Strikers Up In A Cliffhanger!

Jul 02, 2017 by

An exquisite eighty-ninth minute strike from midfielder Jake McLean breathed new life into the PlayStation ® 4 National Premier Leagues Queensland title chase as Brisbane Strikers came from behind to beat Gold Coast City FC 3-2 at Perry Park last night.

McLean’s inch-perfect top corner curler settled a pulsating, see-sawing contest of high quality football that lived up to all expectations of a top-of-the-table encounter as two excellent teams produced an easy- on-the-eye spectacle played at a high tempo and with great skill and spirit throughout.

As fine as McLean’s match-winner was, it was only the last act among a surfeit of quality goals and contributions that kept a vocal crowd – and most probably the live-stream audience – on the edge of their seats from the moment that Strikers wing back Hiroki Omori produced his own moment of magic only seven minutes into the battle.

Omori played further forward than is usually the case as Strikers coach Sean Lane reshuffled his pack following a training ground injury to regular centre back Jake Marshall. Marshall was replaced in the starting eleven by Lachlan Weier, who made his starting debut in a back three also composed of Ethan Docherty and Greig Henslee, while Omori and Sam Knight played as the wide men in a five-man Strikers midfield.

The move paid off handsomely for Lane when Omori, who had already made a couple of dangerous incursions, intercepted a loose Gold Coast pass inside the visitors’ half near the left touchline. Omori evaded a tackler as he dribbled infield and uncorked a power-laden shot from some twenty-five or thirty yards that looked goalbound from the moment it left his boot. There was absolutely nothing that Gold Coast ‘keeper Matt Stein could do about it at full stretch as the ball dropped just underneath his crossbar and into the top corner of his goal to cue incredulity among supporters of both teams and wild celebrations among the Strikers players.

Omori’s goal – his second in as many weeks for his team – set the tone for much of what was to follow.

Gold Coast City stepped things up almost immediately, breaking forward with speed and purpose and skipper Justyn McKay had a penalty appeal turned down under challenge inside Strikers’ penalty area before the home team charged straight up the other end to have midfielder Michael Lee’s powerfully-struck drive beaten away by Stein.

McKay began pulling the strings in midfield for the visitors, bringing winger Ben Lyvidikos into the play. Lyvidikos’s speed and close control gave Weier and Omori plenty of problems early on and he delivered several crosses that forced Strikers into scrambling defence. In fact they could easily have led to goals for Sam Smith – who headed one over the crossbar from close range in the fourteenth minute and then skewed an attempted first-time finish to another just wide of the back post in the twentieth minute.

The visitors had a strong spell until the half-hour, but Strikers came back into the half after that, having a couple of shots from Greg Cheshire fly wide of the target and a header from a corner kick cleared off Gold Coast’s line before the half time break was reached with Strikers still a goal to the good.

It seemed apparent from the restart that whatever was said, or tweaked, in the Gold Coast City dressing room at half time was devastatingly effective – because the visiting team came back out and changed the nature of the contest.

Strikers simply weren’t in it for the first fifteen minutes of the second stanza, and by the time they wiped the sleep from their eyes they were 1-2 down.

Gold Coast fired a warning shot across Strikers’ bows within a minute of the restart when Smith got away down the inside-left channel and crossed towards the back post, where the unmarked Lyvidikos made a mess of a free header, glancing the ball wide of Zac Speedy’s goal.

Strikers failed, however, to plug the hole Smith had exploited and he ran into it again with a better result two minutes later, this time cutting a pass back to centre-forward Jarrod Kyle, who was left free to side-foot firmly past Speedy to equalise for the visitors.

Strikers simply could not afford to draw this game and leave the visitors five points ahead with six rounds to play, so Kyle’s goal spelt deep trouble for their title chase.

But things were to go from bad to worse for them as Gold Coast continued to dominate. Left back Matthew Schmidt thundered a free kick against a goalpost and watched the rebound bounce off Speedy’s back and out for a corner, and Speedy made a tremendous save from a Nikola Mirkovic header, before the visitors hit the front in the fifty-seventh minute when Kyle’s glancing header from six yards off a corner kick left Speedy with no chance.

