Slice of Cheese

South Eyeing National Success Against Strikers

The local season may now be in the book, but the football keeps on coming as South Hobart now ascend to the national stage to take on the Brisbane Strikers on Sunday in the NPL National Finals Series. The PS4 NPL Finals Series brings together the eight teams who won their respective NPL league titles to determine Australia’s best PS4 NPL side. Tasmania was drawn to host the Queensland champions in the draw conducted earlier this season leading to the South v Brisbane clash at Darcy Street on Sunday.

Sky High Belief For South 

South Hobart are absolutely flying at the moment, unbeaten since round 6 and winning 17 of their last 18 games. Their 7-0 demolition job over Olympia last weekend in the League Cup final reinforced their dominance and highlighted the gap between them and the chasing pack locally. Coach Ken Morton said the severity of the result came as a surprise but that his side would draw tremendous confidence from it.

“A lot really (confidence comes from it), we were a little bit stunned and surprised at the way we got the goals and made the result. The performance was quite tidy throughout the 90 minutes, both with and against the wind. We got it down and played some good football, some great attacks from the flanks to get the goals. It was a good performance and I think the players will take a lot of heart from that.” 

South ran riot in the League Cup Final- Solstice Photography

With the level they are playing there is hope that Morton’s men will be able to claim a big scalp. They are a well settled side with a range of weapons and tremendous depth. That has been shown at the back where experienced centre back Hugh Ludford has been injured in recent weeks and replaced by Oscar Thomas, who has been exemplary in his stead. It will lead to a selection dilemma at the back with Ludford returning to fitness with Morton facing a tough call either way. Morton said that the squad was at full fitness, with the only doubts the fitness of Darcy Hall and Nick Morton, both of whom he expected to line up. Now they get the chance to test themselves against mainland opposition and for the first time all year, South won’t be entering a game as favourites.

“We don’t want to be favouites, we are happy to be underdogs. We’ve done our homework, we know how they want to play, we’ll try and stop that rhythm and play a good brand of football ourselves.

No Backwards Steps

Morton suggested that his side would look to get on the front foot and wouldn’t be sitting back and ceding possession to their opponents. They will approach this game as they have every side they have faced this season.

We’ll go into the game and have a go, we won’t be afraid of them.”

“We’ll go out and have a go at them, we won’t sit back and have a look and admire them, we will go and have a real shot at winning the game.”

Given that is the manner they have played in all season, looking to press and attack opposition sides that comes as no surprise. Their mobile front 3 and all action midfield 3 do a tremendous job denying opponents time and space on the ball, something they will need to execute in order to disrupt a Strikers side who like to play out from the back. Ben Hamlett is likely to start ahead of Leszczynski to offer the extra mobility with the pacey duo of Hall and Walter flanking him. The midfield of Morton, Turner and Kemp are all interchangeable and versatile players who offer a fine blend of grunt, goals and silk. Morton who starred in the League Cup final, has a phenemonal goal scoring record at home and he could be a player to ignite the Darcy Street crowd. The crowd could be a factor according to Ken Morton, who suggested the home ground advantage could swing things in South’s favour. Adding that they had learned important lessons from their previous ventures onto the National stage.

“We got a home draw and that’s a great advantage for us at Darcy Street, we’re looking forward to the day. We should good get a good crowd and it will be a great atmosphere there.”

“What we’ve learned is you can’t make those little mistakes, you need to take care of all the little details. We need to keep the pressure on to try and force some errors out of the opposition.”

Darcy Street Fortress! South haven’t lost at home in 2017- Solstice Photography

The Opposition 

That opposition is the Brisbane Strikers, who are a former NSL side, who claimed the 1997 NSL title but after being denied entry into the A-League they have since returned to the State leagues. They are still hoping to be a part of a future A-League and will bid for entry when the league expands but for now they are dominating the NPL Queensland competition. The Strikers have been crowned League Premiers in the NPL Queensland for the past 2 seasons, and in 2015 they just missed out on the title by goal difference. Whilst finals success hasn’t followed in those seasons their consistency over the League campaign over the past three seasons has been impressive. After a slightly sluggish start to their NPL QLD campaign in 2017, they soon clicked into gear and stormed home down the stretch, winning 7 of their final 8 games and scoring a league high 68 goals on their way to being crowned premiers.

