Roar v Knights

A-League report by Jeremy Ruane
Queensland Roar v New Zealand Knights

Queensland Roar stormed back to the overnight lead in the Hyundai A-League on September15, kicking off the competition's fourth round in emphatic fashion by thumping the New Zealand Knights 5-0 at Suncorp Stadium, much to the delight of the 15,517 present.

A lively opening phase saw both teams go close to opening the scoring inside the first five minutes. A neat interchange between Roar's front trio of Simon Lynch, Ante Milicic and the outstanding Reinaldo presented Marcus Wedau with a third minute opportunity which he fired narrowly wide of the mark from twenty-five yards.

Ninety seconds later, a poor goal-kick by Roar's Liam Reddy saw Scot Gemmill thread the ball into the path of former Roar striker Jonti Richter, who galloped clear of the covering defence but dragged his shot just too far beyond the far post to deny the Knights the game's first goal.

Instead, that joy befell Queensland in the seventh minute. The initial raid saw Hyuk-Su Seo slip Milicic in on the left, only for the striker to be well thwarted by Knights' goalkeeper Michael Turnbull, who was able to swoop again when Lynch, who had swooped on the rebound, tried to thread a pass to the still-lurking figure of Milicic.

Queensland quickly pounced on possession following the 'keeper's clearance, and Reinaldo angled an exquisite pass into acres of space on the left flank, space created by Knights' captain Darren Bazeley having been lured inside in an effort to counter Roar's three-pronged attack.

Matt McKay took full advantage of his absence, galloping onto the ball and lashing a first-time drive through the legs of the exposed figure of Turnbull to open the scoring.

The goal clearly buoyed the home team, as both Lynch and Seo saw efforts blocked in quick succession two minutes later. But having regrouped, the Knights sought a riposte in the twelfth minute, Noah Hickey's cross being flicked on by Malik Buari into the path of debutant striker Dani Rodrigues. The alertness of Reddy to the danger ensured the visitors didn't gain a toe-hold on the match at this stage of proceedings.

The Knights had already enjoyed a fair few free-kick opportunities by this stage, and they continued to do so throughout the first half as Queensland compounded their efforts to make amends for some consistently sloppy passing.

But the visitors' inability to capitalise on these set-pieces deserves a similar degree of condemnation. Given it's a facet of the game from which the majority of goals are scored, it's an aspect on which the Knights need to devote time aplenty on this evidence, but by the end of the game, it wasn't the only part of their play requiring extra attention.

The remaining half-hour of the first spell was dominated by these shortcomings, so much so that only five noteworthy opportunities to change the scoreline came to pass. Wedau's gorgeous forty-yard ball over the top in the nineteenth minute was inch-perfect for Milicic to hit on the volley, but he just failed to make contact as Roar sought a second goal.

Six minutes later, the Knights responded with what turned out to be their last chance of the match. Hickey played the ball down the left for the generally well-contained lone front-man Rodrigues to chase, gather and hold up awaiting support.

It arrived in the form of Richter, who took on the Queensland defence before letting fly with a deflected effort which spun over the crossbar. Unsighted referee Mark Shield awarded a goal-kick, much to the chagrin of the former local lad made good.

A couple of efforts from Buari following free-kicks gave Reddy little cause for concern before the half-time whistle, unlike the menace of Milicic at the other end of the park. But Turnbull - despite what the scoreline would suggest, far and away the Knights' best-performed player on a night when few of those in front of him cut mustard - was out well to thwart this particular 32nd minute threat.

His opposite number, Reddy, was similarly soundly performed, and made a particularly telling contribution to proceedings in the 53rd minute. A hanging cross from Hickey had Rodrigues as its intended target, but Roar's goalkeeper rose high to pluck the ball off the striker's head, and throw it out to half-way in virtually the same movement.

