Strikers Must Capitalise Against North Queensland: Henslee

Apr 27, 2018 by

Brisbane Strikers defender Greig Henslee says a win against North Queensland United FC at Perry Park on Saturday night is essential if his team is to maintain its challenge for the NPL Queensland premiership.

Henslee (pictured), who played a starring role in last weekend’s 1-0 toppling of then league leaders Olympic, said Strikers’ win in that game had been so crucial to their campaign to defend their premiership that any lessening of focus against North Queensland would betray what they had achieved.

“Last Sunday was a massive game. We were very well aware that anything other than three points would just about have closed the curtains on us taking out the premiership,” Henslee said.

“It was a high-pressure game – certainly in our dressing room. And with it being the live streamed game – with everyone being tuned in to watch – it was very important that not only did we take the three points, but we also put on a bit of a show of intent that if any team was going to take the premiership of us this year, they are going to have to fight us for it.

“There’s just no way that we can go to Olympic and win, and then pick up anything other than three points against North Queensland,” Henslee continued.

“We’re absolutely ready, we’re prepared, we’re high in confidence, our energy and fitness levels are peaking, we’ve got a good bench, training has been good – all the signs are really, really good to not only take three points this weekend but put on a good show.”

A glance at the league table casts a promising light on this fixture for Strikers. North Queensland United are in the midst of a deep slump, having lost their last five NPL Queensland fixtures in succession.

To make matters worse for the Townsville-based club, Magpies-Crusaders’ two victories this week have seen the rising tide of the relegation zone engulf them. They currently sit in twelfth position of the fourteen teams, on nine points, with only goal difference separating them from SWQ Thunder and the despised thirteenth position that will see its occupier at the end of the season relegated.

Clearly, the spectre of relegation ramps up the pressure on United to start earning points – and that issue was not lost on Henslee.

“I’ve no doubt that they will be up for it,” Henslee acknowledged. “They are under the relegation cloud and I’m sure they will be putting bodies on the line and doing everything they can to take a point or three points against us.

“But we are in that head space now where it’s all about us. It’s not about the opposition, it’s about playing the way we want to play, because we have the confidence and the players to do that now – which I don’t think we quite had right at the very start of the season.”

And on the subject of how his team wants to play, Henslee said Strikers had proven to themselves last Sunday they could be tactically adaptable as they look to the remainder of the season.

A key ingredient in their win over Olympic was the adoption of a game plan almost totally alien to the possession football-based philosophy that has been embedded in Strikers squads for the best part of two decades. It was a plan that Henslee said they would use again if necessary.

“We knew that Olympic are quite a high pressing, aggressive team” explained Henslee.”

“They force you into mistakes high up the pitch and obviously it’s very dangerous in turnover moments. And we also wanted to send a message to the league that we can play in different ways.

“So we tried out the long ball in the first fifteen minutes and, from the amount of good possession that we got high up the pitch, that was working for us. So it was just something that we carried on throughout the game.

“I think their centre backs really struggled with that long ball and we grew confidence from that. It allowed us to play our football high up the pitch rather than in our defensive area.

“It’s certainly not a tactic that we use too often, but I dare say it might be something that we might potentially use in the future to keep teams guessing”.

One outcome of the Olympic game that Strikers definitely will be pushing for again on Saturday was one that is very dear to Henslee’s heart – the defensive ‘clean sheet’ that was only their second in the league this season.

Henslee said a repeat of that feat as often as possible was very much in order.

“It’s absolutely vital that we start doing that for the backline’s confidence,” he said.

“We’ve conceded some really weird goals this year and also conceded some uncharacteristically sloppy goals. Thirteen conceded in ten games isn’t good enough. After ten games we should be sitting on around eight or nine.

“Thirteen conceded certainly isn’t championship-winning form. But we’ve been working really hard defensively. It’s not something that we take lying down. If we can put that right, which I’m confident we will, then things will start to turn and the second half of the season will be a lot better than the first.”

NPL Queensland Round 12, Saturday 28 April, Perry Park, 6.00 pm: Brisbane Strikers v North Queensland United FC. Curtain raisers: Brisbane Strikers U13s v Moreton Bay United U13s, 2.15 pm; Brisbane Strikers U14s v Moreton Bay United U14s, 3.45 pm.

Photo: Roze Gallo

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