The last time I reported from Perry Park on the FFA Cup, we bore witness to Redlands United stunning the reigning A-League champions Adelaide United. While the result may not have gone the same way for the host club, the same electricity was present for the clash between Brisbane Strikers and Melbourne City. For the first time, football superstar Tim Cahill stepped foot on the field for a club side in Australia. For the home fans, they were ecstatic to see their side play at home for the first time in the main draw. But for the neutrals, there was only one man to see. After completing their initial pitch inspection, Melbourne City returned to their dressing room minus Tim Cahill. A group of 50 to 100 fans swarmed the area around the tunnel, waiting for a glimpse of the marquee man. Cahill obliged, posing for photographs and signing autographs. It was clear the impact his name value had in selling out the 3,500 capacity Perry Park.
As kickoff rolled around, and the final spaces around the venue were filled up, the anticipation rose. While Cahill may have started on the bench; for the home fans, there was a great deal to celebrate. Brisbane Strikers started the game the more promising of the two sides, displaying the tenacity that won them the NPL Queensland title. Their earliest clear chance came when Trent Clulow was brought down by Connor Chapman. Rhys Meredith delivered the free kick from outside of the area but Thomas Sorensen was there to save the shot. Jonti Richter soon found himself with an opportunity to shoot from outside of the penalty box, but he couldn’t direct his shot on target. Following this, Hiroki Omori managed to get in behind the City defence but saw any chance at goal snuffed by a diving Sorensen. Despite the greater number of chances that the Strikers enjoyed, it was Melbourne City who enjoyed far more of the possession. That nearly paid off when Nick Fitzgerald managed a shot from just outside of the area, but he had his shot turned around the post. Back down the Strikers end, and it was Rhys Meredith who got on the end of a through ball and broke free of the City defence, but his shot was comfortably palmed wide by Sorensen. All the chances the Strikers had eventually paid dividends as they took the lead on 33 minutes. Hiroki Omori delivered a free kick into the box that Greig Henslee headed home. That celebration didn’t last long though, as Henslee turned villain and conceded a penalty for a lunge within the penalty area. Bruno Fornaroli stepped up from the penalty spot and converted the chance to draw City level. Half-time came, and both sides saw work they had to do. While Melbourne City went into the break with 78% of the possession in the first half, the Strikers had 7 chances to 3. City were struggling to turn their possession into chances, while the Strikers were breaking down the Melbourne City backline.
The second half started much the same way as the first. Fraser Hills had an early chance for the Strikers, when he had a shot that was blocked wide by Connor Chapman. This was followed up by Jake Marshall shooting narrowly wide off the corner. Melbourne City managed to find their feet going forward and started to create more chances. Osama Malik found himself with a golden chance with a header, but Michael Weier managed to palm the ball over the crossbar. Following this, it was Luke Brattan’s chance. Brattan delivered a free kick from 40 yards that curled past the on-rushing attackers and out for a goal kick. Following this was the moment many people were waiting for. Tim Cahill was substituted on for Anthony Caceres, to the delight of those in attendance. Unfortunately for the Strikers, that spell of attack for City was converted as they took the lead. Bruce Kamau was brought down by a challenge inside the box, and Bruno Fornaroli once again stepped up and converted the penalty to give Melbourne City the lead. Fornaroli nearly got a hattrick as Weier fumbled a cross into the box, but he was unable to pounce on the loose ball. As the minutes ticked down towards full time, the pressure increased on the Strikers to find a way through to goal. Unfortunately for them, and the 3,571 in attendance, they were unable to manage that as the full time whistle blew.
While it may have been an unfavourable result for the Brisbane Strikers, they take heart from the performance they put in during the game. Despite playing a far stronger opposition with far more possession, they created numerous chances in the game and were only beaten by two penalties. The performance will give them confidence headed into their NPL Queensland finals clash against fellow FFA Cup losers Redlands United. Melbourne City will take confidence from their ability to win the game and move through to the final eight of the competition. With fellow NPL Queensland side Redlands United bowing out of the competition in their loss to Canberra Olympic, two facts arose. Firstly, all four goals scored against Queensland teams came from the penalty spot. Secondly, with both these sides losing, Queensland’s involvement in the FFA Cup for 2016 is over.