Heidelberg Too Smart For Valiant Strikers In Grand Final

Oct 01, 2017 by

Brisbane Strikers coach Owen Baker said Heidelberg United’s superior experience in playing in high-intensity games proved the difference between the two sides as the NPL Victoria Premiers beat Strikers 2-0 in the Grand Final of the PlayStation ® 4 NPL Finals Series at Perry Park last night.

In front of a crowd officially numbered at 1,100 Heidelberg proved too strong and too canny for a Strikers team that played well in patches but failed to make the most of their scoring opportunities in a hard-fought game that offered relatively few clear-cut scoring chances to either side.

The first thirty minutes of the contest were typical Grand Final fare – tense, rugged and not particularly free-flowing as each team tried to settle into its preferred style of football under pressure from the other. In the opening quarter of the game Strikers goalkeeper Zac Speedy was called upon to make one excellent save, diving low to his right to palm away a low drive from close range by Heidelberg winger Adrian Zahra seventeen in the seventeenth minute.

At the other end, Heidelberg’s custodian Christopher Theodoridis-Petropoulos was given an anxious moment when Jeremy Stewart blazed a grasscutter with his left foot across the face of goal after being played into the clear by Ethan Docherty on the end of a fine run by the midfielder.

Stewart’s effort came in the thirty-seventh minute as the home team was beginning to build some attacking momentum. But, as so often happens in football, the opening goal came somewhat against the run of play in the forty-second minute when Theodoris-Petropoulos mopped up a Strikers attack and released the ball long to Heidelberg centre-forward Ken Athiu.

The lanky attacker had Strikers centre halves Jake Marshall and Greig Henslee for company but held the ball up and waited for the run of midfielder Alex Schiavo, who broke through the middle of the park. When Athiu released his pass for Schiavo the former Brisbane Strikers man looked conspicuously offside, but the flag was not raised and Schiavo was through one-on-one with Speedy.

The Strikers’ keeper did well, sprinting off his line to get his body in the way of Schiavo’s finish, but his luck was out. The ricochet fell straight into the path of Zahra, who kept his composure to tuck a first-time finish into the now unguarded net from twenty yards to give Heidelberg the lead.

Speedy was again called into action just before half time, producing a spectacular one-handed save high to his left to prevent Sean Ellis’s direct free kick from doubling Heidelberg’s lead before the teams headed to their dressing rooms for the half time break.

“We knew that the first thirty minutes was going to be hard with Heidelberg and the pressure of their game and how they come out with high intensity,” Baker said later in summing up the first half.

“We did well to get back some momentum in the game and create some chances towards the end of the first half. Going in at 0-0 was a target of ours, so it was disappointing to take. I thought that the whole game was built on moments and that (Zahra’s goal) was a moment that fell for Heidelberg”.

The opening ten minutes of the second half were dominated by Heidelberg in terms of possession, which was probably ‘mission achieved’ for the visitors at a stage of the match when the home side needed to regain momentum and press their case.

Then, with sixty-one minutes played, the visitors struck again. Once more it was the ‘route one’ method that paid dividends, with Theodoridis-Petropoulos releasing the ball long towards Athiu after a Strikers attack broke down. Athiu won the leap for the high ball and got a nod-on that should have caused no problems for the home team since it fell in the direction of Strikers fullback Horoki Omori.

However, Omori’s attempted clearance on the volley went straight up in the air and gave Speedy work to do as Ellis backed in towards him to contest the ball. Speedy was then obliged to watch on in horror as the ball dropped loose from his gloves, leaving Ellis with the simple task of swivelling and shooting into an empty net as the referee Adrian Arndt ignored some quizzical looks from the Strikers and signalled that the goal would stand.

Heidelberg’s defending had been very solid and it was difficult at this stage of the game to see how the home side could score two goals to keep their grand final challenge alive. But Strikers didn’t throw in the towel. Instead they threw themselves into the task.

