Ten-Man Strikers Go Down Fighting To Pride

May 20, 2018 by

The Brisbane Strikers’ long NPL Queensland 2018 winning streak came to an end last night – but not without an almighty fight – as Western Pride won a gripping Round 14 encounter 1-0 at Briggs Road.

A thirty-ninth minute Joe Duckworth goal made all the difference on the scoreboard as Pride snapped their own mid-season mini slump and did the 2018 ‘double’ over their visitors.

But Strikers were magnificent in defeat, having been forced to play the last sixty-five minutes of the game with ten men after centre half Ryan McGowan was controversially sent off. They felt, with some justification, they were worthy of at least a point after storming for long periods the fortress of the eleven men of the home team, who in the end were grateful to survive with their goal intact after enduring a gruelling second half onslaught from a brave Strikers outfit.

The first half saw very few genuine scoring opportunities created by either side as their respective pressing games restricted space and time for the more creative players to do their work.

Not that it was dull fare. For instance, Pride’s Andrew Pengelly drew admiring gasps from the home crowd early on when he deftly controlled a firm knee-high pass with one touch before spinning around an unleashing a powerful shot from twenty yards that flew just over the top of Strikers goalkeeper Nathan Archbold’s crossbar.

There wasn’t much between the teams in the opening twenty-five minutes. If anything, Strikers looked the more likely to score after a tight opening quarter of an hour but Pengelly, working with former Brisbane Striker Fraser Hills and Adam Endean through the middle of the park, was keeping Strikers centre backs Greig Henslee and McGowan on their toes whenever Pride counter-attacked.

Indeed, it was Pengelly’s ability to receive a pass with his back to goal and turn quickly that undid Strikers in the twenty-fifth minute. Henslee hit him with a firm attempted tackle some thirty yards out from Strikers’ goal, but Pengelly burrowed his way through the tackle and, although unbalanced, managed to stay on his feet for long enough to receive a nudge from McGowan, following in. Down went Pengelly and referee Tony Sarrai blew his whistle for a foul by McGowan.

No-one was terribly surprised by that. But when Sarrai reached in to his pocket and brandished his red card to McGowan, adjudging him to have denied Pengelly a goal scoring opportunity, it is fair to say that some in the crowd did register their surprise. So did McGowan himself, before taking the slow walk to the touchline.

So Strikers were reduced to ten men and had to re-organise. They did so by shuffling defensive midfielder Brock Messenger into the backline, leaving his screening duties to skipper Michael Angus, as they tried to get on with the job.

They went close to scoring the opening goal in the thirty-eighth minute when midfielder Jake McLean controlled a pass from fullback Hiroki Omori before turning to fire just over the top of Pride’s crossbar from just inside their eighteen yard box.

That miss, although coming from a half-chance, was to haunt Strikers a minute later when Angus was caught in possession in centre-field just outside his own penalty area by Hills as the visitors tried to play the ball out from their defensive third. Hills sprinted away from Angus, drawing the centre backs towards him as he did so, before slipping a pass to his left towards Duckworth. The rangy Pride centre forward was unmarked close to goal and he made no mistake, smashing the ball past Archbold from close range and high into the back of his net to give Pride the lead.

They held it with few problems until half time, when perhaps the leading question about the remainder of the game was how the away team would approach the second half, being both a goal and a man down.

The answer was, they would give it a red-hot go! Strikers centre forward Zach Maltby served notice of their intentions very early, dispossessing a Pride defender, dribbling past another and letting rip with a stinging left-footed shot that Pride goalkeeper Max Davison somewhat awkwardly parried away.

A couple of minutes later Archbold had his own awkward moment at the other end as he mishandled a rising shot from a Pride attacker – probably Hills – allowing the ball to slip through his hands before spinning around to regather just before the ball crossed his goal line.

As the ten Strikers continued to push forward at every opportunity they were left vulnerable on the counter-attack. Pride tried to exploit the situation by threading passes between Strikers’ centre-backs and fullbacks to Pengelly, who was presented with a goal scoring opportunity in the fifty-first minute when found with a pass wide on the right side of Strikers’ penalty area.

Archbold successfully guarded his near post, but could do little else but but watch as Pengelly’s rasping drive flew across his goal and wide of the far post to the dismay of the home team’s supporters.

