brisbane Strikers teams – that which played the first half and that which played the second.
“Absolutely”, Strugar responded. “We felt quite good about the first half, despite us being behind. We played good football, we dominated possession, we had good opportunities in front of goal. It was obviously a very bad mistake early on, but we clawed our way back and then in the second half….I don’t know, we just didn’t seem to click. And it was frustrating. It was frustrating as a coach watching that.
“Personally, I feel that the way the season’s been run hasn’t been proper. We’ve had a lot of byes and that hasn’t given us any consistency, and then we’ve had the rain and we’ve missed games and tried to play some catch-up games to keep the momentum going. So it is a bit difficult.
“But you’ve got to say that that wasn’t an excuse today. We went out in the first forty-five minutes and we showed them we can play football. We were all over them. For that not to continue in the second half has got to be mental, really”.
While the Brisbane boys have been head-scratchingly inconsistent, their Logan counterparts have in contrast shown an ability to put good performances back to back and, on occasions, to hang in during a game when they have not been playing particularly well. The latter quality was on display against Gympie Fire on Sunday.
The Logan boys were sloppy in the early stages of what proved to be a rather dour first half, giving away possession repeatedly with inaccurate passing and making things difficult for themselves. However, goalkeeper Jacob Jarrat didn’t really have any serious work to do until coming out to the edge of his penalty area to deal with a long ball intended for Gympie’s centre forward to chase. Jarrat and the onrushing opponent clattered into each other, with neither player seriously hurt.
Logan came out with more enthusiasm in the second half, with Louis Shephard and Shane Lubbe posting early shots on goal and causing problems for the Gympie goalkeeper, who was having trouble with the wind making the ball move around unnaturally in the air.
In the fifty-fifth minute Yousif Sheriff backed into a solid tackle just outside the Gympie box and the ball sprang loose to Rolance Narayan, who took one touch and drove a shot towards the right side of the goal that produced a fine diving save from the Fire’s goallkeeper. The resulting corner kick was floated towards the penalty spot where it was met by a diving header from Sherrif which narrowly missed to the left of the target.
Fifteen minutes later the home side played a ball in from the left to an unmarked Gympie player who unloaded on target from just ten yards, but great reflexes by Jarratt saw him diving to his right to get both hands to the ball.
Then, with fifteen minutes remaining Logan were rewarded for their efforts after Loius Shephard was brought down 22 yards out and to the left side of the field. Keith French struck the ball low and hard to the near post, where the ball sailed into the net without the Gympie ‘keeper getting a touch on the swerving missile.
The game really came to life in the last twenty minutes, with Gympie throwing everything at Logan in an attempt to claw a point from the game, striking the underside of the Logan crossbar with a shot in the eighty-second minute. There were claims that the ball had crossed the goal line, but these were ignored by the match officials as Jarratt cleared the ball to safety.
Logan responded with Shane Lubbe making room to get a low ball across the face of the Gympie goalmouth where Sheriff was arriving at pace but was unable to get the extension needed to make contact.
The away team sealed their victory well into injury time with a very classy goal from Lubbe. Kalen Fisher-Smith sent the ball long from a throw in to Lubbe who was free and positioned well into the Gympie half on the left hand side. Lubbe carried the ball to the near post byline and, with calls from Sherrif to ‘cut it back’, tricked his defender and turned back infield toward the edge of the six-yard box, making enough space now to tuck the ball neatly inside the near post.
“We’ve had to tough it out today. Weather conditions did not make football easy, with strong winds from end to end. Its’ kept the ball swirling a bit, difficult to control and difficult to get any rhythm” said Logan Strikers coach Dave Stewart after the game.
“(But) we’ve come good in the end….a little bit of pressure and we’ve taken our chances. (It was) a good free kick, with the movement around the keeper to unsight him – and the free kick’s gone through everybody in the goal.
“You thought that would have been enough but, give them credit, they came storming back and they had a good shout for a goal. There’s a debate whether it’s gone over the line or not, fortunately this time it’s gone our way.
“It’s good to get four clean sheets in a row after the QAS game, so hopefully we can carry that on.”
The win kept the Logan Strikers at the top of the table by a point from South West Queensland and fourteen points ahead of the Brisbane Strikers, who have three games in hand over most of their opponents.
If the Brisbane boys are to start making the most of those games in hand they will need to start doing so very soon, which sets the scene for a very interesting “Strikers Derby” encounter against Logan at Meakin Park on Thursday night at 7.00.