PHOTO: SPROULE SPORTS FOCUS
Brisbane Strikers 2 (Stewart 28’, Lee 90+5’) defeated Edgeworth Eagles 0 at Jack McLaughlan Oval.
Brisbane Strikers ended Edgeworth’s hopes of reaching back-to-back PlayStation®4 (PS4) National Premier Leagues (NPL) Grand Final as they held tough in sweltering conditions to defeat the Eagles 2-0 at Jack McLaughlan Oval.
A first-half goal from Jeremy Stewart followed by a late penalty to Michael Lee was enough to see the Queensland side through to their first PS4 NPL Grand Final.
In a game where the mercury was above 35 degrees from the outset, conditions were always going to be tough, but it didn’t seem to bother the men from the Sunshine State as they set about their work.
The opening 20 minutes were tight with neither side creating much in the way of chances.
That was until the 21st minute when Brisbane’s leading goalscorer Jeremy Stewart was left unmarked at the back post and his header cannoned off the post.
The Strikers kept probing, dominating possession in the Eagles half before they finally broke through. Jake McLean’s in-swinging corner was too difficult to deal with for Edgeworth keeper Josh Low and he could only parry it towards the visitors.
After a pinball in the box, Stewart guided the ball home after 28 minutes to make it 1-0.
Ten minutes later Sam Knight threaded the ball through for Michael Lee down the left edge of the box, however former Striker Josh Evans was first to react blocking the tall Englishman’s shot on goal.
The Eagles then had their best opportunity of the match as Aaron McLoughlin curled a ball from the left edge onto the head of Daniel McBreen, who just pushed his header wide.
Stewart almost doubled the lead in the final seconds of the half, but his shot from well outside the box just bounced off target.
The visitors led 1-0 at the break and when they returned both sides found it difficult to break through. Two sides who conceded less than a goal-a-game on average in their respective competitions, put their superb respective defences on show.
Edgeworth pushed for an equaliser with Damian Zane thrusting Aaron Oppedisano and Will Bower into the fray. Both were dangerous, but couldn’t find the elusive goal.
Disaster then struck for Brisbane with less than five minutes to play as substitute Zac Maltby was injured and the visitors were forced to play out the final minutes with just ten men. However, their defence held firm.
A late penalty converted by Michael Lee sealed Brisbane’s place in the decider for the very first time, where they will play Victorian Premiers Heidelberg United at Perry Park in Brisbane.
Strikers coach Owen Baker said post-match he was proud of his side’s defence.
“We are a team that likes to have the ball and dominate games in position. But, we knew as a priority today that we had to come and defend well,” Baker said.
“We knew it was going to be tough. We knew the strengths that Edgeworth had in [Daniel] McBreen and [Kieran] Sanders, so to come here and keep a clean sheet was outstanding.”
Baker said he was excited to return home for the Grand Final.
“Back at Perry [Park], we are looking forward to that one. Obviously to get out family and friends back and all the supporters at Strikers. What a great test. Heidelberg are a quality team. It’s going to be a tough game.”
It was a contrast of emotions for Eagles coach Damian Zane as he described his side’s performance as one of their worst in his three-year stint at the club.
“It was difficult conditions. Our boys they just looked flat really. It was a bizarre performance. We looked flat, I can’t really put my finger on it. We were ill-disciplined and that is rare for us.”
The Eagles will head into their off-season as they set their sights on a fourth straight PS4 NPL NNSW Premiership in 2018.