Stirring Second Half Fightback Seizes Derby Points For Strikers

Apr 08, 2018 by

“To find ourselves two-nil down in a very crucial game, where we are really trying to build momentum – we just knew that we had to give more. Every one of us had to give more, and we did that and we got that first goal.

“And once that first goal went in we came home like a steam train and I don’t think anyone in the league would have stopped us tonight in that sort of form”.

That was how Brisbane Strikers centre half, speaking immediately after last night’s NPL Queensland Round 9 ‘River City Derby’, summed up his team’s stunning performance in taking a 2-0 half time deficit and turning it into a thoroughly convincing 4-2 win against neighbours Brisbane City.

Strikers had trailed in dispiriting fashion to a wonder goal and a defensive blunder – more on those soon – but produced a withering second half performance to put City to the sword with goals from Zach Maltby, Trent Clulow, Ryan Palmer and Jake.

Strikers had been dealt a blow before the game when influential midfielder Michael Lee failed a late fitness test on the back injury he sustained a fortnight ago against Redlands United. Rhys Meredith and Denis Yongule were also ruled out through illness, which left Maltby to lead the attacking line with no experienced first-teamers on the bench to take his place if needed.

This was perhaps not the best way to approach a game against opponents that football manager David Large had described, pre-game, as dangerous and unpredictable. City were to live up to that description.

The first half began with both teams in fluent passing form, launching attack and counter-attack. Strikers probably should have opened the scoring after a quarter of an hour when a mis-control by a City defender allowed Maltby in for a shot on goal, but the teenager fired his shot from close range across goal and just wide of City goalkeeper Jake Clancy’s far post without forcing Clancy into a save.

Strikers were to pay dearly for the miss five minutes later in sensational fashion when their former winger-cum-fullback Greg King, nowadays skippering City from centre half, plunged a dagger into the heart of his former club with an early candidate for goal of the season.

All of the play was in front of King when he received a pass some five or ten metres inside his own half and spotted Strikers goalkeeper Nathan Archbold well off his line – as he was probably entitled to be, in the circumstances. King then launched the most outrageous of long-range bombs. Archbold saw it coming and backpedaled furiously towards his own line, but not even his last-second full-length leap could prevent King’s inch-perfect lofted drive from clearing the ‘keeper’s head and dipping under his crossbar to give City a gobsmacking opening goal.

The remainder of the first half was fought out in real derby style as Strikers upped the ante in search of an equalizer and City responded in determined fashion. Tackles became progressively more ferocious and desperate, supporters of both teams were brought into the game in support of their teams in view of perceived injustices from referee Matt Skinner, and the atmosphere and play became ‘tasty’ at times.

Chances continued to come for the home team. Omori blazed a shot wide from inside City’s penalty area and Clancy stood up tall and strong to beat away Jake McLean’s shot in a one-on-one, before producing a stunning save to deny the same player’s twenty-yard effort in a frenetic six-minute spell midway through the half.

Further calamity then struck the home team when Archbold passed the ball out of his penalty area to skipper Michael Angus, whose first touch was too heavy and allowed City midfielder Scott Halliday, pressing high up the field, to dispossess him. Halliday scooted away with defenders giving chase, sent a simple square pass towards Strikers’ six-yard box to Sam Sibatuara and the City playmaker did the rest, tapping in from close range to put City 2-0 ahead.

To rub salt into the home team’s wounds, Clancy produced another stunning save to fingertip away an angled drive from Palmer in the dying seconds of the half and the teams went into the break.

Make no mistake, this would have been a gut-wrenching scoreline for the home team to take into their dressing room after a half in which it could not be said their back four of Henslee, Michael McGowan, Omori and Sam Knight had been seriously tested. Instead, what was being seriously tested was the character of the home team, who knew they had to pull something special out of their bag for the second half if they were to earn any points from the game.

Perhaps it was a signal of their intent that Strikers were back out on the field early, waiting for City to re-emerge from their dressing room. When City duly obliged they were set about with a ferocity that answered any questions Strikers supporters might have had about their team’s spirit.

Maltby was in the action early, testing Clancy with a shot at his near post that the ‘keeper deflected to safety with his legs. City responded with two efforts from James Meyer – the first a skewed shot from the edge of Strikers’ penalty area that went wide, and the second an angled drive from closer in that Archbold saved two-handed.

Then Strikers launched their fightback. In the fifty-sixth minute Palmer released Maltby into City’s penalty area with the deftest of touches with the outside of his right foot to help on Angus’s pass . This time, Maltby left Clancy wrongfooted with his finish as he blasted his shot high to the ‘keeper’s left with Clancy’s body weight shifting to his right.

To an approving roar from the home crowd, Strikers were now back in the hunt for points and almost drew level a minute later when Palmer picked the pocket of City fullback Nathan Beagley and slipped a pass to Knight. Knight then produced a teasing outswinging cross from the byline that flew past Clancy and was met by the chest of Maltby only to skim wide of the far post.

