Preview: North Queensland v Sydney FC

Friday August 14, 5:15pm AEST

Date: Friday August 14
Kick-off: 5:15pm AEST
Venue: Dairy Farmers Stadium

Played 3: Wins: North Queensland 1, Sydney FC 2

Previous Meeting
Sydney FC 4, North Queensland 1, SFS, Round 17, December 2009

Some interesting history between these two sides and a lot of it has to do with firsts for North Queensland. The Fury’s first Hyundai A-League game was against the Sky Blues at Dairy Farmers Stadium last year, ending in a thrilling 3-2 win for Sydney that saw Robbie Fowler score his first goal in Australia. Fast forward to Round 6 and North Queensland earned its first win in this competition in a 1-0 victory over Sydney at the SFS that featured a spectacular goal from Robbie Fowler and goalkeeper Paul Henderson saving John Aloisi’s first-half penalty. Sydney got their revenge, though, in Round 17, when brilliant performances from the departed Karol Kisel and Alex Brosque saw the Sky Blues kick start their run to the finals with a 4-1 victory.

Season so far:
North Queensland Fury
Round 1: Perth Glory 3, North Queensland 3, nib Stadium

Sydney FC
Round 1: Sydney FC 3, Melbourne Victory 3, Sydney Football Stadium

Pre-season form:
North Queensland:
North Queensland 1, Adelaide United 0, Brolga Park
Gold Coast United 1, North Queensland 0, Carrara Stadium
North Queensland 4, Hekari United 1, Brolga Park
Whitsunday Miners 0, North Queensland 8, Wanderers Football Grounds, Mackay
North Queensland 7, NQ Razorbacks 2, Townsville Sports Reserve
North Queensland 0, NQ Razorbacks 0, Townsville Sports Reserve

Sydney FC:
July 31: Sydney FC 1, Blackburn 2, Sydney Football Stadium
July 28: Sydney FC 0, Rangers 0, Sydney Football Stadium
July 25: Sydney FC 3, AEK Athens 5, Sydney Football Stadium
July 17: Sydney FC 2, Central Coast Mariners 2, Sydney Showground
July 10: Sydney FC 0 Everton 1 – ANZ Stadium
June 30: Marconi Stallions 1 Sydney FC 3, Marconi Stadium
June 22: Macarthur Rams 0, Sydney FC 1, Campbelltown Stadium
June 15: Manly United 1 Sydney FC 2, Cromer Park

Match Committee
North Queensland coach Franz Straka has named a large squad for this encounter bringing in skipper Ufuk Talay and import striker Eugene Sseppuya, along with another new signing in Brad McDonald and Jack Hingert. The squad will be cut by five for Saturday’s game with midfielder Talay probably still a slight doubt as he’s recovering from a calf problem. The captain had a horror run with injury last year, so one imagines Straka may just ease him into this encounter off the bench. Straka’s Czech compatriot, Sydney FC coach Vitezslav Lavicka has only made the one change to last week’s squad as striker Mark Bridge comes out with a hamstring injury and is replaced by young midfielder Brendan Gan.

Danger men
This may be the second week in a row I mention Chris Payne as a Fury danger man but the former Sydney striker more than lived up to that tag last week in his club’s impressive 3-3 draw with Perth Glory. Despite many expecting North Queensland to be blown off the park, the Fury showed some real steel to overcome conceding an early Perth goal. Much of the credit has to go to Payne, who was the most dangerous player on the park, intercepting a Jacob Burns’ pass in defence before belting home his side’s first goal. The youngster also produced the moment of the match in the second half to give the Fury the lead on the counter, his high, floating ball exposing the Glory defence as it curled in perfectly to David Williams who fired truly.

As he was for much of last season, Alex Brosque is the Sky Blues’ primary weapon up front, although he will be missing his partner-in-crime Mark Bridge this week. Brosquey had one of his best games for the season in the 4-1 demolition of the Fury last year and the fringe Qantas Socceroo showed he has lost none of that killer instinct as he put Sydney ahead last week in the Round 1 grand final re-match with Melbourne Victory. Although it came from a terrible error by Melbourne skipper and SBS World Cup commentator Kevin Muscat, Brosque finished off Bridge’s cross with aplomb as he fired home his first for the year. Look for marquee signing Nick Carle to only get better with his first Hyundai A-League game under the belt as well.

Where the game will be won
There could be some real danger here for reigning premiers Sydney as they travel to Dairy Farmers Stadium. Last week a slow central defence of Hayden Foxe and Stephan Keller was exposed repeatedly by Victory speedster Mate Dugandzic and it won’t get any easier for the back four this week as they have to contend with the lightning quick Isaka Cernak along with the unknown quantity that is Sseppuya. Adding to Sydney’s defensive issues is the fact that Payne is a former Sky Blue himself, who is sure to give his fellow forwards some inside info on any Sydney defensive limitations.

Seeing the new-look Fury for the first time, I was impressed by their composure under real pressure in Perth last Friday night. