A Louis Brain goal just after half-time was all Brisbane Strikers needed to take the three points at Bob Jane Stadium on Sunday against South Melbourne whose performance was "atrocious" according to coach Stuart Munro. The victory leaves the Strikers undefeated at the top of the NSL Ladder.
Brain turned in a well-laid cross from Joshua Rose to stun the home crowd into silence within seconds of the re-start.
South coach Stuart Munro was fuming after the match. "The one thing that let us down completely today was the quality in our play. (It was) absolutely atrocious at times." "The amount of times we mis-placed passes, kicked the ball out of the park, over-hit crosses - the quality all over the pitch was absolutely terrible for us today."
"The boys showed that true fighting spirit that has (been evident) from the start of our season," said Strikers assistant coach Luciano Trani, a significantly happier man.
"We don't have the most experienced squad in the league," said Brisbane player-coach Stuart McLaren. "But what we do have is players with enthusiasm, and obviously that's going to give us a good chance to get some points."
Unforced errors by players of both sides, but more greviously affecting South Melbourne frustrated both McLaren and Munro, who was exasperated watching the proceedings from the side-lines.
"As fas as we're concerned," said Munro, "there's a serious question mark about the players' ability to handle the occasion." "I told them that being at a club like South Melbourne is about handling those occasions and being able to stand above it."
South Melbourne had marginally shaded the first half, but both teams found it hard to put together sustained periods of possession. Passes were either regularly played into areas no player had moved or were snapped up by interceptions.
Just before the first half's midpoint, Simon Storey had manufactured a move down the left for South and sent in a low cross the the edge of the six-yard box. Michael Curcija stepped over the ball in an attempt to make a clearer chance for Vaughan Coveny in a more central position, but Karl Dodd had recognised the potential and cleared.
Fifteen minutes later, Coveny had spotted the space available to Con Boutsianis on the opposite wing, and launched a diagonal ball from the helf-way line to the edge of the penalty-area. Boutsianis reached it and crashed a sweet left-foot volley into the side-netting.
Brisbane ensured the traffic was not all one-way when Louis Brain controlled a half-clearance following a cross from the left by Shane Stefanutto, but his shot was over.
Just before the half, Coveny burst through a square Strikers back-line. Curcija was in a supporting position on his left. Coveny awaited the closing down challenge and squared to Curcija, but underweighted, and allowed the alert Josh McCloughlin to intercept.
South's marginal ascendancy was swept away within two minutes of the re-start when Brain converted from close-in after a well-played ball in from wide on the right by Rose.
Strikers could have extended the lead just after the hour when Sam Poutakidis woefully under-hit a back-pass to Galekovic. Royce Brownlie was onto it in a flash, and it required Eugene Galekovic to respond smartly and meet the ball at the edge of the area at the feet of Brownlie. A mis-timed challenge would have brought out the red card from referee Eddie Lennie, so Galekovic did well to clear cleanly.
South now pressed strongly and brought on Max Lohy and Mehmet Durakovic in an attempt to find fresh legs and ideas. But it was to little avail, such was Brisbane's competitive spirit. Indeed, South's fitful forays, and its inability to keep the ball, led to a number of potential breakaways which could easily have led to Strikers extending its well-deserved lead.
As the game neared its end, the Strikers successfully closed up the game but it scarcely could be classified as holding out South, as there was little chance of South crafting a move of danger.
"It's the one things that kills a coach," said a disappointed Munro. "You can't actually do anything about a guy passing a ball from A to B. When you actually see players basically passing the ball ten yards to the opposition, you kind of shake your head and wonder what's going on here.