Rampant Strikers Ride Roughshod Over Fire

Aug 05, 2018 by

Explosive finishing made a welcome return to Perry Park last night as the Brisbane Strikers brutally put old foes Sunshine Coast FC Fire to the relegation sword with an 8-1 thrashing to add an exclamation mark to Strikers fullback Sam Knight’s one-hundredth appearance for the club.

While thrashings have not been a rarity in Fire’s 2018 season of woe, the kind of finishing prowess Strikers showed has not always been evident this year. But if this week’s NPL highlights reel does not feature two or three contenders for goal of the season from Strikers’ second half avalanche last night it will be a surprise.

Strikers went into the game with only one change to the starting eleven favoured by coach Owen Baker in the previous weekend’s 1-1 draw with Brisbane City, as tall midfielder Seb Scaroni replaced Ryan Palmer.

To Fire’s credit they tried to play football throughout while resisting particularly strongly in the opening thirty minutes to restrict Strikers, who dominated possession of the ball, to only a few half-chances. They also occasionally forced Strikers to scramble as they counter-attacked, such as when winger Kaelen Debbage found space on their right flank to produce a deep, outswinging cross that Douglas Brown volleyed high over Tomi Mesaric’s crossbar from about ten yards.

But Fire’s defences frayed at the edges when they conceded a free kick just outside their own penalty area in the thirty-second minute. Strikers midfielder Jake McLean, increasingly more dangerous with the dead ball at his feet as the season has progressed, stepped up to take the resulting direct free kick and hammered it low and hard through Fire’s defensive wall. Fire goalkeeper Ethan Reed was well-positioned to block the shot but could not hold it. The rebound popped out to Zach Maltby, who made no mistake from close range to put Strikers 1-0 up.

As so often happens when a struggling team has been breached after a period of stout resistance, Fire coughed up another goal almost immediately. Only three further minutes elapsed before Clulow, raiding near Fire’s byline and inside their penalty area, had his shirt tugged by Fire defender Gabriel Durand and referee Nathan McDonald awarded Strikers a penalty. McLean slotted his spot kick to Reed’s left, the keeper dived the other way, and Strikers were suddenly 2-0 up and looking comfortable.

That Fire escaped to their dressing room at half time with no further damage owed a lot to Reed, who made excellent saves at close range to deny midfielder Braedon Steel after his fine solo run past several defenders, and then Maltby.
Fire’s second half began deceptively brightly as midfielder Nicolas Huet forced Mesaric into a fine save, spreading his body to block an effort from close range five minutes after the restart. But Strikers resumed knocking at Fire’s door, with efforts from Clulow and Scaroni flying not far wide of the target as Strikers showed more willingness to shoot from distance.

That willingness was to pay off handsomely in spectacular style in the sixty-fourth minute when Strikers took a corner kick that was cleared by Fire in the direction of McLean, some twenty-two yards out from goal and somewhere near the right hand side of Fire’s penalty area. Think Tim Cahill in the 2014 World Cup, and combine it with Marco Van Basten in the 1988 European Championships, and you’ll get some idea of the outrageous piece of skill that McLean came up with next.

Facing away from goal and with the ball dropping over his right shoulder, McLean took it on the volley, swivelling back towards goal as he did so to send the ball looping over the bemused Reed and into the far corner of his goal to the stunned disbelief of most people within the ground.

It was a scarcely believable way to put Strikers 3-0 up and it seemed to become infectious. Galvanised by McLean’s audacious strike, the home side went in search of more goals, with Clulow, Steel and McLean himself going close before Reed made another brave save to deny Steel at close range in the seventy-fifth minute.

It was to little avail, however, because two minutes later Clulow sent Steel racing through on goal with a lofted crossfield pass and this time the young attacking midfielder closed the deal, slotting the ball low to one side of the exposed goalkeeper to make the score 4-0.

Baker had already begun turning the screws from the bench, introducing Palmer and Josh Matcham in place of Scaroni and Maltby. Now he substituted McLean with Joel Anich and Fire’s night was to go from bad to worse as all three substitutes got on the scoresheet.