With a little over thirty minutes to play Strikers had a mountain to climb, needing to score two goals to keep their season alive from what almost seemed like a standing start – so little of the ball had they seen since half time.

But climb it they did, lifting their efforts immediately to force a better share of ball possession and again change the flow of the contest. Top scorer Jeremy Stewart Strikers’ first chance of the second half, skying his volley over the crossbar from an Omori corner kick, then McLean clattered a dipping direct free kick against Stein’s crossbar as the home team regained some of its mojo.

With Omori, McLean and Weier beginning to dominate the contest as Strikers fed the left side of their midfield the visitors were pushed back, and they needed a fantastic save by Stein to keep them ahead as the goalkeeper spread his body and used his reflexes to the fullest to deny Lee’s eight-yard effort from McLean’s cut-back midway through the half.

It was around then that Gold Coast coach Grae Piddick – perhaps sensing his team was tiring under the onslaught, or maybe deciding that even one point at worst would be enough, began using his bench to bring on defenders in place of attackers. Over the space of about ten minutes Lyvidikos was replaced by Riley Dillon and Kyle by Austin Ludwik as Piddick attempted to shore things up for the visitors while Lane kept faith with his starting eleven.

Lane was to come up trumps as City failed to regather their momentum and Strikers pushed on, bottling Gold Coast inside their own half. In the eighty-first minute a sweeping passing movement from left to right ended with a pass that sent Knight galloping into the visitors’ penalty area. Knight looked up to deliver a pinpoint low cross to the near post that Cheshire gleefully swooped on under challenge to side-foot past Stein for the Strikers’ equaliser, lifting his teammates and their supporters for a final push for the summit.

Piddick made another substitution, desperate to cling on for a point, bringing on Curtis Stollery for Smith, but it made no difference. Strikers had the wind in their sails and continued pouring forward. With time running out they forced a turnover and Lee burst forward through the middle, sending a pass out to his left to find McLean bearing down on Gold Coast’s penalty area. McLean then checked his run, looked up and, from the edge of the box and with his team’s season potentially hanging on the next swing of his boot, aimed at the far top corner of Stein’s goal. The ball cleared Stein but looked to be missing the target until it dipped at the very last moment to ripple the back of the net and set off delirious celebrations for the home team and its supporters.

Several minutes of stoppage time later the job was done for the home side, who had inflicted Gold Coast’s first defeat since Round One in snatching three points that not only kept alive their season but also that of Brisbane Olympic FC who play on Sunday. A win for Olympic over cellar dwellers Sunshine Coast FC would see the top three teams within three points of each other with six rounds to play.

“A bit of individual brilliance has won the game”, said Lane after the match.

“Jake McLean has got a touch of class – (it was) a great finish (that was) no surprise to me. He and Michael Lee both do those sorts of things regularly at training and it was a sublime piece of football.

Lane said he wasn’t sure why his team had almost let things slip early in the second half.

“They (Gold Coast City) were always going to come out and ramp it up in the first fifteen minutes (of the second half) and we just didn’t cope with it,” he said.

“But testament to the character of this side, they came back with a great second goal – a good passing move, a great cross and a great finish and then, as I said, McLean’s bit of quality at the end”.

PlayStation ® 4 National Premier Leagues Queensland, Round 16, Perry Park

Brisbane Strikers FC 3 (Omori 7, Cheshire 81, McLean 89) v Gold Coast City FC 2 (Kyle 48, 57)

Brisbane Strikers: Zac Speedy (gk), Greig Henslee, Ethan Docherty, Michael Lee, Michael Angus (c), Jake McLean, Jeremy Stewart, Sam Knight, Greg Cheshire, Lachlan Weier, Hiroki Omori. Sub: Luke Marsh. Coach: Sean Lane

Gold Coast City: Matthew Stein (gk), Martin Vazquez, Matthew Schmidt, Roman Hofmann, Justyn McKay (c), Jarrod Kyle, Nikola Mirkovic, Benjamin Lyvidikos, Eoghan Murphy, Sam Smith, Jaiden Walker. Subs: Riley Dillon, Curtis Stollery, Austin Ludwik. Coach: Grae Piddick

Referee – Alex King

Photo: Michele Pitman

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