Reinaldo was the beneficiary of this excellent piece of distribution, and he ran young Knights defender Sime Kovacevic ragged before teasing him into sending the Brazilian tumbling inside the penalty area near the by-line in the 54th minute. Reinaldo sent Turnbull the wrong way from the spot - 2-0.

The goal proved to be the catalyst Queensland needed to turn on a clinic, for their confidence grew exponentially from this moment on, and the Knights were left with the task of chasing shadows and living on scraps of possession.

Some splendid interchanges ensued from the orange-clad home team. Reinaldo sprayed the ball wide to Lynch, who cut inside before returning the ball to the Brazilian, whose touch for Milicic saw the striker turn the ball back for Wedau to let rip.

This 56th minute effort deserved better fate than to ricochet away for a corner, but the Knights failed to clear this, allowing Lynch to scoot clear down the right and clip over a measured cross on the run to the far post, where Reno Buess' header cannoned to safety off Knights defender Neil Emblen.

On the hour, substitute Massimo Murdocca played a sumptuous ball along the deck in behind Che Bunce for the charging figure of Lynch to pursue. Turnbull read the danger well, however, and was off his line to save, a feat he repeated eight minutes later to deny Milicic, after the striker had played a one-two with Lynch before charging into the penalty area.

It certainly was closer to the target than his high, wide and far from handsome effort seven minutes earlier, borne from a raking crossfield ball from Seo. That combination worked again in the 69th minute, with Milicic's lovely back-heel complimented by Murdocca's run and lay-off for Spase Dilevski to let fly on the run. The substitute's effort sizzled over the crossbar.

Another goal had to come as the Knights visibly wilted under this sustained attacking pressure, and in the 72nd minute, Lynch earned due reward for an impressive performance by slotting home through the legs of Turnbull after a one-two with Dilevski scythed open the visitors' rearguard.

Milicic, Murdocca and Wedau then presented Dilevski with a chance which he sliced wide, before Queensland made it 4-0 ten minutes from time. A quickly taken free-kick by captain Josh McCloughan picked out Dilevski, whose slide-rule pass for eye-catching Chinese international Yuning Zhang saw the substitute lure Turnbull out of goal - the goalkeeper's defence was missing, presumed having a good time by this stage - before unselfishly gifting Milicic the goal he'd been striving for all evening.

Dilevski then saw Turnbull grab his curled free-kick effort in the 83rd minute, before a delightful piece of skill from Zhang saw the substitute deserving of better fate a minute later.

Receiving a pass from Wedau, he controlled and turned in one movement, humiliating the lunging figure of Bunce in the process. He curled the ball round the again exposed figure of Turnbull, but this time fortune favoured the goalkeeper, the sphere creeping past his right-hand post.

Unperturbed, Zhang was in the thick of the action again a minute later. Buess evaded the challenges of Richter and substitute Sean Devine before picking out the newcomer, who proceeded to play a one-two with Milicic before lashing a twenty-five yarder goalwards.

The ball bounced in front of Turnbull, ricocheting off the 'keeper right into the path of McKay, who, like any striker worth his salt, was following in to score what proved to be the final goal of the night, 5-0 the outcome, Murdocca's attempt to make it six in the last minute clearing the target by some distance.

Not that he or his Queensland team-mates were too concerned. This was a strong performance, make no mistake, but the question remains as to whether they will be able to produce football as enterprising as this in matches involving opponents of a higher calibre than the NZ Knights.

After taking four points from their first two games and playing with such promise, yielding eight goals in two games prompts thoughts of the 'false dawn' variety where the New Zealand entry is concerned, not to mention reminders of the ill-fated inaugural A-League campaign.

The absence of midfield anchor Jonas Salley through injury is clearly affecting the Kiwi side, who appear not to have anybody able to fill what is clearly a pivotal role in the make-up of this team in the interim. Without him, they lack a genuine presence in midfield, not to mention a protective element for an unsteady defensive unit, aspects which Queensland exploited to the fullest in this one-sided encounter.