Slice of

Lions strike to deny Strikers title

Photo: Solstice Digital

Match report: Dan Thurley

The Kingborough Lions proved to be the villain in the Devonport Strikers’ quest for championship glory, earning a 2-1 victory at Lightwood Park to hand the title to the Glenorchy Knights on a dramatic final day of NPL Tasmania action.

A minute’s silence was observed before kick-off to pay respect to Greg Ellis, a legend of the Kingborough Lions United Football Club which did him proud with its performances on the day, including in the Women’s Super League where a 3-3 draw in the earlier kick-off secured a third-place finish. A Strikers win in the men’s game would have all but confirmed that the NPL Tasmania title would be heading to Devonport for the fourth-straight year, but the Lions had other plans.

The Strikers took the field with a change in personnel as Eddie Bidwell watched from the stands, suspended with a fifth yellow card earned in the previous outing against the Glenorchy Knights. In his place was Taylor Last who occupied the centre, while Joel Stone and Brody Denehey were up front and Charles Bidwell returned to the holding midfield role. The Lions lined up in their favoured 4-3-3 of recent weeks, with Ben Hamlett flanked by Joseph Juma and Adam McKeown.

As expected, the Strikers were quick out of the gate and Jordan Lamb had the first shot on target after just three minutes. The wing-back gained possession high up the field and got in behind the Lions defence, before firing from a tight angle and having his effort saved by Tate Kingston.

It proved to be one of few opportunities to get in behind the Lions’ back four, who forced the Strikers to do all of their attacking in front of the defensive line lead by Jack Turner and Greg Downes. Despite intense pressure being applied by the Strikers, the Lions drew first blood as Adam McKeown did the Glenorchy Knights a favour by volleying home from a corner in the 28th minute.

Keenan Douce’s delivery found McKeown arriving unmarked at the back post, but the lead was short lived. From the resulting kick-off the Strikers charged into their attacking third, and Stone took on an audacious shot from distance. Though the initial effort was no threat to the Lions’ goal, a deflection off the feet of Douce played the ball into the path of golden boot winner Brody Denehey who fired home from close range and had the visitors back on level terms within 90 seconds of the ball hitting the net at the other end.

Nathan Pitchford was rarely called into action in his retirement game up until the 37th minute when a turnover in midfield allowed Ben Hamlett to be played through on goal. He looked to round the Strikers’ shot-stopper but was brought down, and NPL Tasmania referee of the year Brenton Kopra pointed to the spot.

Hamlett stepped up to take the resulting penalty, but as he did to hand the Strikers the Lakoslejac Cup earlier this year, Pitchford batted away the spot-kick and kept the Strikers on level terms. Momentum was in favour of the Lions as the half neared the end, and they had one more chance to go ahead before the break. Kobe Kemp helped on Keenan Douce’s free-kick, but Pitchford saved acrobatically to ensure the two sides would be level at the break.

Half-Time: Kingborough Lions 1 (McKeown 28’) Devonport Strikers 1 (Denehey 30’)

As play resumed, news soon reached the Strikers’ travelling fans that the Knights had gone 1-0 up at KGV, adding to the pre-existing tension with the title once again swinging in favour of Glenorchy.

The Strikers had two good chances to go ahead inside the first 20 minutes of the second half, but Tate Kingston and the Lions’ crossbar kept them at bay. The first opportunity fell to Connor Parke who redirected Toby Barton’s acrobatic effort towards goal, only to be denied by Kingston’s outstretched hand. The second fell to Daniel Syson in the 65th minute, whose header rattled the woodwork following Stone’s free-kick.

Hamlett reminded the Strikers of the threat posed at the other end when he too went close to scoring just one minute later. He turned inside Dominic Smith and fired off a left-footed strike that had the better of Pitchford, only to clip the crossbar on its way over.

Possibly the best chance of the game fell to Denehey in the 72nd minute. Stone worked his way into the area and found the feet of Denehey waiting inside the six-yard box, but he turned the ball over the bar in a rare moment of wastefulness in front of goal.

The final dagger would be driven into the hearts of the Devonport Strikers in second-half stoppage time and, as he had threatened to do on many occasions, it was Hamlett who delivered the blow. A cross inside from the left found Hamlett who lifted the ball over Pitchford and inside the far post to hand the Lions a thrilling 2-1 victory, and send the Strikers home empty handed.

Full Time: Kingborough Lions 2 (McKeown 28’, Hamlett 90+1’) Devonport Strikers 1 (Denehey 30’)

NPL Tasmania Round 21

Glenorchy Knights 1-0 Launceston City

Kingborough Lions 2-1 Devonport Strikers

Riverside Olympic 3-1 Clarence Zebras

South Hobart 2-0 Olympia Warriors