Slice of Cheese

Strikers Fall To Heidelberg In Elimination Final

Solstice Photography

The Devonport Strikers went down 3-2 to Heidelberg in their NPL National Finals Series Elimination Final, as a last gasp Jack Petrie free kick secured the win for the defending champions. The game had appeared destined for extra time after Kieran Mulraney’s leveller had knotted things up at 2-2 before Petrie caught Pitchford off his line and picked out the top corner from long range.

The teams walk out- Solstice Photography

The Strikers were on the back foot in the early skirmishes but having survived an early onslaught they quickly got comfortable and started going toe to toe with their more fancied rivals.

The pressing of Devonport was relentless, as was the work rate to get back in defence. This approach seemingly threw Heidelberg off their passing game, with the intensity of the Strikers seeing them start to win more of the ball and certainly at the back the threat was not being felt as it had in the opening minutes.

It led to the moment where Devonport took the lead just before the half hour mark.

Once again his sides best player on the big stage, it was Michael Holden who tore off down the left and crossed the ball into a Heidelberg defender whom it rebounded off of and into the back of the net.

It sent Valley Road into euphoria, and for the next 15 minutes the Strikers looked like heading into the break with a lead.

But a switch off just before the break, saw Heidelberg striking twice in the space of two minutes, to seize control of the game back.

On 44 minutes Alexander Schiavo cut in from the wing and stormed through the middle, drawing multiple defenders out of position. A couple of short sharp passes to exploit that opening and Sean Ellis found himself with a prime chance which he cooly tucked away.

The Victorians star man then turned provider, as he skipped past a couple before playing through Schiavo who likewise was clinical with the finish.

The game had swung 180 in the blink of an eye and instead of heading into the break with a lead to defend, Devonport were going to have to chase the game.

Dom Smith marking tightly- Solstice Photography

That they did, showing no fear and having a real crack at the opponents in the second half. Though chances were proving hard to come by, they hung with them and as the game wore on, the Strikers seemed to have the legs.

Then with time close to expiring the Strikers won a free kick on the right hand side. Joel Stone sent in a delightful ball that Jelenovic met with a powerful header. Somehow the keeper got a hand to it to make a stunning save and send the ball onto the post. But awaiting the rebound and firing home from all of a yard out was Kieran Mulraney, who poked home and sent Valley Road into a complete frenzy, levelling it at 2-2.

As the game entered stoppage time the goal seemed to have given the Strikers a spring in their step, they looked like they believed they could win the game and they were flying to the ball, looking the hungrier and fitter side, but Football can be a cruel game.

Beau Blizzard steps in for a challenge- Solstice Photography

In the 97th minute, with almost the final kick of the game, Jack Petrie made himself the hero. Stepping up to take the free kick from the left hand side, about 25 yards out he bent a curling effort for the back post. Whether an over-hit cross or a shot, the result was the same, the ball lobbing Pitchford and picking out the far top corner.

The Strikers had no time left to respond as the free kick proved the match winning moment, the defending National Champions moving on to the final four with a 3-2 win.

Despite the gut wrenching nature of the defeat, the post game mood at Valley Road was largely upbeat, sure there was disappointment, but to have run such a strong side so close was a performance to be proud of.

President Rod Andrews spoke passionately about these type of games helping to remove the “inferiority complex” of Tasmanian sides taking on mainland opposition. And on the evidence of recent times he is quite right, Tasmanian sides are closing that gap, and recent performances such as those from the Strikers on the national stage have proven that our best sides are capable of competing against the best other states have to offer. Through the FFA Cup and NPL Finals Series, this Strikers squad showed they are more than capable of really taking a game up to the them, not just passively sitting back and hoping to sneak a result.

Coach Chris Gallo was proud of the performance of his side and believed

”It was disappointing with the finish of the game, I have never seen us play a second half like that and we had them in the corner”

“I probably thought we deserved the win, but great teams pop up at the last second to win the game and that is what they did today.”

“We have got a young squad that need this type of experience, playing in a game of chaos, it was rapid and I was very proud of the players.”