Eller’s Brace Ices Strikers’ Cake As They Go Back-To-Back

Aug 20, 2017 by

The Brisbane Strikers have been crowned PlayStation ® 4 NPL Queensland 2017 Premiers after defeating Brisbane Olympic FC 2-1 at Goodwin Park tonight.

Confirmation of the Premiers’ trophy’s destination was little more than a formality after Gold Coast City FC – the only other club left in the title race – succumbed 3-0 to 2015 Premiers Moreton Bay United last night. However, Strikers ended the season as Premiers should, with a hard-fought but deserved victory over a desperate Olympic team.

Two goals to Fraser Eller in his starting debut for the club had Strikers 2-0 in front and looking comfortable early in the second half. But a goal to hulking Olympic centre forward Kristen Waters reduced the deficit for Olympic midway through the second half and made sure the closing stages were interesting for Strikers as Olympic strove for the draw that would have kept their season alive.

The result means the Strikers are the first club since the PlayStation ® 4 NPL Queensland competition began in 2013 to record back-to-back premierships. It also cemented the 2016 and 2017 squads’ place in Brisbane Strikers history as the first to win consecutive titles in any competition the club has contested.

In addition, it earned Strikers a place in the national PlayStation ® NPL playoffs, beginning with an away tie to South Hobart FC on the weekend of 16 and 17 September. Before that, a berth in the PlayStation 4 NPL Queensland finals play-offs against Moreton Bay United awaits next weekend.

Gold Coast City will play Western Pride in the other semi-final, with the winners advancing straight to the PlayStation 4 NPL Queensland Grand Final the following weekend.

Strikers went into the game against Olympic with three changes to their starting eleven as Eller came in for top scorer Jeremy Stewart, Jake McLean replaced skipper Michael Angus in midfield and fullback Sam Knight came in for Lachlan Weier. Stewart, Angus and Weier were on the bench for insurance, however, as Strikers coach Sean Lane tried to ensure that Angus and Weier avoided yellow cards that would have kept them out of at least one game in the PlayStation ® 4 NPL Queensland finals.

With Olympic needing at least a point to overhaul Moreton Bay United for the fourth spot in the upcoming finals series, or a win to finish third, and Strikers equally determined to finish their season with a win, the game opened at a cracking pace.

Eller missed a great early chance to put Strikers ahead after crisp interplay between McLean and Omori opened up Olympic’s defence for Omori to drill a low cross to the edge of Olympic’s six-yard box. Eller was first to the ball but his attempted sidefooted finish ended up at Omori’s feet rather than in the back of Olympic’s net.

As Strikers continued to dominate the opening period McLean narrowly missed with a chip aimed for the top corner and centre half Greig Henslee found himself in nosebleed territory, accepting a pass with his back to goal before swivelling on to his left foot and testing Olympic goalkeeper Nicholas Mooney with a shot that was aimed at the far corner of his goal.

Strikers goalkeeper Zac Speedy was also in the action at the other end, making a regulation, though sharp, save to a firmly struck shot from Olympic midfielder Sam Cronin before saving bravely at the feet of Danny Byrne when the winger had been left one-one-one thanks to a slip from Strikers centre half Jake Marshall as he tried to cut out a long ball.

Midway through the first half, however, Mooney was the first goalkeeper beaten thanks to a strike of real quality from Eller. With the Strikers having won a corner on their left flank the dead ball was played towards the near post, where Eller controlled it. As Olympic’s near post defence hesitated, Eller turned swiftly and threaded the needle through a crowded six-yard box to drive a shot low into the far corner to put Strikers 1-0 up.

That scoreline remained until the half time break, whereupon Strikers were forced into a substitution owing to injury to Speedy. Reserve goalkeeper Finn Matheson replaced the New Zealander for the second half.

Strikers began the second stanza strongly and extended their lead in the forty-ninth minute when Eller slid in at the back post to beat Mooney with a first-time finish to Omori’s square pass after the fullback had chimed into an attack down the left side of the pitch to get to the byline.

That made the situation desperate for Olympic, who had seen their top four status evaporate after Saturday night’s wins to Western Pride and Moreton Bay United. They needed at least a point to qualify for finals football and, following some wasteful finishing by Strikers that could have put Olympic out of the game, they lifted.

When Waters climbed high above Strikers’ defence to head a high ball from the right past Matheson and into the far corner of his goal Olympic had a lifeline and they pressed as hard as they could for an equaliser.

But resolute defending from the front where Marsh, in particular, was outstanding and through the midfield where Ethan Docherty anchored Strikers’ efforts with a wholehearted denial of space and time for Cronin and Kazuya Ito, ensured the visitors’ back four had a fighting chance of smothering anything that came the way of Waters and Byrne.

In fact, the better chances over the concluding minutes fell to Strikers as Olympic over-committed in search of their equaliser.

Eller was unlucky not to snare a hat-trick when his attempted finish following another pass from Lee beat Mooney but ended in his side netting. Then Mooney made a miraculous reflex save from three yards to Lee’s firm, sidefooted attempted finish after Marsh and substitute Jeremy Stewart had sliced open Olympic’s defence for Stewart to square a pass to Lee across the six-yard box.

Try as they might, Olympic could not seriously test Matheson again and were cruelly left with nothing to show for a season in which they were never worse than third position on the league table until Saturday night.

As Olympic’s players trooped dejectedly from the field of play Strikers were left to lift the PlayStation ® 4 NPL Premiers’ trophy and celebrate the moment in front of a delighted contingent of visiting supporters.
With the celebrations over, however, Lane said his players’ appetite for honours was not yet sated.

“The players set goals out for the start of the season and one of them was to go back-to-back and win the league, which they’ve done. So that’s satisfying,” Lane said.

“But they’ve also got another couple of goals, and that’s to improve on last season – and to do that we need to win the Grand Final and kick on in the national NPL finals. So there’s still a lot to play for and I don’t think the players are satisfied with where they’re at now”.

Nevertheless, Lane said becoming 2017 Premiers was a fine achievement that owed a lot to the depth of talent in his squad, which was tested through the season.

“When you talk about squad depth, I was never worried because our young players are good footballers and I had no qualms about throwing them in because I knew that all of them had two, three, four or five good games in them,” he said.

“It’s just when you ask them to do it for any longer time than that, you’re probably asking for trouble.

“And I’ve got some really great leaders in there. Angus and Henslee – you can’t buy what they bring to the squad. And you’ve got the ability of some of the other players. They’re all good footballers, like Lee, McLean, Palmer. And Ethan Docherty, when he got himself fit, added another side to our game with that aggression that he’s got.

“I just think we had a great balance in our squad with plenty of good young players. They all had in their minds what they wanted to achieve and they’ve achieved the first goal.”

The Strikers’ players were not the only notable achievers. Lane, who took over the Strikers’ coaching reigns in late 2016 after succeeding Kevin A’Herne-Evans in the job, became only the third Strikers coach to win a title in his first full season in the job (the others being Frank Farina and David Large).

Brisbane Olympic FC 1 (Waters, 69) v Brisbane Strikers FC 2 (Eller 24, 49)

Photo: Michele Pitman

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