Strikers counter-punched, winning a corner kick played short to fullback Hiroki Omori, whose rising drive flew inches over Davison’s crossbar. As the visiting team began to dominate, stringing long passing sequences together, Pride were also a little fortunate to survive a McLean shot from twenty yards that looked bound for the top corner of their goal had it not struck a Pride defender on the back of his head to deflect away for a corner.

This was to be the flavour of Strikers’ night as the minutes ticked down. Nothing much went their way as they launched attack after attack, while Pride continued to threaten on the breakaway without seriously testing Archbold – their shots either flying wide of the target or straight at the ‘keeper whose handling became surer as the match wore on.

Inside the final ten minutes of a game played at a high tempo throughout it was remarkable to observe that it was the numerically advantaged team whose players were receiving treatment for cramps and minor injuries, rather than Strikers. And the away team was to go desperately close to scoring.

Strikers substitute Rhys Meredith, on in place of Maltby, laid off a pass for midfielder Michael Lee to let fly with a shot from twenty yards that was held at the second attempt by the diving Davison to his left. And then winger Trent Clulow was left in disbelief as Davison somehow managed to save with his legs after Lee had won a tussle for the ball near Pride’s byline to cut back to Meredith. The substitute’s pass inside to Clulow was met by a sweetly-struck shot from winger from close range that looked goalbound for all money, had it not been for Davison’s miraculous intervention.

Stoppage time was to deliver more frustration for Strikers as Omori, raiding down their left flank for the umpteenth time, was released into Pride’s penalty. Omori closed in on goal but, instead of shooting from a tight angle, fired a square pass across Pride’s six-yard box that was begging for a Strikers’ touch but didn’t get one.

Referee Sarrai’s full time whistle moments later confirmed a couple of things: that Pride, who are well-structured and talented outfit, are still a big chance of winning their first premiership despite losing their leading scorer, Dylan Wezel-Halls. And that Strikers, on the basis of their performance in adversity, have the required strength of character and footballing capabilities to maintain their title defence deep into the season and perhaps go on and win something else this year if that should fail.

But failure in Strikers’ premiership defence was the last thing on the mind of their fullback, Sam Knight, when asked to sum up immediately after the game.

“It stings,” Knight said of the result.

“I thought in the end that we’d battled enough, and for long enough, to deserve a point. But football is a funny game and sometimes you get your rewards and sometimes you don’t.”

Needless to say, Knight and his teammates had not seen the send-off incident that led to McGowan’s departure the same way as referee Sarrai. But Knight said Strikers had quickly accepted that they ‘just had to get on with it’ and had adapted well with Messenger at centre half.

“The beauty of Brock is that he can play anywhere in the back line or as a screener for us. So to have him able to drop back and adapt to that centre back position instantly was just brilliant,” Knight said.

“It gave us the platform to go on and possibly win the game – but it was not be, obviously.”

Knight said Strikers would rebound next weekend in what looms as another tough game, when fourth-placed Lions FC (who also lost tonight), visit Perry Park.

“We’ve got a lot of belief and as long as there’s points to play for and trophies to fight for, we’ll be there. Bring it on next week! ‘Mooney’ (Lions coach Warren Moon) has got a great side and a great setup and great players, so it’ll be an excellent match next week. I’m looking forward to it.”.

NPL Queensland Round 14: Western Pride FC 1 (Duckworth, 39) v Brisbane Strikers FC 0

Western Pride: Max Davison (gk), Will McFarlane, Daniel McHenery, Delors Tuyishime, Cameron Crestani, Adam Endean, Joshua Wilson, Andrew Pengelly, Joseph Duckworth, Fraser Hills, Gabriel Hawash. Subs: Mitchell Bird, Jacob Minett. Coach: Reg Davani

Brisbane Strikers: Nathan Archbold, Greig Henslee, Michael McGowan, Michael Angus, Michael Lee, Brock Messenger, Jake McLean, Sam Knight, Hiroki Omori, Trent Clulow, Zachary Maltby. Subs: Rhys Meredith, Ryan Palmer. Coach: David Large

Referee: Tony Sarrai

Photo: Mitch Pitman

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