The Brisbane Strikers moved into third place on the NPL league table –at least for a few days- after producing a grafting, workmanlike display to overcome a stubborn Queensland Academy of Sports team 2-0 at Perry Park last night.
Inspired by a lung bursting display of non-stop effort from winger and vice-captain Jonti Richter, the Strikers got home on two second half goals from Richter and Alex Henderson after the first half had produced a tense stalemate in which series of saves by QAS goalkeeper Fraser Chalmers had kept the home team at bay.
Strikers coach David Large was true to his pre-match suggestions that he would make several changes to the starting eleven who had played Western Pride five days ago. Back into the eleven were midfielders Chay Hews and Michael Angus, centre half Henderson, fullback Alistair Quinn and striker Josh Taylor, who partnered Josh McVey up front.
There were no signs that the changes had affected the team’s cohesion. After an evenly-contested opening ten minutes in which the two teams traded passes through a congested midfield, the Strikers gradually asserted their superiority everywhere but on the scoreboard. Playing at a high tempo and allowing the youngsters no time to settle on the ball, the Strikers took a stranglehold on proceedings but struggled to pass their way behind a well-organised QAS back four of Cameron Cristani, Sam Cronin, Sam Herlihy and James Cuminao.
The direct approach seemed the most likely way for the home team to breach the home team’s defences and it almost worked for them when Quinn’s lofted long ball found Taylor outsprinting his marker through the inside-right channel to bring a sharp save out of Chalmers at his near post with a fiercely-struck drive.
Chances were few and far between for both teams and, in fact, it took the QAS thirty-two minutes to fashion a shot on goal, with Cronin’s twenty yard drive after a pass inside from left winger Sam Sibatuara flying harmlessly wide of David Chambers’ goal.
Chalmers was the busier of the two goalkeepers, particularly as the half drew to a close. Taylor was again denied, this time from close range by a smothering save down low at his near post by Chalmers after Scot Coulson’s low cross had picked out the forward. A similar save at the feet of midfielder Clark Bradford, after a short corner routine, piled on the frustrations for the home team and then a headed clearance off the goal line by a QAS defender from Bradford’s chipped shot from twelve yards ensured that the visitors got to the half time break unbowed.
The QAS had offered little in an attacking sense to this point – a well-struck volley in stoppage time from Roman Hoffman that flew just wide of goal when the Strikers’ defence momentarily froze as a cross came in from the left flew, was the best they could muster in the opening forty-five minutes.
The breakthrough for the Strikers remained frustratingly out of reach immediately after the restart when McVey got himself on the end of a low cross from Taylor only to send his shot from close range clattering into the near post.
As the early second half minutes ticked by Richter was becoming increasingly influential. The winger seemed to be everywhere, pressuring QAS players when not in possession of the ball, making tackles and intercepts, and twisting, turning and running at them relentlessly. And when the breakthrough at last arrived in the fifty-seventh minute it was a stroke of innovation from Richter that made the difference as another corner kick was played short.
Richter received the second pass inside the penalty area with his back to goal and swiveled as the ball arrived at his feet, chipping it towards the six-yard box without looking, where a glancing header helped to ball on to the big frame of the lurking Henderson. The defender had time to bring the ball down with his chest, holding off a defender as he turned to blast a shot past Chalmers, who had no chance, from close range to give the Strikers had the lead they deserved.
Now hamstrung by the loss of their speedy centre forward, Abraham Yango, through injury the QAS did not appear to possess the weaponry through the middle to trouble Callaghan and Henderson. Fullbacks Coulson and Quinn were keeping Brady and Sibatuara reasonably subdued in wide areas, so it was difficult to see how the visitors were going to overturn a 1-0 deficit.
They almost found a way, however, when Brady and Herlihy combined down their right touchline to produce a cross that teased its way past the head of Henderson to drop behind him for substitute Gabrial Howash, whose header from ten yards looked bound for the top right corner of Chambers’ goal only to drift inches wide as Howash held his head in frustration.
That was as close as the QAS would get to a goal before ‘that man’ Richter effectively put them out of the contest in the seventy-fourth minute as he continued his tormenting of their defence. Greg King, who had entered the contest as a substitute ten minutes earlier, ran on to a pass through the middle of the field as the Strikers counter-attacked and picked out Richter to his right with his own ten-yard pass. Richter then stood up a defender, dribbled inside the QAS penalty area on to his left foot and drove in a low shot that again left the gallant Chalmers with little hope.
Working hard to the end of the ninety minutes, the Strikers never really looked like relinquishing the two-goal buffer Richter’s strike had given them and assistant coach Graham Harvey was happy afterwards to acknowledge the part that Richter had played in adding a touch of irresistible force to a very solid shift by the rest of the team.
“We say it all the time, even in conditioning sessions – the coaching staff sit back and say that if we had eleven players that worked as hard as Jonti then we’d be great”, Harvey said.
“I thought he was brilliant again tonight. He got the goal he deserved and was a constant threat, and certainly an all-round performance like that was something that the younger players in the squad should be looking at and learning from”.
Harvey also admitted that the QAS had forced the Strikers to work very hard to get the three points.
“The QAS gave us exactly what we were expecting – a tough game”, he said. “They made it hard for us to break them down and in the first half we probably fell into a few little traps that were similar to what we did in the first game (against them).
“We fell into the trap of playing into areas where the QAS knew we wanted to play. So we tried to change it a little bit and went a little bit more direct, with quality. The QAS were playing quite high and trying to pinch balls off of us, so we looked to try and turn them around a little bit more than we would normally in our game plan and I thought the boys carried that out really well”.
The Strikers will now sit out the weekend’s fixtures and wait with interest to see the result of the Sunshine Coast Fire v Redlands United fixture, knowing that at worst they will finish Round 19 of the competition in fourth place.
Queensland Academy of Sports: Frasher Chalmers (gk), Sam Herlihy, Roman Hoffman, Cameron Christani, Sam Cronin, Logan Grillo, Abraham Yango, James Cuminao, Shannon Brady, Jack Bladen, Sam Sibatuara. Playing substitutes: Gabriel Howash, Aiden Fetahagic. Non-playing substitutes: Mitch Hore, Jess Daley.
Brisbane Strikers: David Chambers (gk), Alistair Quinn, Alex Henderson, Andy Callaghan, Scot Coulson, Chay Hews, Michael Angus, Clark Bradford, Jonti Richter, Josh McVey, Josh Taylor. Playing substitutes: Corey Hooper, Greg King, Kyle Luetkehans. Non-playing substitutes: David Roby, Will Rockett (rgk)