They were unlucky not find a lifeline a few minutes later when Palmer weaved his way through a congested Heidelberg penalty area to get close to goal, only to have his finishing shot hit the heels of clueless Hedelberg defender with Theodoridis-Petropoulos off his line and beaten.

Almost straightaway Strikers were back on the attack, with Omori forcing a desperate block on the edge of Heidelberg’s penalty area that fell to McLean some fifteen yards out from goal. The midfielder swung his boot at the ball but although he connected meatily he drove it over the crossbar and the chance was gone.

There wouldn’t be another for the home side until the eighty-first minute, when an exquisite through-ball by McLean with the outside of his right foot put Lee into the Heidelberg box with the ball at his feet. Lee went for power from ten yards on the angle, but the ball skewed away high and wide and Strikers’ last real chance to get back into the game evaporated.

The visitors were untroubled after that to run down the clock and claim their first, and Victoria’s first, NPL Finals Series Grand Final. Shortly afterwards they lifted the trophy in front of the Perry Park grandstand to raucous support from their contingent of travelling supporters, leaving Strikers to ponder how they had lost a final by conceding two goals after, when all was said and done, their back four of Henslee, Marshall, Omori and Sam Knight had rarely been seriously troubled.

But such is football and Baker was magnanimous in defeat.

“We had a few chances in the first half and you know in those types of games you are only going to get a few chances. But unfortunately tonight we didn’t take those chances when they came,” Baker said.

“We knew Heidelberg’s strengths. They are quite a physical team and they like to get the ball forward to Kenny (Athiu) and get numbers around the ball and play lots of diagonal balls.

“We tried to screen our centre backs and protect them as much as we could, and it’s hard to defend against that type of football. But I thought we did that reasonably well and limited them to a reasonable number of chances.

“But they were a very smart team and you can tell they’ve played lots of high-pressure games down in their league, because of their management of the game – even when the ball went out – and with the referee. They knew when to play in some tight areas and they knew when to play forward quickly and try to break us down.

“I think they were deserved winners on the night.

“I don’t think there is too much different technically between our best players and Heidelberg’s best players, but you can definitely tell they play in higher-intensity games week in, week out. We would love to play those types of games every week and we feel confident that we could do well and improve if given that opportunity week in and week out”.
Despite their disappointment at losing the Grand Final, Baker said his players could look back with pride on their 2017 season.

“The boys have been superb,” he said.

“They set their sights at the start of the year to win the league and do well in the (FFA) Cup and do well in this finals series. So, to tick off the league and be the first Queensland team to win the league two years consecutively was massive.

“We obviously had the disappointment of the FFA Cup but I think that has helped us going into this finals series.

“It hurts at the moment and it probably hurts more than we thought it might, but I think when we wake up on Monday morning and look back on the year the boys can be proud of their efforts and use tonight as an experience to hopefully better us next year.”

PlayStation 4 National Premier Leagues Finals Series 2017 Grand Final
Saturday, September 30,
Perry Park
Brisbane Strikers FC 0 v Heidelberg United FC 2 (Zahra 42, Ellis 61)
Referee – Adrian Arndt

Brisbane Strikers: Zac Speedy (gk), Jake Marshall, Greig Henslee, Ethan Docherty, Michael Lee, Michael Angus (c), Jake McLean, Jeremy Stewart, Sam Knight, Hiroki Omori, Ryan Palmer. Subs: Braedon Steel, Luke Marsh. Coach: Owen Baker

Heidelberg United: Christopher Theodoridis-Petropoulos (gk), Joshua Wilkins, Jordan Wilkes, Lewis Hall, Reuben Way, Adrian Zahra, Jack Petrie, Ken Athiu, Luke Byles (c), Sean Ellis, Alexander Schiavo Subs: Andrew Cartanos, Steven Pace, Michael Trigger. Coach: George Katsakis

Photo: Michele Pitman

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