Strikers’ Finals Hopes Shot Down By Jets

Aug 27, 2017 by

There will be no 2017 PlayStation ® 4 National Premier Leagues grand final for the Brisbane Strikers after Moreton Bay United Jets stunned the Premiers with a convincing 3-1 win at Perry Park last night.

For the second year in succession the Strikers suffered a post-premiership hangover and fell at the first finals hurdle, beaten by the team which finished fourth on the league table.

But unlike 2016, when Strikers were beaten on penalties by Redlands United after 120 minutes of hard-fought football, last night they were never really in the contest – unable to recover from the shock of conceding two early goals to a Jets team who out-enthused them and made light of their midweek Westfield FFA Cup exertions.

Goals in the tenth and eleventh minutes to centre half Matthew Byrne and attacker Declan Smith put the visitors 2-0 up before their hosts had settled into any sort of rhythm and when Smith added a third goal in the fifty-eighth minute the home side was presented with a mountain it could not climb.

A stoppage time own goal from Byrne gave Strikers not even the scantest of consolation for a flat performance that ended their unbeaten record at Perry Park and left them one match short of having the opportunity to go one better in Queensland competition than last year’s Strikers team.

The home team went into the game with one forced change to their line-up – and it was a somewhat worrisome one. Regular goalkeeper Zac Speedy was ruled out through a shoulder injury sustained in last Sunday’s 2-1 victory over Olympic FC. Understudy Finn Matheson was also considered doubtful with a groin strain, which left coach Sean Lane having to thrust Under-20s goalkeeper Mitchell Thorn into the starting line-up for his senior team debut for the club.

This was a tough assignment for the youngster, but it was not instrumental in why the home team lost the match.

Jets began the contest rather better than their hosts, who nonetheless had a scoring chance in the sixth minute when forward Luke Marsh stole possession just outside of Jets’ penalty area and raced towards goal with the ball at his feet. Jets goalkeeper Jordan Thurtell positioned himself to protect his near post and Marsh looked set to pull the trigger from about ten yards, but instead tried a square pass to a teammate that was intercepted by a Jets defender as the danger was defused.

In the tenth minute Jets won a corner kick on their left flank and midfielder Donggyu Lee aimed an outswinger deep into Strikers’ penalty area. A Jets player won the first header and midfielder Matthew Capelo got a touch on for Riley Campbell. Campbell was through on goal but his shot was blocked by Thorn, who spread himself ably enough. But unluckily for Thorn the ball ricocheted away to Byrne to blasted it home from eight yards.

It was a messy goal but it was manna from heaven for Jets, who would have offered prayers to football’s gods for an early goal to help them ride out the expected storm from their hosts later in the game.

But if those prayers had been answered, they must have thought they’d been granted a miracle only a minute later when Strikers turned over possession soon after the restart. Jets midfielder Alex Janovsky drove forward with the ball at his feet, accepted a clever return pass off Campbell and was into Strikers’ penalty area and closing in on goal. Once again Thorn did well, thrusting out his right hand to deflect Janovsky’s shot, but again luck deserted him as the rebound dropped into the path of Smith, who planted it high into the net from close range.

0-2 down, but still with 79 minutes remaining, the home team spent the rest of the first half trying to get on the front foot. And after a half-hour had passed they began making inroads into a Jets defence that creaked and groaned on several occasions but refused to yield. This was largely thanks to Jets goalkeeper Jordan Thurtell, who proved a very effective last line of defence against the club for which his brother Matthew scored over a hundred goals.

Thurtell came to Jets rescue on a couple of occasions before the interval, firstly positioning himself well to gather a mishit volley from Marsh, whose effort at the back post to finish off a pinpoint cross from fullback Sam Knight could have been hit with more conviction.

But there was nothing lacking in the conviction shown by Strikers midfielder Michael Lee a few minutes later when he strode on to a pass before looking up and thrashing a 20-yard missile that would have finished in the back of Thurtell’s net had the ‘keeper not thrown himself full-length to his right to turn the shot away with strong hands.

Jets also survived another anxious moment when Docherty got behind their defence to cross and the ball was ineffectively cleared to Strikers centre half Greig Henslee, whose shot on the turn appeared to be cleared off Jets’ goal line by a Jets defender.

