The Brisbane Strikers Under-18s proved too strong for a stubborn South West Queensland Thunder today, prevailing 3-2 in a spectator-friendly Round 7 PlayStation 4 NPL Queensland fixture at Perry Park despite playing the last quarter of an hour with ten men following the dismissal of forward Duncan Stewart.
But while the result was, on the balance of play and chances created, the right one with the better side prevailing, it failed to win a glowing review from Strikers coach Chris Kenward, who said after the match that his team had failed to fully exploit their technical superiority.
Much like the senior team had the previous night, Strikers laid the foundation with a dominant opening twenty minutes that had them two goals to the good before Thunder settled into the game.
That said, the visiting team had the first attempt on goal inside ten minutes, with midfielder Jordan Howard heading a corner kick from George Owen wide of the target at the back post, but Strikers responded instantly with Joshua Matcham shooting wide a minute later after running on to a well weighted through ball from Stewart.
A minute later, however, the home side did better with their next attack a good early cross from the right was met on the stretch by Stewart, who got to the ball on the half-volley to send it looping rather fortuitously over the head of Thunder goalkeeper Reiley Mason, who could only turn and watch the ball nestle in the back of his net.
Five minutes later Strikers doubled their advantage when Matcham was sent sprinting through Thunder’s caught-square defence by another measured through-ball and was bundled over inside the visitors’ box by a clumsy challenge from Thunder centre half and captain Riley Lobwein.
The resulting penalty kick was despatched confidently and with good technique with the left foot from Stewart as Mason guessed correctly but could not get is outstretched right glove to the ball.
Strikers were enjoying a huge share of possession and midfielder Beckham Casey’s diagonal, lofted pass only a minute later created another path to goal for Connor Cosgrove. However, Cosgrove rushed his half-volley and skied his shot as a good chance for 3-0 went astray.
Over the remainder of the first half the home team’s distribution became a little sloppy. This gave Thunder a better share of possession and enabled a few forward thrusts from them.
The best of these came in the twenty-second minute when substitute Frederick Pfeiffer delivered a curling pass from the left touchline with his right foot that split Strikers centre halves Bill Hobbs and Kieran Hill, releasing Bayley Brennan for a one-on-one with Strikers goalkeeper Tomislave Mesaric. As Brennan looked up to pick a spot for his finish he found Mesaric haring off his line to smother his shot and the chance for the visitors was extinguished.
The teams went to the half time break with Strikers 2-0 ahead on the scoreboard but with their early momentum somewhat stalled. Kenward made two changes at the half time break, bringing on Charles Miller to the right side of his attack and Connor Osman in the midfield for Cosgrove and Joel Anich.
The second half would prove enthralling for the spectators as Thunder, despite Strikers having a glut of possession, fought back twice against the run of play.
The visitors’ first goal arrived ten minutes after the restart when they won a free kick about twenty-five yards out from goal and Brennan expertly curled the dead ball into the bottom corner of Mesaric’s goal with the ‘keeper diving in vain.
Strikers responded with a flurry of attacks that deserved better reward than to have Moritz Margraf’s twenty-yard drive and a curling left-footed direct free kick from Casey both rattle the crossbar with Mason well beaten on both occasions.
Strikers continued probing without really threatening Thunder centre halves Lobwein and Brady Mason, while Thunder’s best endeavours from a limited share of possession got little joy out of a composed back four in which Bill Hobbs and Lachlan Weier looked in total control while fullbacks Luke Morris and Ju-Ho Lee provided solid support when not bombing forward down the flanks.
The match could easily have taken a turn for the worse for Strikers in the seventy-sixth minute when dual goal scorer Stewart rather spoiled what should have been a good day for himself by getting sent off by referee Ryan Mooney, apparently for something he said off the ball.
Despite this reversal, Strikers appeared to have sewn up the result in the eighty-sixth minute when Miller’s pass on the half way line sent Matcham sprinting into Thunder’s penalty area with two defenders in hot pursuit. Goalkeeper Mason came off his line to smother Matcham’s attempted finish but Margraf followed up to clinically slot home the rebound.
Thunder, however, weren’t done yet and bounced straight back with their next attack, which ended with substitute Christopher McCarthy spinning around on the edge of Strikers’ penalty area to rifle a fine shot past Mesaric and into the bottom right corner of his goal to keep Thunder in with a chance of snatching a point.
But Strikers kept their composure over the concluding minutes and did most of the attacking. Indeed, it required a spectacular one-handed save from Mason in the last minute of the contest, leaping high to his left to tip away an angled shot from Anich, to prevent Strikers adding to their score.
In commenting after the match, Kenward said he felt his team had made things difficult for itself by not playing to its strengths.
“I think we didn’t play at the speed, and use the technical advantage, that we have. We’ve got more skilful players – players able to play quickly, two-touch, skilfully and certainly for the first hour we didn’t really do that very well.
“We did get two early goals, but I just felt that we didn’t move the ball quickly enough. They (Thunder) defended deeply. They didn’t press us, so they had a very solid block right through the middle of the field and we kept trying to play through it. We were trying to take three, four or five touches and dribble through it. We should have been taking two touches and playing it wide, so I felt the boys didn’t solve that problem themselves”.
Having addressed the situation during his half time talk, however, Kenward said he had been happier with his players’ second half efforts and with how they had responded to Thunder’s goal against the run of play and their own ill fortune in striking the woodwork twice.
“I’m happy with the way they stuck at it. Obviously, whilst we like to win, we’re not too concerned about the result – it’s more about how they play. So the learning for them today was to stay with what they know, which is to pass the ball quickly, use their skills and to start at this age to understand what the opposition are doing and counteract it”.
Brisbane Strikers 3 (Stewart 11, 17; Margraf 86) v SWQ Thunder 2 (Brennan 56, McCarthy 89)
Brisbane Strikers: Tomislav Mesaric (gk), Kieran Hill, William Hobbs, Ju-Ho Lee, Luke Morris, Duncan Stewart, Beckham Casey, Joshua Matcham, Connor Cosgrove, Joel Anich, Moritz Margraf Subs: Connor Osman, Charles Miller. Coach: Chris Kenward
South West Queensland Thunder: Reiley Mason, Brandon Dixon, Asbjorn Gaskell, Frederick Pfeiffer, Bayley Brennan, George Owen, Brady Mason, Riley Lobwein, Jordan Howard, Richard Hayden, Dion Shuttleworth Subs: Alex Price, Daniel Weber, Christopher McCarthy Coach: David Park-Ballay
Photo: Strikers fullback Luke Morris launches another raid down the left touchline