The Brisbane Strikers’ youth team clinched the Southern Division Hyundai Youth League title at Perry Park last night in convincing style – running out 4-0 victors over the second-placed Sunshine Coast Fire with a performance that both entertained the crowd and delighted their coaching staff with its determination, application, style and clinical execution.
After a couple of below-par performances the Strikers took the park determined to put those efforts behind them and close the season out with panache. And they never looked likely to lose after Jordan Farina, on ‘loan’ from the senior team, got the last touch after a fourth-minute free kick had produced panic inside the Fire’s penalty are, to send the ball rolling past Fire goalkeeper Sam Nicholls and into his net with fullback Joe McMahon striving in vain to get to it before it rolled over the line.
As the Fire tried to respond quickly Strikers goalkeeper Brayden Nielsen, standing in as captain for Chris Maher, brought off a sharp save as Chris Bacon’s pass played Cohen Bell in for a shot that he hit with considerable power but a fraction too close to Nielsen, who was able to throw himself to his right to get to the ball.
Alex Winter and Zach Wilson both went close to making it 2-0 for the Strikers with shots that narrowly missed the target midway through the half, while for the Sunshine Coast Chris Bacon, who has also seen first-team action this year, gave the visitors cause for hope when he chested down a cross from James Cooper and drove a swerving half-volley wide as Nielsen scrambled across his goal and watched with relief as the ball went out for a goal kick.
It was then that the Jordan Farina show, which is what the remainder of the first half became, began literally to kick into gear. As the Strikers attacked in numbers around the Fire’s penalty area in the twenty-eighth minute Farina seized on a loose ball some twenty-five yards out and hammered it goalwards, bringing an excellent save from Nicholls at full stretch as the ball skimmed across the turf – the ‘keeper’s outstretched right hand tipping the ball around his far post to keep the deficit at one goal.
Then, as the Strikers continued to dictate terms, Farina went one better in the thirty-fifth minute as the Strikers worked the ball from the middle of the park out to their left touchline. As the ball was played back in towards the Fire’s heavily-populated six-yard box Farina, who had drifted in from his position on the right wing, got to it first and snapped in a right-footed shot. Nicholls reacted brilliantly to get his hands to the ball and parry it back out but then, as the Sunshine Coast defence dithered, Farina regathered the ball, worked it on to his left foot and found time to drive a second shot low past Nicholls to double his side’s lead.
But that wasn’t quite enough for the Strikers’ winger, who saved his best for last just four minutes later, again seizing on a loose ball just beyond the outer point of the Fire’s penalty area on the right-hand side of the pitch as the Strikers attacked once more in numbers, and letting fly with a right-footed pile-driver that found its way with radar precision into the top far corner of Nicholls’ goal despite the goalkeeper’s valiant attempt to intercept it with an athletic leap.
Farina’s first-half rampage effectively took any hope of a result away from the visitors, but in truth it was only the icing on the cake of a thoroughly professional opening half from the home side, who had established superiority through a midfield controlled by determined tackling and fluent movement of the ball by Wilson, Adam Sanders, Lachlan Dale and Nick Danicic and through strong performances at the back from Nathan Alexander and Reagan Alder, who were applying themselves well to the task of shutting down the physically imposing Bacon on the rare occasions when his midfield was able to supply him with a pass in a threatening position.
Any thoughts of a way back into the contest for the visitors were snuffed out five minutes into the second half. Again Farina was the chief destroyer, but this time his role was that of the provider as he strode through the centre of park with the ball at his feet before threading the ball through the space between the Fire’s stopper and left fullback to pick up the run of Jason Doherty. Doherty then skirted around the fullback and sprinted into the penalty area before dribbling the ball around Nicholls and tucking the ball into the now-unguarded net with his left foot to put the home side 4-0 ahead.
From there, it was simply a matter of the Strikers closing the match out with as disciplined and focused a performance as possible, preserving their clean sheet as the Fire strove for a consolation goal. Nielsen had to make two saves in quick succession on the hour, diving to his right to tip away a shot from Bacon and then punching clear from under his own crossbar as Bacon and Bell got the better of some ‘head tennis’ around the Strikers’ six-yard box.
Farina, whose efforts had won him a spot on the bench for the senior team later in the night, was substituted by Bryce Anson before the Sunshine Coast missed their best chance to get on the scoreboard when substitute James Verdon showed good pace and strength to dribble the ball around Dale to create a shooting opportunity inside the Strikers’ penalty area. Verdon then should probably have done better than to blast his shot a half-metre over Nielsen’s crossbar.
The Strikers negotiated the rest of the game without any further causes for real concern and, following the full-time whistle, accepted the applause of the home crowd, which has been thoroughly entertained by the football played by this group of youngsters throughout the season.
Having personally congratulated his players on their efforts, Strikers co-coach Martin Large said he was proud of his team after he had challenged them to produce ninety minutes of “blood, sweat and tears” to arrest their recent form slide and close out the race for the title in style.
“I think we got that, and more”, Large said. “We perhaps had a couple of bad games coming into the game today and it rang true that we had four games left in the season and the first opportunity to take it (the title), and the best opportunity to take it, was against the team that was second.
“So we didn’t talk about team tactics, we didn’t talk about how to play a game, we basically just asked them a question. We said ‘do you have the heart? Do you want it?’, and I think they answered that question – emphatically!”.
Brisbane Strikers Youth 4 (Farina 4, 35, 39; Doherty 50) v Sunshine Coast Fire Youth 0
Brisbane Strikers: Brayden Nielsen (gk & captain), Reagan Alder, Jordan Farina, Nathan Alexander, Nick Danicic, Jason Doherty, Anthony Roulston, Zach Wilson, Lachlan Dale, Alex Winters, Adam Sanders. Substitutes: Bryce Anson, Steve Merchant, Jackson Stubbins
Sunshine Coast Fire: Sam Nicholls (gk), James Cooper, Matthew Bevan, Joe McMahon, Rob McNicholl, Brad Wallace, Cohen Bell, Nick Roth, Luke Lewis, Kaine Frew, Chris Bacon. Substitutes: James Verdon, Jack Tennant, Jonathan Rose