Brisbane Strikers coach Kevin A’Herne-Evans rates this Sunday’s PS4NPL Finals Series semi-final away to Sydney United FC 58 as perhaps the biggest challenge of his team’s long 2016 season.
In a campaign that began in the last week of February there have been plenty of big games for the boys in yellow and blue. Among them were the win over defending PlayStation 4 NPL Queensland champions Moreton Bay United Jets in Round 4, the virtual title decider against FNQFC Heat in Round 20, the final Queensland Westfield FFA Cup qualifier against Lions FC,and the Westfield FFA Cup Round of 16 game at home against Hyundai A-League club Melbourne City FC.
Each of those games carried situational pressure of varying kinds against high quality opposition. But after concluding his team’s preparations for Sunday’s match A’Herne-Evans suggested last night that the Strikers’ old NSL foes represent perhaps the toughest test of the lot.
“Our main priority going into the start of the season was obviously winning the NPL in Queensland to put ourselves in this position to go on and face the best of the other states,” A’Herne-Evans said.
“And when you come up against a Sydney United 58 FC, especially away from home, I don’t know if it gets much bigger than that. I suppose there’s only them and South Melbourne who are in the same bracket – you could say that it is the biggest game of our season, for sure.”
A’Herne-Evans said his assessment of the size of the task facing his team was influenced by his opinion on the strengths of the various state NPL competitions.
“To be honest, in all of my time analysing opposition teams at our level I haven’t enjoyed analysing any as much as I have Sydney United 58,” he said.
“We don’t really come across the New South Wales NPL that often. Because of the players that have gone from Queensland down to Victoria a lot of our focus has been on the Victorian NPL. But what I have been able to watch this year of the Victorian league, our league and the New South Wales league – it sits comfortably with me being able to say that this year the New South Wales NPL is the strongest nationwide.
“The level of the games they (Sydney United) play against Blacktown City, against Bonnyrigg, against Manly – they are top, top quality games with a number of players that have yo-yo’d in between A-League and state league clubs and it’s honestly been a real joy to watch”.
A’Herne-Evans described United, who beat Adelaide City 5-4 in their Elimination Final last Sunday, as an impressive outfit going forward.
“The attacking prowess they have at their disposal is excellent to watch,” he said.
“I love the way they attack. I love the height and width that their fullbacks give them, the way that their front four come centrally when they start going through the thirds, especially in the middle third, and the delivery that they get from the right and the left hand side.
“A lot of clubs have gone away from crossing the ball, and the art of crossing, but the delivery that they get on the ball and the finishing areas that they get their front four to get into – whether it’s Chris Payne or Panny Nikas, or Yutaro Shin coming in from the opposite side because the delivery of the left back in particular is insane – they’ve obviously done a lot of work on their attacking structure.
“Even if you win that initial ball, because it’s coming in from a little bit deeper with four attacking it, you have to make sure you’ve got certain players to match them in that area to be able to deal with that threat. So even when you clear it their second phase is very, very strong as well.
“I know that for us to get a result this weekend Greig Henslee, Jake Marshall, Hero (Hiroki Omori) and Sammy Knight (pictured) as the back four are going to have to have an exceptional game, (goalkeeper) Michael Weier is going to have to have an exceptional game and our two screeners are going to have to have an exceptional game.”
“But fortunately for us they’ve had an exceptional season so it’s nothing new for them to be under pressure and come out with a result.”
Another challenge for Strikers at Endensor Park will be its playing surface. But not for the reasons they might usually fret about, such as a bobbly pitch. In fact the opposite is the case. Edensor Park has a synthetic playing of surface.
A’Herne-Evans, however, was not overly concerned about that.
“We’ve trained this week on a synthetic field in preparation for it and a lot of the boys have been in an environment before where they’ve trained or played on synthetic fields so it’s just a case of readapting and that’s been the purpose of this week,” A’Herne-Evans said.
“It’s just been to get the players familiar with it and the difference in the stride patterns and how you turn. There’s a difference in how you press the ball and how you reduce your speed and how quickly you can turn. There’s a difference in planting your feet and in explosive actions as well”.
“And obviously there’s a difference in the run of the ball. It can find out people with an average touch quite quickly. In saying that, we’re a technical team so a nice surface is what we beg for every time we play.”
A’Herne-Evans said his team’s scratchy performance last weekend in beating Canberra Olympic 3-2 would need to improve on Sunday.
“We were quite fortunate last week in that what I said about the difficulty in getting up for big games all the time is what we faced in Canberra Olympic,” A’Herne-Evans recalled.
“I think they really struggled with the travel and knowing that they were playing Green Gully in the FFA Cup.
“I think on the day we got away with a below-par performance on what we’d expect in front of goal in particular. There was nothing wrong with the way we controlled the game, it’s just that we didn’t take our chances.
“We anticipated that we’d catch them on a good night and we did. However, we’re not going to get as fortunate this weekend”.
Kick-off at Edensor Park is scheduled for 2.30 pm.