Had Maltby only stooped to head, instead of puffing out his chest, Strikers would surely have been level but perhaps he saw the ball too late. In any case, it was not to matter muxh because only a minute later Knight was back at City’s byline following interplay between Maltby and Clulow. Knight delivered another perfectly-weighted cross and this time Clulow was on the spot to force the ball across Clancy’s line. City defenders suggested Clulow’s hand was involved, but Skinner checked with his assistant and ruled the goal legitimate and Strikers were back on level terms with plenty of time to push for a winner.

And push for it they did. But not before City’s Halliday tested Archbold with a rising piledriver from twenty yards that the diving ‘keeper tipped on to his crossbar. It was a brilliant save, but Strikers still needed an assistant referee’s offside call to survive the moment after the ball came down off the crossbar and was headed in by Seiji Shizuno only for the goal to be disallowed.

In the seventy-fifth minute Maltby’s tireless running at City’s defenders paid handsome dividends for the home team as Clancy got his positioning wrong as Clulow delivered a measured twenty-metre pass from inside his own half into the space behind Maltby. Clancy elected to come out of his area to sweep, but the young striker easily beat Clancy and a chasing defender to the ball, dribbled around Clancy and then kept his wits about him to pick out Palmer’s run into the box. City defender Tom Aulton, desperately battling cramps, got himself positioned on City’s goal line for a clearance but Palmer’s firm and precise right-footed finish was too good and Strikers were in front 3-2.

They never looked like relinquishing the lead they had worked so hard to capture. Both teams used their bench, City bringing on Alex Fiechtner, Andre Bonatto and Max Mikkola for Halliday, Aulton and Kye Bolton while Strikers brought on Jack Stevens for his first appearance in the senior team, in place of Palmer.

While Mikkola, in particular, made an impact for City it was to be Stevens who would have the greatest influence on the contest. Positioned on the left side of Strikers’ midfield, Stevens spotted yet another forward run by Maltby in the eighty-second minute and picked him out with a lofted pass. Maltby took the ball deep into City’s penalty area, held the ball up for a moment and ignored Clulow’s heavily-defended run towards the near post. Instead, the youngster elected to lay the ball back to McLean, who unceremoniously crashed a twenty-yard shot past the diving Clancy and into his goal off the far post to round out the scoreline.

City had a couple of late flurries. Sibatuara chased a bouncing ball into Strikers’ penalty area and, with Strikers centre backs Henslee and McGowan unsuccessfully appealing for handball, poked his shot wide of goal with only Archbold to beat.

That was to be City’s last real opportunity to claw their way back into the contest. Mikkola’s stoppage time miss with a half-chance from fifteen yards would have made no difference to the result had it gone in, but it left Strikers celebrating a belief-building 4-2 win and City wondering where it all went wrong.

The two teams will now prepare for midweek FFA Cup ties as they survey a NPL Queensland league table that sees the top six opening up a six-point gap to City in seventh position.

Having reflected on his team’s second half fightback, Henslee was also only too happy, when asked, to also speak about the contribution played by Maltby in the absence of more experienced attackers.

“I’ve only been here four years, but every year there seems to be a young kid who comes through the youth system and really takes his opportunity with both hands,” Henslee said.

“He’s done that over the last three or four weeks. He’s just a little ball of energy up there. He gives so much and chases. He’s now starting to find the back of the net, which is obviously crucial for a ‘nine’ and he’s just starting to learn the game a little bit.

“He’s winning those fouls in and around the box, he’s pressing when he needs to press and he’s dropping when he needs to drop off and he’s really maturing into a fine ‘nine’.

“He’s going to be massive for us for the rest of the season.”

NPL Queensland Round 9: Brisbane Strikers 4 (Maltby 55, Clulow 60, Palmer 75, McLean 82) v Brisbane City 2 (King 20, Sibatuara37), Perry Park, Saturday 7 April

Brisbane Strikers: Nathan Archbold (gk), Brock Messenger, Greig Henslee, Michael McGowan, Michael Angus (c), Jake McLean, Sam Knight, Ryan Palmer, Hiroki Omori, Trent Clulow, Zachary Maltby. Subs: Jack Stevens, Sebastian Scaroni. Coach: David Large

Brisbane City: Jake Clancy (gk), Greg King (c), Thomas Aulton, Rhys Raymond, Seiji Shizuno, Scott Halliday, James Meyer, Nathan Bird, Samuel Sibatuara, Kye Bolton, Nathan Beagley. Subs: Alexander Fiechtner, Andre Bonatto, Maximillian Mikkola. Coach: Phillip Calabrese.

Referee: Matt Skinner

Match footage: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GhgxMYVhqc8

Photo (Roze Gallo): Trent Clulow scores Strikers’ equalising goal 

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Media Liaison, Brisbane Strikers Mob: 0432 085 222