Lacklustre Strikers Bundled Out Of Cup

May 06, 2017 by

The Brisbane Strikers’ hopes of qualifying for a fourth consecutive Westfield FFA Cup appearance stalled, crashed and burned on the launch pad tonight when they were beaten 3-1 by Brisbane Premier League club Rochedale Rovers at Underwood Park.

A disappointing showing from a Strikers side again missing the services of injured captain Michael Angus met with a more desperate, disciplined and determined one from a home side who overcame the shock of conceding early to Strikers midfielder Ryan Palmer before going on to win the contest through goals to Seiji Shizuno, Lewis Cameron and Kado Aoci.

There was no sign of the lethargic performance to follow for Strikers in the opening five minutes. A series of opening raids down the right side of their attack culminated in a goal to Palmer, who arrived at the back post to coolly convert a low cross from Greg Cheshire, slipping the ball between the legs of Rovers goalkeeper James Harkin to the groans of most of the home fans.

But Strikers were perhaps guilty of thinking the early goal was going to make things all too easy.

They fell asleep from the restart, allowing Rovers to work the ball forward to attacking midfielder Shizuno on the edge of Strikers’ penalty area. Shizuno then stunned the visitors and got the crowd on its feet with a rasping drive that flew into the back of the Strikers’ net, giving Zac Speedy no chance on its way past him.

After this burst of early scoring activity the teams paused for breath, sounding each other out as they tried to settle into their pre-match tactics. Strikers almost became the next team to draw blood when a spell of patient possession led to an overlap on the left side of Rovers’ penalty area that saw fullback Hiroki Omori played into space. Omori sized up his options and went for the angled drive, missing the far post by a whisker with Harkin at full stretch.

But that let-off for Rovers was to prove costly for Strikers as the home team hit back the very next minute. Winger Sam Fellows was found with a pass near Rovers’ right touchline and, although hemmed in by about three Strikers defenders, was allowed to get his head up and launch a long Crossfield ball towards Cameron, who had many metres of empty space between himself and Strikers fullback Sam Knight.

Cameron did the rest all too easily, drifting inside Knight and dribbling towards the edge of the penalty area before picking his spot and pulling the trigger to again give Speedy no chance with a thunderous drive that flew high into the net.

In worrying signs for Strikers coach Sean Lane, going behind on the scoreboard seemed to do little to galvanise his team, who remained on the back foot for most of the half as a pumped up home side pressed them into error time and again to ensure play continued flowing towards Speedy’s goal.

In fact, Strikers had their goalkeeper and centre half Jake Marshall to thank for keeping them in the contest prior to the half time break. Speedy displayed scarcely believable reflexes and agility to palm away a well-struck shot from no more than eight yards by Fellows after the winger had been left free to bring down a cross from Rochedale’s left flank.

Meanwhile Marshall, a minute into first half stoppage time, was in the right place at the right time to clear off his own goal line after a Rochedale head had been first to the last of a series of corner kicks the home side won late in the half.

It was clear that Lane had his work cut out at half time. His team was playing with nothing like the style and swagger they had shown during a four-match winning streak against teams mostly in the lower half of the PlayStation 4 NPL Queensland table, while Rovers were playing like men possessed as they swarmed and forced Strikers into error and played the ball forward quickly at every opportunity to keep the visitors on the back foot.

Neither coach made any personnel changes during the half time break and Strikers, for the next fifteen minutes, enjoyed most of the possession and territory and looked as if they were up for the challenge of finding a way back into the contest.

But early half chances went astray as a shot from midfielder Jake McLean from twenty yards went a metre wide of the target and centre half Greig Henslee’s header to a loose ball following a corner kick rested on the roof of the net instead of going under the crossbar as Rovers lived dangerously.

Having resisted and survived the Strikers’ early second half efforts, Rovers got their pressing game going again and it wasn’t long before the visitors again found themselves pinned inside their own half defending a series of free kicks and throw-ins. Their momentum broke down and when Fellows was allowed time and space on the edge of Strikers penalty area to unleash a shot that beat Speedy, only to cannon back off a goalpost, Rovers centre forward Kado Aoci was on hand to tuck away the rebound and put Rovers 3-1 ahead midway through the second half.

There was ample time for Strikers to fight back. But in further worrying signs for Lane, when they needed to find an extra gear they failed to do so. Instead it was Rovers, with the scent of victory in their nostrils, who found it.

Despite Lane emptying his bench, bringing on attacking weapons Luke Marsh and Shaun Carlos and midfielder Ethan Docherty in an attempt to shake things up, Rovers had all the answers. And they lay in the simple, grafting things – a strong block tackle here, a toe poke to disrupt momentum there, and the simple denial of time and space as Strikers tried to play the ball through the middle or out wide – as Rovers kept their penalty area unbreached and Harkin largely unchallenged.

Half chances to Docherty and Marsh, both of which required hurried shots from the edge of Rovers’ penalty area that flew high over the crossbar, were the best opportunities Strikers could create over the remainder of the match. Meanwhile while Speedy was forced into another top-quality fingertip save to deflect a shot from Shizuno on to the outside of his post.

There was a growing feeling of inevitability that Strikers were heading for their first-ever pre-Round of 32 exit from the FFA Cup and when that was confirmed by the full time whistle they could have had few complaints. A Strikers team who had four or five players performing significantly below their best levels had been beaten by a more committed and, on the night, more methodical team whose game plan had produced rewards – a factor confirmed by stand-in skipper Henslee after the game.

“Rochedale came out with a game plan and they obviously executed it very well,” Henslee said.

“High intensity, high press, a physical game, early balls into the box – they pretty much worked it out to a tee for the whole ninety minutes. We were sort of waiting for them to let up and it just didn’t happen.

“We stuck to our game plan but we maybe didn’t execute it as well as we really should have and would like to have done.

“We don’t have any complaints. Rochedale were the better team on the night”.

Henslee said his team’s focus now would turn to making the most of their league campaign – as it must, with any further involvement in the Westfield FFA Cup now out of the reckoning.

“It’s a bitter pill to swallow for us, obviously, given the Cup runs that we’ve been on in previous years at the club.

“But we’re all big boys. We’ve all had tough defeats in the past and I’m sure we’ll suffer some more in the future. That’s football.

“But at the end of the day, well done to Rochedale but we’re not too downbeat in the dressing room. We’ll come back on Monday and we have to one hundred percent focus on winning the league now”.

“We will come back stronger from this, no doubt about it”.

Westfield FFA Cup Preliminary Round 5: Rochedale Rovers FC 3 (Shizuno 6, Cameron 18, Aoci 66) v Brisbane Strikers FC 1 (Palmer 5)

Rochedale Rovers: James Harkin (gk), Lewis Cameron, Kado Aoci, Ryan Faichnie, Samuel Fellows, Uryu Nagata, Todd Norris, Tomas Ross, Seiji Shizuno, Ryan Stenhouse (c), Jason Tobin. Subs: Tim Morgan, Erik Ortega. Coach: Scott MacNicol

Brisbane Strikers: Zac Speedy (gk), Jake Marshall, Greig Henslee, Sam Knight, Hiroki Omori, Ryan Palmer, Michael Lee, Jake McLean, Jeremy Stewart, Greg Cheshire, Fintan Lane. Subs: Luke Marsh, Ethan Docherty, Shaun Carlos. Coach: Sean Lane

Photo: Michele Pitman

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