Strikers Clip Eagles’ Wings To Earn Home Grand Final

Sep 24, 2017 by

The Brisbane Strikers will host the Grand Final of the 2017 PlayStation ® 4 NPL Finals Series after overcoming a withering travel schedule and wilting heat in Newcastle to prevail 2-0 over Edgeworth Eagles FC at Jack McLaughlan Oval this afternoon.

Goals from top scorer Jeremy Stewart and midfielder Michael Lee (pictured) – the latter from the penalty spot in the fifth minute of stoppage time – sealed the result for the visiting team and ensured that Melbourne’s Heidelberg United will have to travel to Brisbane for the decider.

Under the points system that governs the PlayStation 4 NPL Finals Series Strikers ended up with 28 points after two games to Heidelberg’s 14, thereby earning hosting rights that will see the Grand Final played at Perry Park at 6.00 pm next Saturday.

The Friday night storms that hit Brisbane saw Strikers stranded on the airport runway. The subsequent cancellation of their flight saw the game, originally scheduled for Saturday, postponed until Sunday afternoon. Saturday’s travel schedule proved no less less arduous but, in a game that started in 37 degree heat, Strikers made light of those dramas and started strongly.

An early chance at the back post for Stewart saw his header scrambled off Edgeworth’s goal line by desperate defending.

But the rangy forward was on hand in the twenty-eight minute to put his team deservedly ahead after Edgeworth goalkeeper Josh Low had all sorts of problems dealing with a corner kick taken by midfielder Jake McLean.

McLean’s inswinger appeared to deceive Low, who leapt to his right to claw the ball out of the air and prevent it from going straight into his goal. Midfielder Ethan Docherty reacted first for Strikers to stab the ball goalwards and force Low into another desperate save before Stewart lunged at the rebound to force it past Low with his thigh.

It wasn’t the prettiest of goals, but it stood and Strikers had the all-important opener on an afternoon when the chasing team was always going to struggle in the heat.

Sure enough, the home side huffed and puffed but made little impression on the contest as Strikers’ swarming midfield choked off the supply lines to Edgeworth’s talismanic forward, Daniel McBreen.

The former Hyundai A-League Golden Boot winner had only one first half chance – a back post header to Aaron McLaughlin’s cross that clattered into the advertising hoardings behind Strikers’ goal.

On the other hand Strikers were a little unlucky not to extend their lead on the stroke of half time when Stewart tried his luck from twenty yards with a low drive that skimmed past Low’s upright with the goalkeeper deceived, flat-footed and watching on anxiously.

Strikers came out for the second half apparently determined to ensure Edgeworth could not get a soft early equaliser, conceding most of the possession and territory over its opening fifteen minutes and getting yellow shirts behind the ball.

That they did so successfully owed much to excellent footwork and technique from Speedy, back in the starting lineup after overcoming a shoulder injury, who backpedalled and produced an outstanding one-handed save to tip a cross-come-shot from Edgeworth’s skinheaded fullback Aaron Oppedisano from nestling in the top corner of his goal.

Having survived that scare, Strikers came back into the contest strongly. Edgeworth defender Pat Wheeler produced an outstanding sliding block to take the ball off the toes of McLean, who had been played in by an inspired through-ball from Lee, in the sixty-fourth minute as Strikers regained the major share of ball possession to put pressure on the home side.

Strikers coach Owen Baker began using his bench to bring on fresh legs over the last 20 minutes. Luke Marsh and Braedon Steele came on to good effect as Edgeworth struggled to find a way to break down a Strikers defence that had Jake Marshall all over McBreen like the proverbial cheap suit while centre half partner Greig Henslee did his usual snuffing out job on anything that came near.

There was no way through for a tiring and frustrated home side, which turned over too much ball and allowed Strikers’ skilfull midfielders to run the show as the match crept into the last ten minutes.

Baker used his bench again, bringing on winger Zac Maltby in the eighty-sixth minute. But he was forced to watch on in anxiety and despair as Maltby, in his first challenge for the ball with Wheeler, went down in pain and had to be stretchered off.

That left Strikers with ten men, having used up their substitutes, and probably in a mild state of shock when the fourth official signalled there would be seven minutes of stoppage time for those ten men to survive.

But Edgeworth seemed to have nothing left in their tank and it was they, in fact, who spent most of the seven extra minutes locked inside their own half and defending against a visiting team who made the ball do the work.

Eventually the home team was forced into error when Lee combined with Steele for the latter’s shot to be parried away by Low. Lee swooped on the rebound but was scythed down inside Edgeworth’s penalty area by a tired-looking challenge and a penalty was the result.

Lee then got up to take the spot-kick himself, calmly slotting it high to Low’s left as the keeper dived right, sending the net bulging and Strikers emphatically into the Grand Final.

Strikers coach Owen Baker, who has seamlessly taken over the reigns handed to him by the departed Sean Lane and coaxed two excellent performances out of his players over the past week, was understandably delighted with their efforts after the game.

While he said the whole team, including the substitutes, had put in a big effort, four players had been crucial in executing the team’s game plan to starve McBreen of the oxygen he needed to make an impact for Edgeworth.

“Henslee and Jake were excellent at winning the first ball, which we knew was so, so important,” Baker said.

“But Michael Angus and Ethan Docherty today were defending just in front of them and they did a tremendous job. Those four, in winning the ball and then getting it down and keeping it, and getting our fullbacks (Hiroki Omori and Sam Knight) into the game – they executed the game plan perfectly, I thought.”

Baker said that after earning their Grand Final spot with two wins on the road, Strikers were looking forward to the opportunity to play the decider at home.

“The boys have put in a massive, massive shift over the past couple of weeks and we’re so proud of them,” he said.
“It’s going to be nice to come back to Perry Park and play in front of our families, friends and supporters.

“We came into this competition wanting to do well and to win it. Heidelberg are a great team and have had a great season in NPL Victoria, so it is an exciting challenge to invite them to Perry Park”.

There will now be an anxious wait to find out the extent of Malby’s injury as Strikers prepare for their last challenge of 2017 – the chance to become the PlayStation 4 National Premier Leagues Champions of Australia.

Edgeworth Eagles 0 v Brisbane Strikers 2 [Stewart 28, Lee (pen) 90+5)

Photo: Albert Perez

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