GRAND FINAL 2011 MATCH REPORT
The Sunshine Coast Fire have once again returned from Perry Park as QSL Champions, after snatching a 1-0 triumph over the Brisbane Strikers on Saturday night.
As was the case in the 2008 and 2010 Grand Finals, a solitary goal to the Fire was enough to clinch the title, with former Striker Gareth Musson coming off the bench to net the crucial goal in the 77th minute.
The victory has clinched a third Premiership/Championship double for the Fire in the QSL’s four year history, an impressive record in a league that is strengthening year by year.
On a Perry Park pitch that had been soaked by consistent rain, the early exchanges between the sides were more tentative than usual as each team looked to find their feet. Although the Fire started the match with an unchanged lineup from last week, Brisbane’s leading scorer Matt Thurtell was granted a brief release from his A-League trial with Wellington Phoenix and took to the field in the Grand Final.
The opening twenty minutes of the half proved to be largely uneventful as both sides struggled to break through and create chances. Although the Fire managed a few set pieces, Brisbane dealt with them with ease.
Myles Carseldine produced the first shot on goal for the game on 24 minutes, when he struck a low drive from the edge of the area that Antony Hall turned away for a corner. Sam Knight and Tyson Holmes combined soon after as the Fire countered, with the skipper eventually playing a ball to Jason Hicks, who shot across the face of goal under pressure.
In the slippery conditions it was the Strikers who were finding more of the ball and gaining the territorial advantage. Midfielder Michael Angus went close to finding the top corner from long range with a stunning strike, but Hall produced a top-drawer save to keep the scores level. Soon after, Matt Thurtell won possession and burst through a scrum of defenders to move in on goal, but shot across the face of goal from just inside the penalty area.
The Fire were looking dangerous on the break, as Shaun Blackman found Leon Dwyer in the left of the penalty area with a through-pass, but Dwyer couldn’t hit the target from a narrow angle. Minutes later, a near-post corner kick from Hicks found Dwyer, but his header went narrowly wide of the left post.
Half-time came with the game very much in the balance. Both sides were threatening, but disciplined defending and difficult conditions were keeping the match scoreless.
After the break, Brisbane had the first opportunity when captain Chay Hews put a good effort narrowly over the crossbar from long range. Hews was again involved soon after, directing a corner kick towards Ryan Mottin, who cleared the bar by inches with a well-timed header.
The Strikers had their best chance when Nick Robinson connected sweetly with a free-kick that looked destined to find the top corner, but Antony Hall again came to the rescue with a miraculous diving save to keep the match scoreless.
With the match drifting closer to full-time and the pressure increasing every minute, the Sunshine Coast stepped up their search for a winning goal. The breakthrough came on 77 minutes, when a long ball from Holmes was chased by Stinson, who collected it near the right byline. Under pressure, he passed back to substitute Gareth Musson who had found space in the penalty area. Musson wasted no time in drilling a shot inside the left post to the delight of travelling supporters.
The Strikers were left downcast by the goal, but rallied to try and level the scores. Although Thurtell and substitute Jonti Richter had half-chances, the Fire were able to run down the clock until the final whistle, which sounded to the jubilation of players and supporters.
Once again, the Fire had snatched a Grand Final win by the narrowest of margins. Richard Hudson was delighted in his team’s ability to get the result in difficult conditions and in hostile territory.
“When we’ve had our backs to the wall this year, we’ve really delivered. We had to do things the hard way by beating Whitsundays last week, but to come to Brisbane and get the win is really impressive.”
In the wake of this latest result, the already bitter rivalry between the Fire and Strikers will likely intensify. With the successful introduction of Sunshine Coast Stadium and an ever-improving standard across the league, 2012 promises to be another exciting season of the Queensland State League.
FINAL SCORE: Sunshine Coast FC – 1 (Musson, 77)
Brisbane Strikers – 0
LINEUP – Antony Hall, James Stinson, Ryan Smith, Alex Henderson, Sam Knight, Dylan Roberts, Leon Dwyer, Tyson Holmes, Greig Henslee, Jason Hicks, Shaun Blackman. SUBS – Gareth Musson, Daniel King, Kota Shibahashi.