But not before Clulow added to the scoring fireworks. The winger drove a dagger into Fire’s tiring hearts when he took defender Sam Standish on a run before dragging the ball back to leave the defender on the turf and send a right-footed rocket into the far corner of Reed’s net for 5-0.

Then Anich got into the act, taking one touch to control a loose ball perhaps thirty yards out from Fire’s goal before unleashing, with almost languid ease, another Exocet missile that gave Reed no chance as it whistled into the bottom left corner of his goal. What a way for Anich to score his first senior team goal!

6-0, and Strikers weren’t letting up. Four minutes later Matcham also got his first goal for the senior team, this time in a more regulation fashion as the young forward arrived at the edge of the six-yard box to finish off fullback Sam Knight’s low cross at the second attempt.

Palmer then rubbed salt into Fire’s wounds when he dispossessed Durand to complete a miserable evening for the Fire defender, who was left on his knees and slapping the Perry Park turf in frustration as Palmer raced unchallenged towards goal to beat Reed from close range.

Devastated on the scoreboard and conclusively relegated as they were, Fire’s young and outgunned team had not, at any stage, resorted to simply lumping the ball away to safety. To their credit, they had tried to use the ninety minutes to play some decent football of their own whenever they had the ball.

In the ninetieth minute they finally got something to show for their efforts when forward Joshua Cook, whose athleticism and work rate had kept Strikers centre halves Greig Henslee and Brock Messenger on their toes, won the ball just outside Strikers’ penalty area before despatching a low drive. Cook’s skimming shot eluded Mesaric’s full-length dive to finish in the bottom corner of his goal to make the final score 8-1 to the home team.

But the night belonged to Strikers, who closed the gap between themselves and fourth-placed Moreton Bay United (who lost 1-2 to SWQ Thunder) to four points. The result resuscitated Strikers’ finals chase, which seemed to have stalled with last weekend’s disappointing draw with Brisbane City.

While last night’s performance might have left Baker wishing his team had shown the same kind of ruthlessness last week, it had skipper Michael Angus purring about it when asked to comment on his team’s performance and, in particular, the second half goals scored by Anich and McLean.

“We knew at half time that we needed to be aggressive and be ruthless and I think we did that,” Angus said. “There were some great finishes in there, for sure, which is great and we are delighted to have got the amount of goals that we did.

“I know Joel scores those types of goals in the Under-20s every week, so it didn’t really surprise me in all fairness. When it popped out to the edge (of the penalty area) and he’s taken his first touch out of his feet, I was sitting just behind him and could have put a bet on it, I’ve seen it before. But I’m delighted for him, obviously.

“And I was sitting behind Jake. Again, he’s done it before. He’s had moments like that. He’s a brilliant player. You know he’s got that moment of brilliance in him and it’s just one of those things Jakey can offer.”
Angus acknowledged that next weekend’s home match against third-placed Olympic FC takes on a greater significance after last night’s results.

“It’s amazing how football works. It’s every game as it comes. We know results are so important at this stage and anything can happen,” Angus said.

“A win against Olympic can change things a little bit for everybody as well. We know that, we understand that. There’s three games to go and they are massively important games and obviously the result is the main thing.”

NPL Queensland Round 23, Perry Park, Saturday, 4 August, 2018: Brisbane Strikers 8 [Maltby 32; McLean 35 (pen), 64; Steel 77, Clulow 79, Anich 83, Matcham 87, Palmer 88] v Sunshine Coast Fire 1 (Cook, 90).

Brisbane Strikers: Tomislav Mesaric (gk), Brock Messenger, Greig Henslee, Michael Angus (c), Jake McLean, Braedon Steel, Sam Knight, Hiroki Omori, Trent Clulow, Sebastian Scaroni, Zachary Maltby Subs: Ryan Palmer, Josh Matcham, Joel Anich. Coach: Owen Baker

Sunshine Coast FC Fire: Ethan Reed (gk), Sam Standish, Harrison Brown, James Stinson (c), Nicolas Huet, Taj Hudson, Joshua Cook, Kaelan Debbage, Brent Evans, Douglas Brown, Gabriel Durand. Subs: Josiah Becsi, Ryan McMaster. Coach: Richard Hudson

Referee: Nathan MacDonald

Photo: Roze Gallo

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