Brisbane Strikers coach Kevin A’Herne-Evans is confident his premiership-winning team is in good shape mentally and physically to take on old rivals Redlands United in their PlayStation 4 NPL Queensland semi-final at Perry Park on Sunday.
The match-up is intriguing for a host of reasons, not the least being that it offers a replay of last year’s semi-final won 2-1 in extra time by Strikers after Redlands had opened the scoring.
With a place in the Grand Final a week later up for grabs, A’Herne-Evans said he was sure his players would be in the right frame of mind after the tension, exertion and eventual disappointment of Wednesday’s 2-1 Westfield FFA Cup loss to Melbourne City before a capacity Perry Park crowd.
“They really enjoyed the occasion and they’re good – still full of confidence,” A’Herne-Evans said.
“There is quite exceptional ability that we have in the group. Every time that we’ve suffered defeat this year we’ve then gone on and had a very, very convincing run.
“But with finals football coming up we know the scenario that we’re in. What’s happened during the league all goes out the window. It’s a case of turning up on Sunday focused on our strengths and what we can do and how we can hurt Redlands and also minimize the ability that they have within their squad”.
The match throws together two teams who between them have drawn 5,000 people to Perry Park for Westfield FFA Cup games this month. Those games saw Redlands stun the reigning Hyundai A-League champions Adelaide United 2-1 in the Round of 32, before Strikers turned in an equally eye-catching effort in going down to Melbourne City in the Round of 16.
A’Herne-Evans said he believed the respect both teams had earned for their footballing ability and courage in front of Brisbane’s “football purists” would result in another good turnout for Sunday’s do-or-die encounter.
“Both teams acquitted themselves really well against A-League opposition, so there’s no reason why, when it’s fresh in the memories of everybody, they would not come back to Perry Park on Sunday night,” A’Herne-Evans said.
“In the last couple of years the games between the Strikers and Redlands have always been even and there’s been some unbelievable goals scored. So I think that once again the football purists will be out on Sunday knowing there’s going to be a lot of good footballers on the pitch.
“When you’ve got the ability that both teams have it’s impossible for it not to be a good game. It’s an exciting occasion and it obviously goes without saying that it’s an opportunity for us to go on and achieve some more silverware”.
Like Strikers, Redlands will be looking to bounce back from the disappointment of midweek Cup defeat – in their case 2-0 at the hands of Canberra Olympic on an inclement night in the national capital.
A’Herne-Evans said he had watched the video footage of that game.
“It was a difficult evening for them on a very heavy pitch and the rain was smashing down on them all through the game, so I just think a lot of players weren’t used to playing in those kinds of conditions,” he said.
“We know what to expect from Redlands. This is it for them – this is their whole season other than the victory against Adelaide. I think they’ve got more about them in that squad – I look at that group of players and there’s no way they should have just scraped into the finals.
“We know that on Sunday we’re going to be up against a team playing for their last chance at a bit of silverware this year”.
But A’Herne-Evans, all season, been nothing if not unshakeable in his belief in his team’s ability to win tough games and he said that what he had seen from them on Wednesday gave him optimism despite the result.
“Everyone has pulled up fine from the game against Melbourne City and what pleased me was that we looked dangerous in a lot of areas that are not really traditionally areas where we are strong’, he said.
“We were very strong on the counter, we were very strong from set plays and defensively I thought we were outstanding, because we went for long periods without the ball and were able to sustain such pressure and reduce the threat on our goal
“They are huge, huge things that go into finals football because, as we know, set plays are vitally important and defensive structure is vitally important and ability to counter when there are opportunities is important”.
Kick-off at Perry Park on Sunday is at 6.00 pm.