Brisbane Strikers coach Kevin A’Herne has no doubts about what awaits football fans who venture to Perry Park for Saturday’s eagerly awaited PlayStation 4 National Premier Leagues showdown between Brisbane Strikers and FNQFC Heat – and that is the two best sets of players in the league.
Having played host on Wednesday night to intense Westfield FFA Cup drama as Redlands United upset national champions Adelaide United, Perry Park is set for more drama as Strikers and Heat face off in a game that will go a long way towards deciding the 2016 PlayStation 4 NPL Queensland premiership.
A’Herne-Evans, speaking after training his team on Thursday night, said it was fitting that Strikers and Heat, who are separated by just one point at the top of the league table, should find themselves squaring off with so much at stake.
“I am just generally really excited,” A’Herne-Evans said. “That might seem an odd thing to say, with all the pressure that’s around the game.
“But I know that come six o’clock at Perry Park on Saturday night we are going to have the best 22-plus players in the NPL – they’ve proven that this year – all on the field going hell for leather to try to get a result for their team”.
The Strikers’ coach had a warning for any local football fans harbouring Brisbane-centric opinions on the qualities of the two teams.
“They are a better side that what people give them credit for,” he said of Cairns-based Heat.
“They’ve got a lot of quality players and, in big games like this, what you often find is that it’s the big players who really want to stamp their authority on the game to make sure that they are the ones people are talking about come the game’s end.
“They’ve got (midfielder) Kieran Sanders who is a top, top player and Chris O’Hare, for me, is one of the best finishers in the NPL – really composed under pressure. And Jamie Carroll has been a handful now at this level going back to the QSL days”.
But A’Herne-Evans’s belief in his own players remains nothing if not unshakeable. Having the best defence in the league, which is now back into good habits after keeping four consecutive clean sheets, gives him confidence his team has a solid platform to launch the attacking game plan he knows he must employ against Heat, given that Strikers must beat them to leapfrog them to the top of the league table.
And he has every confidence that he has attacking weaponry to match that of Heat.
“We’ve got Rhys Meredith, who’s been excellent for us all year and Trent Clulow is in a really, really good vein of form at the moment and Jake McLean, who is a special footballer,” A’Herne-Evans said.
But he also suggested the ‘x-factor’ could be supplied by one of the club’s home-grown talents.
“I look at someone like Fraser Hills (pictured), one of our own boys who’s come through the system,” A’Herne-Evans said.
“It excites us to think of the level of football that he can get to. He has proven this year that he scores goals in big games, and this game is just normal for Fraser.
“He’ll go out there with his cheeky demeanour and look to impose himself on the game, enjoy himself and play with that freedom that he likes to express himself with, knowing that we’ll back him to play with that freedom because what he can see on the field is something not many people can coach.
“I’m looking to someone like Fraser to have a real effect on the game”.
A’Herne-Evans knows that, whatever the share of possession Strikers enjoy against Heat on Saturday (and club statisticians confirmed over 700 completed passes when Strikers lost 2-0 to them in Cairns in May), he is likely to need someone with Hills’ flair to break down Heat’s composed defence.
The loss in Cairns imbued him with a healthy respect for Heat’s cohesiveness.
“Ever since we lost to Heat away we’ve known they were the best side that we’ve played,” A’Herne-Evans said.
“We know how hard they are to break down, how organised they are and how strong they are from set pieces. We came away from the Cairns game knowing that we were going to have to be very, very good to stay in touch with them for the remainder of the season, and we have been.
“Credit to Heat, though. They’ve continued their form for the whole season but we’ve got a big opportunity on the weekend to jump them and go into the top spot”.
Nervy supporters of either club looking for some sort of assurance that their team will come out on top on Saturday will find only cold comfort from history and recent form.
The head-to-head record between the clubs shows the ledger absolutely square, with three wins apiece and a draw from seven games. At Perry Park the record shows three games for one win each and a draw.
The PlayStation 4 NPL Queensland table also provides no real clues to boost either team’s confidence except, perhaps, for the goals for and against column. Strikers, with 42 goals, have scored two more than Heat while conceding six less.
The last five games played by both teams have seen Strikers win four and lose one, while Heat have won three, drawn one and lost one.
It’s that close!
Kick-off at Perry Park is scheduled for 6.00 pm, with an Under-18s curtain raiser featuring Brisbane Strikers taking on Redlands United.
The Strikers v Heat fixture will be LIVE STREAMED by Queensland Soccer News.
Photo: Michele Pitman