With Jets still two goals to the good at half time, Strikers coach Sean Lane replaced Marsh with midfielder Ryan Palmer and moved Lee forward to partner Jeremy Stewart up front. For a while Strikers dictated terms and they came close to reducing the deficit when Stewart stabbed out a boot to connect with a cross driven in hard and low by left back Hiroki Omori. But the ball flew just wide of Thurtell’s near post and did not force the ‘keeper into a save.

The home side was looking the more likely to score next, but disaster struck for them in the fifty-eighth minute. With Jets pressing Strikers as they tried to play the ball out from their own defensive third, Henslee opted to play the ball back to Thorn but did so uppishly, forcing the young ‘keeper to control the ball on his chest before skying a hurried clearance under pressure from an onrushing Jets forward.

Jets won possession just outside Strikers’ penalty area when the ball came down, played a square pass to Smith and the tall forward did the rest, passing the ball into an empty net as Thorn tried in vain to get back.

The task of overturning a three-goal deficit with just thirty minutes remaining looked simply too big for a home team that was not playing particularly well. They seemed unable to break down a Jets midfield and back line that swarmed and frequently outnumbered their opponents whenever Strikers broke forward from midfield. The work ethic of the visitors, given their midweek toils, was both highly impressive and highly effective.

Lane used his bench again, bringing on Fraser Eller and sacrificing skipper Michael Angus, who had toiled hard but does not pose the goal scoring threat of a natural striker like Eller. But it was to little effect. While they huffed and puffed, Strikers lacked seemed to lack both the spark and ingenuity that they’ve shown so often at Perry Park over the course of the season.

It wasn’t until stoppage time that they were able to genuinely trouble Thurtell and his defenders, with Stewart and Omori combining to release Omori to the byline. Omori drilled a low cross into a crowded Jets six-yard box where Byrne, facing his own goal, got the touch that at last proved too good for Thurtell.

However, the visitors knew they had the job done and were celebrating a minute later as referee Adam Kersey brought play to a halt.

Jets’ jubilation after the full time whistle was, of course, understandable and had been well-earned. They now go on to play the grand final next weekend against Western Pride, who had a similarly impressive victory, 3-0 away to Gold Coast City.

So the Grand Final will be played for the second year in succession between the teams who finished third and fourth on the league table. Strikers will next see competitive action in Tasmania in mid-September, where they are drawn to play South Hobart FC in the PlayStation 4 NPL Finals Series that pitches the NPL Premiers from each State Federation into battle.

Lane admitted after the match that his team had been beaten by a better side.

“We didn’t play well. It wasn’t our normal attacking game. They set out very well against us and the better team won on the day, to be fair,” Lane said, while adding that Strikers’ failure to put words into deed from the start of the game cost them dearly.

“The last thing we said was that we needed to go out and have a really strong start,” Lane said. “They’d played in midweek and we felt the longer the game went, they’d run out of legs.

“But we needed to make sure that we were the ones that drew first blood and that wasn’t the case. And when the goals went in, obviously for them it’s amazing how much energy you find when you score a goal or two”.

Lane said the team and coaching staff would now switch focus to the task of taking on South Hobart.
“We need to get at least a game, if not two games, between now and then,” Lane said.

“Obviously we are going to train as normal but we’ve got to keep that match practice and match sharpness up. And we’ve got to get over this and get on with it – there’s other things to play for.

“Today was poor, it was a hiccup. It was certainly poor against the standards that we set ourselves, but worse things happen – that’s why it’s the game it is.

Brisbane Strikers FC 1 (og, Byrne 90+1) v Moreton Bay United FC 3 (Byrne 10, Smith 11, 58)

Brisbane Strikers: Mitchell Thorn (gk), Jake Marshall, Greig Henslee, Ethan Docherty, Michael Lee, Michael Angus (c), Jake McLean, Jeremy Stewart, Sam Knight, Hiroki Omori, Luke Marsh. Subs: Ryan Palmer, Fraser Eller. Coach: Sean Lane

Moreton Bay United: Jordan Thurtell (gk), Matthew Byrne, Matthew Capelo (c), Riley Campbell, Donggyu Lee, Stephen Green, Corey Lucas, Alex Janovsky, Declan Smith, Byron Sinnerton, Rhys Gwynn-Jones. Subs: Lachlan Strogusz, Kysub Bang, Cameron Millar. Coach: David Harris.

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