Pride Clash “At The Right Time” For Strikers?

May 17, 2018 by

As the Brisbane Strikers prepare for one of the biggest games of their 2018 season – Saturday’s visit to Briggs Road to play Western Pride FC – key forward Rhys Meredith says the game could not be coming at a better time for his team.

If the 1-0 win over Olympic FC in Round 11 was a life or death “must-win” for Strikers if they were to retain hopes of successfully defending their dual premiership, the Round 14 game against Pride appeals more as an opportunity.

Third-placed Strikers have been chasing second-placed Pride since the Ipswich-based club beat them 2-1 at Perry Park in Round 1. But a long winning streak for Strikers, and Pride’s defeat at home to Brisbane City last weekend, sees Strikers only two points behind Pride with the chance to climb above them on the league table if they can win.

And according to Meredith (pictured), Strikers have the momentum.

“It’s come at the right time of the season to play them,” said Meredith.

“We got off to a slow start, but we’re getting stronger every game and the confidence is definitely there now, compared to what it was at the start of the season.”

It took Strikers until the fourth round of the season to get their first win. When they did, it began a run that has now seen them win their last nine league games. Pride achieved an identical feat. But defeat away to Brisbane City in an FFA Cup qualifier two weeks ago was followed by another loss to the same club at Briggs Road in the league last weekend, as Graham Harvey’s free-scoring team hit a pothole on the road to what they hope will be their first NPL Queensland premiership.

Pride’s stutter has coincided with the departure of their leading scorer, Dylan Wenzel-Halls to Hyundai A-League club Brisbane Roar. Wenzel-Halls had bagged a mind-boggling 23 goals in 11 games this season and Meredith said it was no surprise Pride’s form had dipped since he left.

“It has to be critical to lose someone so pivotal in the team, and scoring that many goals,” Meredith said. “It’s got to hurt you, so that can contribute to the couple of losses they’ve had. We’ll see how they come back from it.”

Regular Pride skipper, Jesse Rigby, also has not played for them this month. Whether he returns for Saturday’s game remains to be seen, but Strikers would be foolish to assume that a Pride team without both Wenzel-Halls and Rigby lacks the resilience to bounce back to form.

They still have plenty of goal scoring potential in Andrew Pengelly (nine goals) and Joe Duckworth (seven), who compare favourably with the Strikers’ leading scorers – Trent Clulow and Jake McLean (both on seven).

And in coach Harvey they have a tactician who has often been able to stifle the Strikers’ own attacking brilliance, both with Pride (Strikers have not beaten Pride since 2016) and before that as coach of the Whitsunday Miners in the former QSL, where Miners inflicted a semi-final defeat on Strikers in 2012.

In Strikers’ favour on Saturday, however, is that they have a stronger squad to select from than they did when beaten by Pride earlier this season.

“Obviously I was coming back from injury, Trent was injured and I think a couple of players were struggling with niggles early on,” said Meredith.

“But everyone’s been fully fit for a few weeks now, and training’s tough and there’s competition. Young Zach Maltby’s been playing well and we’ve been competing up front, and in the midfield you’ve got two or three players who can go in any position.

“So you know you’ve got to play well week in, week out or you won’t be playing the next week. It’s that simple”.

Meredith, top scorer for Strikers in their breakthrough NPL Queensland premiership season in 2016, has been gradually working his way back to full fitness this year after rupturing his anterior cruciate ligament early in 2017.

Maltby’s strong form has meant Meredith has not been an automatic starter since overcoming a hamstring strain in mid-March. But far from sulking about that, Meredith said it was actually helping him.

“It has taken the pressure off me and also the coaches,” said Meredith.

“They haven’t had to throw me in. I’ve actually enjoyed coming back (to fitness) slowly. I was breaking down early in the season, which I’m not any more. I’ve been able to come back a bit more in my own time.

“It’s been perfect. It’s been good to see him (Maltby) going from strength to strength. It’s about time for some of these young kids to start stepping up and it’s good to see.”

NPL Queensland Round 14: Western Pride FC v Brisbane Strikers FC, Briggs Road, Saturday 19 May, 7.00 pm (Under-18s 3.00 pm, NPL Women – Western Pride v SWQ Thunder, 5.00 pm).

Photo: Mitch Pitman

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