Strikers held at home by impressive QAS

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Queensland Academy of Sport turned the QSL form guide on its head and were unlucky not to come away with a win on Saturday night, drawing two-all against league-leaders Brisbane Strikers at Perry Park.

Michael Angus and Matt Thurtell snatched a goal apiece for the home side, while the visitors scored via Max Brown and substitute striker Jordan Lambi.
The entertaining and end-to-end contest overcame a somewhat scrappy start before blossoming into a full-blown battle between exuberance and experience, with the Academy youngsters twice taking the lead only to then surrender it.
Brisbane almost snatched an early goal through Angus, whose brutal strike from eight yards bruised QAS keeper Andres Pascoe’s shoulder before being denied by the crossbar.
It was the only genuine chance for Brisbane in the first half though, as the fleet-footed Academy players picked off pass after pass, stifling the Strikers usually composed midfield.
In fact, it was the QAS that controlled the centre of the park like league-leaders in the opening half; Jack Bladen and Ben Litfin proving proficient in both defence and attack, while wily wingers Patrick Theodore and Brandon Borello stretched their opponents out wide, both on the counter attack and with more considered build-up.
And although the quartet combined to create several half chances, it was a cheeky ball over the top of from Theodore to Litfin on 38 minutes that almost gave QAS the lead.

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Litfin squared the ball back to striker Sam Cronin, whose well placed shot was superbly saved by the fully stretched David Chambers for Brisbane.

In the dying seconds of the half, QAS earned another chance to grab a well-deserved lead when Litfin was brought down in the area by stand-in Strikers skipper Nick Robinson.
Litfin’s penalty was saved by Chambers but before the youngster could convert the rebound, the referee bizarrely blew the whistle for half time, catching the confused crowd off guard with the unconventional timing.
It wouldn’t take long for the Academy to make amends for the penalty miss though.
In the 47th minute Max Brown eluded the Strikers defenders down the left hand side and proceeded to the byline. His shot from an acute angle taking a deflection that denied Chambers a chance of further heroics, sneaking in at the near post.
The goal proved to be the wake up call the Perry Park faithful were waiting for as the Strikers sparked back to life almost immediately – Sean Burke, Chris di Sipio, Chris Maher, Thurtell and Robinson all taking, but spurning, chances for an equaliser.
It would be Thurtell that finally levelled terms in the 69th minute, picking the pocket of an unsuspecting Academy defender before calmly side-footing the ball past Pascoe and into the back of the net.
QAS weren’t to be denied though and, despite strong arm tactics from some of Brisbane’s more seasoned campaigners, the youngsters refused to be outmuscled. And they would again pull ahead in sublime fashion on 79 minutes.
Right winger Borello found Lambi unmarked at the top of the arc thanks in no small part to Bladen, who ran over the pass and suckered two defenders out of position. Lambi then took a touch before slotting his shot to the right of the advancing Chambers.
Brisbane’s reply was immediate. From the ensuing restart Robinson vacated his central defensive role, inexplicably finding himself with the ball on the right wing. He then displayed the versatility that saw him play in front third last week, picking out the unmarked Angus, who took a touch before beating Pascoe with a low shot that went in off the far post.
The final ten minutes saw both sides sacrifice chances to snare a winner, the best of these undoubtedly falling to the otherwise impressive Borello, who was released by a well-played early ball from defender Cameron Christani in time added on.
Finding himself all alone in the Strikers half of the pitch, Borello ran on to the ball from just behind the half way line and dribbled all the way to the advancing Chambers. And while the low shot from the right hand side of goal beat the keeper it also rolled just wide of the far post.
Speaking after the game, Academy coach Josh McCloughan stated his satisfaction with the performance of his side, “Strikers are the best team in the league by far, I think they play the best football. For mine, when you come against a side like that and you can play a similar game to what they do, it’s good.”
While keen to emphasis his role at the Queensland Academy of Sport isn’t about the final result, he admitted to being somewhat dismayed by the timing of the half-time whistle, “I don’t think I’ve ever seen it in my life. I’m still shaking my head.”
McCloughin, perhaps alluding to his connections with Brisbane Roar, also suggested some big things await his development squad, “I think when it comes to the National Youth League this year, in the next twelve months or so you’ll be seeing a lot of these players get their chance.”
Strikers coach David Large was circumspect in his appraisal, “We didn’t get beat so I’m happy. Would I have liked to have won?

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Sure. But I’ll take the draw.”

Large also admitted that changes to his squad forced by injury took its toll, “It was probably too many changes for me. Four changes to the backline wasn’t easy and I think that showed. It took us a while to get organised.

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“If fringe players think that they’re going to get an easy ride, then I apologise here and now and say that won’t happen,” Large added. “I will play the best eleven available. The only time I haven’t done it is tonight.”
Large also made sure his goalkeeper, Chambers, received due credit for his performance, “I was very pleased with David tonight, I thought he was probably our best player.”
Brisbane travel to Mareeba next weekend to face Far North Queensland Bulls, where three points will see them secure the regular season title. Meanwhile, QAS, whose finals aspirations have been quashed by other results, will return home to Meakin Park to play fourth placed Sunshine Coast.

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