The Brisbane Strikers face a battle to stay in top four contention after suffering their second heavy defeat this season to league leaders Olympic FC as they went down 6-2 at Goodwin Park today.
In a performance eerily reminiscent of their 7-2 embarrassment at Perry Park in Round 3, the Strikers turned in a first half display of naive and at times totally negligent defending to virtually surrender the contest. Six goals were conceded by the time the half time break arrived, before the Strikers steadied to save a little face with a much better second half in which they clawed back two goals.
The contest was as good as over after only twenty-six minutes as the Strikers once again comprehensively failed the test of dealing with Olympic’s wily centre forward, Tim Smits, who once again scored a hat trick to put them to the sword.
Olympic opened the scoring in the ninth minute when Smits eluded the attentions of the Strikers’ defenders to nod a high ball in the direction of midfielder Matt Heath, who finished well on the from twelve yards, thumping his shot past Strikers goalkeeper Will Rockett with cold-blooded ruthlessness.
Only four minutes later the Strikers shot themselves in the foot after Olympic winger Jai Ingham got free down the right touchline to drill over a low cross that the Strikers’ defence failed to scramble clear. The ball eventually broke loose near the left-side edge of the Strikers’ penalty area for Heath, who broke through one attempted tackle only to be scythed down by Strikers centre half David Roby. A penalty was the result and, when that was coolly converted by Danny Byrne, the home team was cruising.
Worse was to come only three minutes later for the visitors when they conceded a free kick about thirty-five yards out from goal and about ten in from Olympic’s left touchline. Ingham whipped in the dead ball towards the Strikers’ penalty area, between their static backline and Rockett, where Smits rose unchallenged to send a glancing header past Rockett to make the score 3-0.
The home team must have been almost as confused to find themselves 3-0 up with barely a quarter of an hour gone as the Strikers no doubt were, given that they had done nothing more than quietly go about the business of applying their brand of football to the game with very little fuss. No questions had been asked of them at the other end.
But the Strikers’ appalling spell of non-defending was not quite over yet and, after new centre forward Josh McVey, in the Strikers’ starting eleven in place of Josh Taylor, had failed to seriously test Olympic goalkeeper Mario Aparicio with an uncontested header from a corner kick, the Strikers conceded again.
This time Olympic broke down their left touchline and launched a high ball across the edge of the Strikers’ penalty area. Strikers fullback Scot Coulson was caught slightly narrow in defending the high ball, which eluded his desperate attempted header, and this allowed Ingham to steal in behind him and brilliantly smash a half-volley high to Rockett’s right and in off the far post to put Olympic 4-0 ahead.
There can be no denying that this was a brilliant finish by Ingham, who underlined his quality by turning little more than a half-chance into gold, and it symbolized what was turning into a magic opening half-hour for the home team in which everything they touched turned to gold. It was certainly the first goal of in which the Strikers were not their own worst enemies. But their culpability in their own demise returned with a vengeance in the twenty-sixth minute when they tamely conceded a virtual duplicate of Olympic’s third goal.
Once again Ingham delivered a free kick from out wide on the left into the danger zone where the Strikers, showing they failed to learn from what had happened ten minutes earlier, did not track the run of Smits. Olympic’s centre forward was allowed to leap uncontested again to head past Rockett, who had left his goal line but failed to read the flight of the ball. Smits easily got to it first and headed into an empty net for 5-0.
With one quarter of the game gone the horrible prospect of a cricket score was looming for the Strikers unless they could get their act together. And as they strove to do so they were a little unfortunate not to drag a goal back when another corner kick, this time played low and deep towards Nathan Ryland, was met by a solid shot by the midfielder that was deflected just wide of Aparicio’s right post.
But as the Strikers battled to take the game to Olympic and restore some pride before half time, the home team drove a further nail into their coffin with a goal of real quality eight minutes before the break. As an attack deep inside the home team’s half broke down Olympic worked the ball forward down their left flank, where fullback Kazuya Ito bravely broke through a full-blooded tackle from Coulson before feeding Heath with a pass. Heath took off in full flight to the byline, where he looked up to thread a low cross towards the Strikers’ six-yard box. Smits, this time under heavy pressure from a defender, got to the ball first and was able to contort his body to scoop a first-time finish past the diving Rockett and into the far corner of his goal.
That put Olympic in front at half time by the scarcely believable margin of 6-0, leaving the Strikers with nothing but pride to play for. Their second half showing did enough to suggest that there is enough of that in the team to provide some cause for optimism.
The Strikers re-emerged from a dressing room inquest to boss the majority of the next thirty minutes and perhaps expose a chink in the armour of the league leaders with two goals that owed a lot to the ability of their forward line to expose a lack of pace in Olympic’s centre back pairing of Matt Mundy and Daniel Crack.
Six minutes into the second half the Strikers dispossessed Olympic in midfield and a rapid interchange of short passing finished with Strikers skipper Chay Hews knocking a thirty-yard pass directly down the centre of the field for winger Greg King to contest. King’s speed won him the race to the ball with a defender in hot pursuit and, when Apacricio came of his line, King finished calmly by slotting the ball to his right to open the visitors’ account.
Only three minutes later the Strikers repeated the dose with a free kick taken quickly in their own and half hoisted forward in the direction of McVey, who similarly outpaced the Olympic defence to get to the ball first. McVey also saw Aparicio slightly off his line and lobbed the bouncing ball towards the top corner of the ‘keeper’s goal. Aparicio leapt backwards and managed to get a glove to the ball but could not keep it out, and suddenly the Strikers had two goals to their name as their supporters briefly contemplated the most unlikely of comebacks.
While that was not to be, the Strikers continued to give a good account of themselves as a much more vigilant attention to defensive duties and a determination to take the game to their opponents served the dual purpose of keeping Olympic at bay and asking the home side’s defence some questions.
The Strikers came close again when McVey met a cross from Coulson on the stretch but skewed the chance across the face of goal from six yards, but as the game drifted into its final fifteen minutes Olympic reasserted themselves. Ingham brought a spectacular diving save out Rockett from a direct free kick, and Smits had a full-blooded drive from the resulting corner kick deflected wide of goal, before McVey briefly raised the Strikers’ hopes again with an overhead kick that missed the target by centimtres after a cross from King had rebounded off Aparicio’s chest.
But 6-2 it stayed and it was a bitterly disappointed Strikers coach, David Large, who acknowledged after the game his team’s shortcomings in coming to grips with Smits.
“We struggled with him, there’s no hiding that”, Large said. “He was just too good for us and it was groundhog day – we just didn’t deal with him. I don’t know how you fix that when you don’t have the players capable of stopping him”.
Large said that at half time he challenged his players to show some pride.
“I walked into a very quiet dressing room”, he said. “Obviously that was an embarrassment for them – it was an embarrassment for everyone. All I said, to be really honest, was that we could talk about tactics all day but you need to look at the badge and decide whether you really want to play for that badge. You’ve got to get your pride back first before you worry about how you’re going to play”.
“I never felt at any stage that we were going to get six goals back but it could have been interesting if we’d got another early one – which we had the opportunity to do. I think if we’d got that one it might have put a bit of fear into them, but they rode through it and it just became a stalemate in the end”.
The loss left the Strikers thirteen points adrift of Olympic -with realistically no chance of making up the deficit. They are now clinging to fifth spot, having surrendered fourth position to Sunshine Coast Fire as they look ahead to a difficult proposition next week with a visit to Cairns to play FNQFC Heat, who drew with second-placed Brisbane City at Spencer Park on Saturday.