Strikers To Retain Faith In Youth For Olympic Challenge

Aug 10, 2018 by

Brisbane Strikers coach Owen Baker says he will not hesitate to continue putting his faith in his younger players in Saturday’s crucial home game against Olympic FC, despite the raised stakes in the game for his team.

Strikers last week saw their previously fading NPL Queensland finals hopes for this season resuscitated when they thrashed Sunshine Coast FC Fire 8-1 while Moreton Bay United Jets dropped three points in losing 1-2 to SWQ Thunder.

The results cut the gap between Strikers and fourth-placed Jets to just four points with three games remaining in the regular season. The natural inclination of most coaches when faced with such a scenario against top-quality opposition would probably be to play it safe and select their most experienced players.

Not Baker, however. The way he sees it, the introduction of a battery of young players into his starting eleven and bench in recent weeks is what has reignited Strikers’ finals hopes.

“We wanted to add competition to the squad and we’ve felt that has improved over the last few weeks and therefore, as a by-product, people’s form has improved,” Baker said.

“We know this weekend is a big game and we’ve got three big games coming up to finish the regular season, so competition for places is exactly what we need.”

Baker’s policy continued to reap dividends last weekend in Strikers’ gutting of a vulnerable Fire outfit. While senior players like centre half Michael McGowan and Greg Cheshire were both available for selection after having to miss the previous weekend’s game against Brisbane City for family reasons, they didn’t even make it to the bench to face Fire.

Strikers youth products Zach Maltby and Braedon Steel got on the scoresheet before Baker brought on the less experienced Josh Matcham and Joel Anich from the bench. They also got on the scoresheet, along with the other substitute, Ryan Palmer. In addition, goalkeeper Tomi Mesaric and defensive midfielder Sebastian Scaroni also continue to impress.

“Cheshire and McGowan were both unavailable the week before and I honestly felt that the boys performed that week while they were away and it would have been unfair for them to come straight back in and the other boys to be dropped,” Baker said.

“It was a case of merit for the boys who’d played the week before, and for the young lads against Sunshine Coast we felt it was also a good opportunity to give them that exposure and they certainly didn’t let us down.”

Baker said that the higher stakes of this weekend’s game, the better quality of the opposition, and the fact that Olympic boast some very experienced defenders such as Shane Stefanutto and Matt Mundy, would not make his selection of attackers more conservative.

“It’s important to try to get that balance right,” said Baker. “(For example) Braedon Steel has been excellent for us in the past few weeks with his energy. And all of a sudden now, you can see that he’s looking a lot more confident and starting to pop up with goals – he has scored in three games in a row.

“So there’s no way I’m leaving Braedon Steel out. He’s going into the game in red-hot form and it’s a good opportunity for him as a young player to express himself against a real quality defence.”

The previous game between the two teams this season finished 1-0 to Strikers at Goodwin Park, after Strikers had defied their own DNA to adopt very direct tactics to surprise their opponents.

Not surprisingly, Baker provided a coy response when asked if he would be willing to repeat those tactics this weekend.

“I think Olympic are going to be coming here with a game plan and obviously we are working to a game plan, too, this weekend. So it’s one of those where you hope, on the day, the game plan works. But it doesn’t always, so we have to be able to adjust if it doesn’t and I have no doubt that Ben Cahn and Olympic will be doing the same.”
Baker was far less coy in commenting on who Olympic’s danger men would be.

“I watched them play (last Sunday) against Brisbane City and they are a quality outfit and they’ve got some powerful, quality boys in there,” he said.

“Alex Smith, who’s come in as a mid-season signing, is always going to be a threat in and around goal and Jez Lofthouse has been a great introduction into the NPL this year. He’s certainly very quick, so we’re going to have to be wary of his threats”.

NPL Queensland Round 24: Brisbane Strikers v Olympic FC, Perry Park, Saturday 11 August. 6.00 pm (Under-13s 2.15 pm, Under-14s 3.45 pm).

Photo (Roze Gallo): Braedon Steel in action against Sunshine Coast FC Fire last Saturday

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