Strikers Thwart City to Extend Lead To Five Points
The Devonport Strikers accounted for Launceston City 2-0 in their Round 17 fixture to move five points clear on top and put the pressure back on Hobart JEEP Zebras who play Clarence on Sunday evening. On a cool evening, the surface of the pitch at Mitsubishi Park made conditions for football challenging. But goals for the Strikers from Brayden Mann & Brodie Denehy were enough to quash the threat posed by the youthful City who created a number of chances in second half.
Remarkably, since their first and only loss of the season to Hobart JEEP Zebras in Round 4, the Strikers have only conceded 4 goals in 13 games. It was this impressive defensive unit that Launceston City would need to find holes in to continue their climb upwards from 5th position on the ladder. With Nathan Bartlett and Alex Sciulli unavailable and captain Tobius Omenihu under an injury cloud, young players such as Isaac Degetto, Dominic Rossi & Jarrod Linger would need to step up.
Coming n to the game after a disappointing draw against South Hobart last week, the Strikers were hoping for a commanding performance to reassert their dominance on the competition and their position on top of the ladder. With all players available at the selection table, the only headache for coach, Peter Savill, was whether or not to tinker with his starting 11 and start Beau Blizzard.
However, the Strikers’ line-up remained unchanged from their trip to Darcy St, and it was a decision that almost yielded gold in the first minute of the game. An early foray in the final third for the Strikers saw them awarded a corner. Joel Stone’s cross into the 6-yard box was met with a header that struck the upright and was cleared. Moments later as the City defence began to push out, the ball was turned over to Devonport and came to the feet of Devonport captain, Brayden Mann, who was one-on-one with the keeper at a tight angle. David Smith in goals for City denied Mann with a good save, but the striker should have done better.
For the first twenty minutes of the match the Strikers would monopolise possession and territory, playing a mixture of the short and long ball passing game. However, following their two chances early did not create any clear-cut chances. City looked to hit Devonport on the counter by finding the feet of Degetto, Rossi & Ogusu, who would pick up possession on the half way line and run with the ball. This would get them into dangerous positions, but much like their opponents did not create any clear chances.
City slowly began to work their way into the game, with the contest evolving into a tight, physical and even affair, with the majority of the play occurring in the central portion of the pitch.
But the game sprang to life in the 35th minute, starting with Aaron Campbell receiving a Slice of Cheese for a poor challenge that had Strikers players fired up. Moments later Joel Stone carried the ball into the box for the Strikers looking to create, and was brought down in the tackle by Isaac Degetto with a mistimed challenge and a hint of a shirt pull. The official pointed to the spot. League-leading goal scorer Brayden Mann stepped up to take the penalty and converted into the bottom corner to give the Strikers a 1-0 lead.
The pace and intensity of contest picked up after the goal providing some end to end action up to the close of the half. In the 45th minute Stone had another penalty shout after he was brought down by Aaron Leonard on the right hand side of the 18-yard box. But this time the official was not interested, he waved his hand and play continued as the protesting shouts of the Devonport faithful echoed through the cold evening.
City went into the break a goal down, but still in the game. At times their counter attack had looked promising but they had not produced any real threat to the visitors’ goal. Devonport headed into the sheds at half time with their lead intact having controlled the game but not dominated it. However, they had been rarely challenged in defence. Stone, Mann, Denehy & Gorrie had a lively first half and would need to produce more of the same for the Strikers to extend their lead in the second half.
And that is exactly what they did. In the 49th minute, after some patient build up, Denehy received the ball on left hand side of the 18-yard box, found some space to shoot and finished with aplomb to extend the Strikers’ lead to two.
Following the Devonport side doubling their lead, City began attack with greater urgency and were more decisive with their ball use in the final third. The 57th and 58th minutes, respectively, saw two shots on goal in as many minutes for City. First, Degetto forced a save from goalkeeper Nick Giantsopolous from 18-yards. Then Ogusu’s effort from 25 yards out looked to be headed over the bar but dipped late with the Strikers’ keeper making a tremendous save to tip the ball over the crossbar to force the corner.
By this stage of the game, as the sun set and the cold set in, the volume of foot traffic through the middle of the ground had wreaked havoc with the surface of the pitch and players began to lose their footing. This caused both sides to play more direct and resulted in some exciting end-to-end action for the supporters who braved the cold.
Chances to Brayden Mann in 58th minute, Greg Duffy in 68th minute, Joel Stone in the 75th minute and Mann again in the 78th minute all went begging. With time winding down City would need something special to ignite a comeback.
In the 82nd minute, an excellent display of footwork from Isaac Degetto drew two defenders his pass found Aaron Campbell alone on the left hand side of the 18-yard box on a slight angle, but the shot was fired directly at the keeper.
Then, two minutes later, Joel Stone picked up the ball outside the box and weaved his way through a number of challenges and manufactured some space for a shot. However, it was struck directly at the keeper. Campbell then did exactly the same at the other end, and should have been on the scorecard this evening. That was the final action of the match as Devonport took the 2-0 win and put the pressure back on the Zebras.
The game was a scrappy affair due to the difficult but not impossible pitch conditions, and yielded a number of excellent passages of play, with some exciting moments. City created a number of chances in the second half but were unable to convert and will rue their accuracy and composure in front of goal. Devonport were the better side on the evening, both on the pitch and on the scoreboard. Whilst they recorded yet another clean sheet they did not appear to be at their dazzling best.
Goal scorers Mann & Denehy were excellent and both looked dangerous all night. Daniel Syson continues to impress in his defensive midfield role, and the tall timber at the back were well organised and continue to be the benchmark for defensive units in the state. Degetto and Linger impressed for City, and whilst they were perhaps the two youngest players on the ground for the evening, they were also City’s most active and creative.
With four rounds remaining the chase for the title is reaching its climax, with Zebras still nipping at the heels of Devonport. And that is the all-important clash we will see next week that could indeed be the game that decides the season. In Round 18 at Valley Road, the first-placed Strikers play host to the second-placed Hobart JEEP Zebras. Launceston City are at home again next week, but welcome the highest scoring team in the competition, South Hobart, to Mitsubishi Park. They will remember the 10-goal drubbing they received at the hands of South Hobart in Round 4 and will be eager to make amends.