Brisbane Strikers are through to their first NPL Queensland Grand Final after defeating Redlands United 2-1 in extra time at Perry Park on Saturday night.
Strikers were forced to fight from a goal down before ultimately securing the win in the 101st winner courtesy of defender Chris Maher’s maiden NPL Queensland goal.
Earlier Lyndon Dykes edged the Red Devils ahead late in the first half before Strikers forced extra time via a penalty from Scot Coulson with thirteen minutes remaining.
The result marks the first time Strikers have defeated Redlands in the NPL Queensland this season.
Despite their attacking reputations, both sides settled slowly into the contest with Strikers Greg King and Redlands’ Graham Fyfe both sending early attempts well wide.
Strikers’ attacking midfielder Trent Clulow was first to find the target on the angle just prior to the quarter hour but was foiled by Redlands goalkeeper Brendan White.
A tense and scrappy period followed that offered few scoring opportunities as the sides battled for the upper hand.
Strikers gradually wrested the momentum but spurned arguably the best chance of the half when Apai Ukuno scuffed his shot wide of the post on the half hour.
Redlands then struck against the run of play immediately prior to the break – striker Dykes delivering a spectacular long-range dipping strike on the turn from outside 20 yards.
Despite being a goal down, the hosts continued to see the better of the possession after the restart but were frustrated by unconvincing finishes.
Prior to the hour Ukuno scooped a shot over the crossbar before two close range chances for Fraser Hills were both denied by White and Greg King shot wide of the target.
Absorbing the pressure, Redlands offered an intermittent threat at the other end – Elliott Ronto forcing a solid save from Fraser Chalmers with the visitors best chance of the half.
Strikers’ persistence paid off with a quarter hour remaining when Kai Halliday was penalised for a push on Ukuno, enabling substitute Coulson to slot the ensuing spot-kick for his fourth goal of the campaign.
The hosts continued to ride their home support but missed a chance to seal the win in the final minute of regular time when Maher saw his shot bounce back off the post.
Redlands remained on the backfoot in time added on before Strikers edged ahead for the first-time courtesy of another chance to Maher – the defender controlling at the back post before sneaking a composed finish past the onrushing White.
Seeking to protect their lead, Strikers sat back in the final quarter hour – however Redlands’ search for an equaliser proved fruitless as Halliday and Jayden Prasad both directed attempts wide of the post in the final stages.
Speaking post-match, Strikers captain Michael Angus said the win was a full-team effort and cited the close-knight nature of the team after a trying week.
“All year our squad our squad has gotten closer and closer with more unity and that has shown in certain things that haven’t gone our way this year. But we’ve been able to adapt and that’s a credit to the full squad,” Angus explained.
Strikers coach Kevin A’herne-Evans praised his charges’ perseverance following a tough build-up to the match.
“I’m really proud and the boys got a huge opportunity now to bring us some silverware which, for the effort we’ve put in this year, I think we deserve,” A’herne-Evans said.
Redlands Technical Director Matt Chandler said Strikers’ more experienced squad had ultimately proved decisive in a cut-throat extra time.
“The Strikers I think showed their experience and we looked a little young there in the last thirty minutes of extra time,” Chandler conceded.
Brisbane Strikers FC 2 (Scot COULSON 77’p, Chris MAHER 101’)
Redlands United FC 1 (Lyndon DYKES 42’)