Canberra v Brisbane

Round 7 Match report by Nick Guoth
Canberra Cosmos v Brisbane Strikers

Canberra Cosmos: Giannasca, Dee, Roberts, Zelic, Ravanello (James HT), Hunter, Kelly, Musitano (Prenzoski 78), Buljan (Brown 86), Popovich, Haythornwaite

Brisbane Strikers: Graham, Bell, Williams, Farina, Cranney S, Cranney T, Knipe, Hews, Harris (Packer 78), Laybutt (Battistin 74), Harper (Brown 61)

Scorers: Canberra: Zelic (48), Brown (88) Brisbane: Knipe (86)

Cautions: Canberra: Dee (40) Brisbane: Laybutt (30)

A sense of relief was expounded from the Cosmos dressing room following their first win of the season. Relief that all that coach Branko Culina had been working on was finally playing dividends. Now on a roll of two games without loss, the team heads to Melbourne to play a Trimboli/Crucija-less South Melbourne.

Culina said it would take at least 5 weeks to get the team together, and those 2,000 spectators willing to wait for the results were duly rewarded. After a scoreless draw in Gippsland, there were hopes for this match, a match that could be the beginning or the end of the Cosmos. As for Brisbane, the game was also of exteme importance, not only for the three points but also for the fact that a loss would drop them to the bottom of the ladder.

In an early rush of blood, Canberra came out too quickly and perhaps Harry James hadn't woken up when with less than one minute on the clock he was presented with a header only metres out. Maybe he closed his eyes, but the header went straight to keeper Graham Ross.

Unfortunately, the attack didn't wake up the home team, but Brisbane. They started to put on the pressure leaving Canberra to the rare counter attack. Only a few minutes later, Frank Farina was left unmarked on a corner and attempted to take full advantage, only to find that Tony Giannasca in goal for Canberra was in fine form.

Brisbane kept up the pressure generating a number of chances over the next 30 minutes. Chay Hews lined up a long shot but saw it nearly shave the post, on the wrong side. A few minutes later a lovely set piece was all but ruined by Andy Harper. A free kick about 25m out saw Farina send a quick low pass to Wayne Knipe who passed it to the peeling off Harper. Unfortunately, Andy now free of the defence and one-on-one with the keeper decided to shoot wide from close range.

The Cosmos continued to soak up the pressure well and had to survive another set piece with Hews setting up Jeremy Harris for a strong shot, but Giannasca was there to save well. The locals had had enough of this pressure and started to regain the ascendancy.

With under 10 minutes to go in the half Andy Roberts put through Michael Musitano who then sent a delicate chip over the defence for captain Norman Kelly. Unfortuantely, Norman could not get the extra touch to the high bouncing ball and it fell calmly into Graham Ross' hands. But this was a start.

Not long after Ivan Zelic put Musitano into an attacking situation. Michael took on his defender, passed him and set up a shot, which unfortunately went screaming over the bar, when anything on target would have resulted in a score.

So we had reached the end of the first half. The crowd had seen a completely different performance by the Cosmos as this time the home team was not dominating proceedings, but had to be in the position of taking it and surviving. This they did well and then towards the end of the half they broke out and had a few good chances for themselves. Shot count was 8-6 in Canberra's favour and corner count 3-2 also in the local's favour.

As at the end of the first half, the Canberra team continued their dominance of play, especially in the midfield. Only 3 minutes in Peter Buljan was brought down just outside the box. A set piece, the first for the local team was lined up. With three players over the ball and Buljan behind it, we were all waiting for how the play was going to develop.

Zelic was furtherest away from the goal and Kelly in the middle plus 1 other in the mock wall. Zelic peeled off towards the middle of the field, the 3rd guy moved away towards the sideline, Buljan raced towards the ball while Kelly layed it off to Zelic. From all replays, you could see that the defence did not know what was happening. Zelic's thunderbolt left-foot shot gave Ross little chance, and although the keeper got a hand to the ball it still rocked the back of the net.

The crowd was pleased, well, ecstatic. This was the first time this season that the Canberra team had actually been in the lead. Could they hold on to it? One interesting tidbit here from comments after the game was the phrase 'here we go again'. This came from Brisbane players who had just seen their team doing quite well and being a goal down. It is interesting because we are so used to hearing it about the Cosmos team.

The goal gave the local team some fire and they continued to push for the second. Fifteen minutes in another set piece saw Zelic lay the ball off to Musitano, but his shot was just tipped over. Probably a minor turning point of the game was when Buljan put Musitano through to be one on one with Ross, but his shot went straight at the keeper.

Brisbane pulled themselves back together and with the infusion of Rod Brown who had just come on for Andy Harper (why was this guy on the bench?), the tide was turning. In fact on shot count it was quite a domination. Harris saw a well directed long shot need to be saved well and substitute Mark Battistin tried a speculative shot which bounced off the cross bar and away for a goal-kick.

Then with five minutes left a corner was conceded to Brisbane. The ball was not cleared. A quick little pass to Matt Bell allowed him a shot at goal. The ball got passed Giannasca and Wayne Knipe stuck his foot out to deflect the ball onto the chest of Tom Haythornwaite, but unfortunately for the defender, then into the goal to tie up the match.

The crowd had come this far and seen their side take the lead and now surrender it. They weren't going to leave the ground without giving some more vocal support. Substitute Ilja Prenzoski was unlucky a minute later when his cross come shot had to be pushed over the bar. Prior to the corner being taken Canberra sent on their final substitute Damien Brown who started the season as a defender and now has settled into the inpact attacker.

More pressure led to another corner with what seemed to be 30 seconds of normal time remaining. Kelly tried a sneaky near post top corner job, but Ross was up to it and punched it away. It fell back at Norman's feet. His second cross went towards the far post out of the reach of the goalkeeper. A pinball action saw the ball finally bounce off Damien Brown's thigh and into the goal. The crowd went wild!

Could this be the first win of the season for the Canberra team? A few more minutes and the best sound of the day came for the locals, the final whistle. The Cosmos had won and lept above Brisbane to second last. Canberra was now on a two game no-loss streak.

Unlike other games seen at Seiffert Oval this season, the home team did not dominate. In fact the shot count finished at 16-12 in Brisbane's favour. But the locals were able to finish when the visitors could not.

As one could guess, the feeling in the two dressing rooms were as different as night and day. The home rooms were elated with lots of back-slapping and high-fives, whilst the away rooms were quiet, solemn and many heads looking at the floor.

Branko Culina stated that he 'still does not have the best squad' referring to the missing Ante Moric and Dale Wingell. He said that the result 'was a tremendous relief for the players. It should give us confidence. The crowd was a great boost and we'd like to thank them.' Branko was pleased that his counter-attacking system worked well.

Frank Farina was not a happy man and said that he really had no excuses to give. His team 'was obviously not finishing' and they were 'missing experience in the midfield.' Frank believed that without some life in his team they may not be as competitive as first hoped. When asked about whether he would move himself up front to help turn around the lack of scoring (only 3 in 7 games), he stated that he may just have to do it.