Strikers v Spirit

Round 14 report by Andrew Demack
Brisbane Strikers v Northern Spirit

After more than two hours of football in which the Brisbane Strikers could not score a goal to save themselves, their attack suddenly came good with a three-goal burst in the second half against Northern Spirit at Perry Park tonight.

Brisbaneıs second 3-1 win over Northern Spirit extends their unbeaten run at home this season to seven games, and takes them to fourth place at the moment, level on 22 points with Perth Glory and only one point off the lead not a position many pundits predicted at the start of the season.

The Strikers started tonightıs game with more than a little of a hangover from Wednesdayıs night poor display against the Football Kingz. Some of the more anxious local supporters were critical of their team in the first half, in which they had most of the possession but created very few chances.

Northern Spirit played the away-team role, with a defensive 4-4-2 formation, often stringing six players across the back line. Brisbane continued in the 3-4-3 that they finished with against the Kingz. Morley, McLaren and Rose were the front three. The extra man in attack meant midfield pairing Louis Brain and Peter Grierson had a lot of ground to cover in the center of the park, but Spirit didnıt have the grunt in the middle of the park to take advantage of their numerical superiority, and Brisbane was on top in the midfield for most of the game.

Brisbaneıs Louis Brain had the first real chance of the match in the 10th minute, forcing a good save from Paul Henderson with his sharp left-foot volley from the edge of the area.

But only a minute later, Northern Spirit won a corner after a mix-up between Dodd and Higgins. From follow-up play for the corner, Spiritıs Brad Groves threw himself bravely at a cross and sent a powerful header just over the bar. The effort left him lying injured on the ground in the penalty box, and it was the last action Grove saw for the night. Adam Kwasnik replaced him.

Brisbane also made an early substitution, replacing defender Adam Webber, who picked up a knock, with striker Royce Brownlie. Stuart McLaren retreated to the right side of defensive trio, which is surely his best position anyway.

Brisbane continued to have much more of the ball, but Spirit defended in numbers. The Strikers tried going around them, with wide men Stefanutto and Fitzsimmons, but with very little success. They tried to pass it through the Spirit defence, with Grierson, Brownlie and Morley playing short passes, but Watts and Spencer were equal to the task.

The Strikers will be eager for Matt McKayıs return from national under-20 team duties to aid their midfield creativity.

The score at half time was 0-0, with the best chance of the half falling to big Northern Spirit defender Julian Watts, who drifted forward in the 34th minute to get his head on a far-post cross and direct it across the face of goal, missing the target by mere inches.

The only other talking point from the first half was the bewildering refereeing display from Angelo Nardi, who yellow-carded Peter Grierson and Royce Brownlie in a two-minute spell for seemingly minor offences.

Straight after the break, Northern Spirit got their reward for their steady first-half performance. Seizing on some hesitation in the Strikers defence, Vuko Tomasevic won the ball on the left wing. He got the ball onto his right foot to whip in the cross, and Adam Kwasnik was the quickest to react, beating Brisbaneıs defence to the header and steering it past Higgins. It was the 46th minute, the visitors were in front, and the home team hadnıt really looked like scoring.

The 2003 Brisbane Strikers are full of surprises, however. They lifted intensity, and once again were dominant in midfield. The creative heart of this team is the combination of deep-lying midfielder Peter Grierson and ball-playing central defender Karl Dodd. Between the two of them they were guiding Brisbane around the park with no little style and skill. Still the Spirit defence held firm, however.

Until the 57th minute anyway, when Brisbane levelled the scores with a goal just like Spiritıs opener. Louis Brain was the provider, and spring-heeled Luke Morley outjumped the Spirit defence and sent a powerful header past Henderson. 1-1.

The game opened up a lot after that, and Brisbane always seemed to have more in the tank than a tiring Northern Spirit. Shane Stefanutto came into his own, stretching the Spirit defence and creating several crossing opportunities. In the 65th minute Luke Morley again tested Henderson with a header, which the keeper saved at the second grab.

But with the game evenly poised, Spirit still had a few shots to fire. Dylan McAllister got clean through but Scott Higgins made a great save. Seconds later he pulled off a second save from Steven Baveasıs shot.

With only 10 minutes left, it looked as though Northern Spirit had done enough to go home with a draw and a valuable away point away. But Shane Stefanutto had other ideas, finally teeing up Royce Brownlie with a perfect cross. Brownlie nodded it home to give the Strikers the lead.

With their tails up and Spirit fading, a third goal was always a good chance. Dave Pilic, who came on the 70th minute for Louis Brain, was the scorer. Luke Morley teased the defence and slid a pass square. Hilton let it run for Pilic, who beat Tomasevic and strode into the area, before firing a low shot past Henderson.

All the tension of the Strikersı bad patch in front of goal was gone, and the last few minutes were party-time for home fans and home team alike. With difficult away trips to Olympic and Perth in the next two weeks, the Strikers will need to be in top form to maintain their position on the NSL ladder. The good news is that they are.