The Strikers have won the past 2 NPL QLd League titles

The team has a number of players who can chip in with goals, with star striker Jeremy Stewart chief among them. Stewart scored 15 goals in 22 matches this season, and whilst the Strikers will be without the services of their second highest scorer in Greg Cheshire through injury, they have a good spread of contributors. Midfielder Michael Lee scored 8 goals as well as key duo Hiroki Omori and Jake Mclean chiming in with seven goals each. The 7 goals Omori scored were particularly impressive given he is nominally a full back. He will be one of the players to watch for the Strikers as he will look to push forwards and offers a tantalizing duel with South Hobart’s Adam Gorrie as two key movers for their sides who like to get forward. Both these sides love to get their fullbacks involved in the attack and the battle in wide areas will be fascinating. Omori was selected as the left back in the NPL Queensland Team of the Year and is considered one of the best players in the league. Midfielder Jake Mclean also earned selection in the Team of the Season and he has won the players player award for his side the past twos seasons, offering a very real threat, slotting in behind the strikers for his side.

Defence Wins Titles

It’s an old cliche but it would seem in the case of the Strikers it rings true. Over the past three PS4 NPL seasons in Queensland they have boasted the league’s stingiest defence, conceding just 21, 19 and 22 goals respectively over the past 3 seasons. That is a total of 62 goals in 66 games and is a remarkable level of consistency. They are led at the back by their star centre back and player of the season of the past 2 years, Greig Henslee, who forms a strong partnership with Jake Marshall in front of reliable gloveman Zac Speedy. Whilst they have at times operated with a back 3 this season, the 4-4-2 diamond seems their most likely set up for this game, with the likes of Angus and Docherty supporting the defence and covering for their attacking full back play. The Strikers certainly aren’t a defensive side by any means, just exceptionally hard to score against. They look to control the game by building from the back and dominating possession and their defenders are all comfortable on the ball.

Greig Heinslee is a rock at the back for the Strikers

Changing Lanes

In a blow to the Strikers, their head coach for the 2017 season, Sean Lane, who took over the coaching reigns of the Strikers’ senior squad a year ago and guided them to a second successive premiership, will not rejoin the club in 2018. He will take up a coaching offer at another club, believed to be Gold Coast. With international business commitments preventing Lane from remaining in charge of the Strikers through the upcoming PS4 NPL Finals Series, the club has appointed Owen Baker and David Large to take charge of the Strikers’ senior squad. How this affects the playing group remains to be seen and regardless of how well tuned the squad are, it surely must have some disruptive affect upon them.

ABBA AT Darcy Street?

No, not the Swedish pop sensations, but should the game go to penalties then we will indeed be seeing ABBA at Darcy Street. This year’s PS4 NPL Finals Series will trial a new penalty shootout system which will take effect should any of the games be tied after 120 minutes of match play.The International Football Association Board (IFAB) is currently trialing a system known as ‘ABBA’ in leagues and competitions across the globe.

‘ABBA’, which was used for the first time at this year’s Under-17 European Championships, starts the same as the common ‘ABAB’ penalty shootout – with the referee tossing a coin to determine which team kicks first.
What differs with the ‘ABBA’ system, however, is that after ‘Team A’ takes its first spot kick, ‘Team B’ takes the next two, much like a tie-break in tennis. The teams will then trade penalty kicks in series of two each until a victor is decided. The ‘ABBA’ system is part of IFAB’s “play fair” initiative, and is being trialed after research suggested that some 60 per cent of winning teams in penalty shootouts come from the team that shoots first.

The Swedish Pop Stars will not be playing, but we might see ABBA at Darcy Street on Sunday

HOW TO WATCH

Come to the game! Get yourself to Darcy Street and get behind Tasmanian Football, Kick off is 12:30pm. Entry costs are Adults $8, Student/Concession $4 & children aged 12 & under are free

Can’t make it? No worries, every match in the PS4 NPL 2017 Finals Series will be streamed LIVE on www.nationalpremierleagues.com.au as well as via the official Hyundai A-League Facebook Page

The game will also be streamed on youtube at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hC0Uc273P5w

Finals Format

The PlayStation 4 NPL 2017 Finals Series will take place over a three-week period consisting of four Elimination Finals and two Semi Finals before culminating in the Grand Final.

Every match in the PlayStation 4 NPL 2017 Finals Series is sudden-death, with extra time and penalties to be held if required.

This year’s matchups and groupings of the Elimination Finals and subsequent Semi Finals were determined by a random draw.

To determine the host Federation for the Semi Finals and Grand Final, the following points system will apply after each stage of the Finals Series:
• Win within normal time (i.e. 90 minutes) = 3 points
• Win during extra time = 2 points
• Win on penalties = 1 point
• Goals scored by home team (excluding penalty shootouts) = 3 points
• Goals scored by away team (excluding penalty shootouts) = 4 points
• Goals conceded (excluding penalty shootouts) = -1 point
• Yellow cards = -1 point; and
• Red cards = -3 points

The winner of the PlayStation 4 NPL Finals Series will be crowned PlayStation 4 National Premier Leagues Champions of Australia. The PlayStation 4 NPL 2017 Champions will also receive automatic entry into the Round of 32 of the Westfield FFA Cup 2018.