Strikers v Souths

Playoff report by David Marshall
Brisbane Strikers v South Melbourne

It had been a week of mixed feelings. Some positives mixed with negatives. An improved media profile for the team, but knowing this would almost certainly be ephemeral at the best. "Only" needing to score thee goals and let none in to continue in this year's competition, but knowing how slim a chance that was. The Brisbane heat to sap the strength of those Southern weaklings, but being aware that fit athletes will probably cope equally. The predictions of a huge and noisy singing crowd, but personally thinking that double the usual gate with the same small group of enthusiasts unrestrained enough to be really vocal more likely to be the case. So I entered the ground with my own supply of sun protector and a bag of confetti and balloons and handed out the Free Kick as usual. The impression I gained was that the flow of punters was steady, but never a flood and that the gates were coping well. There was a much higher proportion of refusals to take the publication than normally and I quickly learned not to bother to offer them to anyone in a South Melbourne strip as they were adamantly knocked back. Alan Clarke said a quick hello, but I didn't see him again after that.

Up to the stand and it was fuller than usual, but by no means full. The terraced ends had a scattering of folk and the stand opposite, as usual was cavernously empty. We gave a roll call of songs and the game started quite late (I later saw that Optus 42 started their telecast into the fourth minute of the game with no pre-match Wading for some bizarre reason) and some lissome girls danced, the mascots came on with the teams and in very oppressive conditions the game started. We probably needed to score first to have any chance, but we didn't and, to be honest, really didn't look like it all the first half. South seemed to have us sorted, though Fernando did get a free kick on target for one of the brothers to deflect just past the post. Later, Kearton had no such luck. Nil all at half time and still just in with a sniff.

The sniff didn't last long as Trimboli once again managed to milk a penalty - this one a lot more legitimate than last week's - but, nevertheless contrived. He forced Kearton to come out, pushed the ball past him ( I doubt Trimmers could have reached it) and went down over the keeper's leg. I'm not complaining, it is a fact of life that a good experienced striker will do that, and this was done very well. Kearton saved the penalty well, but an ex-Kingz player was first to the rebound and tapped it in. Somewhat unconvincingly, we sang "We're going to win 4-1", but even that would not have been enough as South scored a second sickeningly like the first. Great save from point blank by Jason Kearton, but deflected onto the post to present a chance that I reckon I would have taken. Nil two and now all we had to do was celebrate the season. I was proud of the team and the majority of the supporters. Our group sang as if we were winning and the players responded as if there was still hope. Fernando rewarded us with the best goal of the game. No going down in the box, no rebounds off keepers, no bouncing off posts, just a clinical well hit strike into the corner of the net leaving the keeper nowhere. The great man immediately applauded the supporters and his ream mates and the STRIKERS continued to press to the final whistle when several collapsed from the combined effect of the heat and the realisation that this was it for the season. They were soon on their feet and formed a line, joined raised arms and saluted the crowd, most of whom had stayed to the end, and received the biggest roar of the game. I found this a very moving demonstration of what this team is about and I think most of those in the stand probably felt it too.

What a season! From the brink of the chasm to within sight of the pinnacle in a few short months. Football is an amazing mistress. I am feeling quite flat today, but I hope visit to Glasgow in May might lift the flagging spirits.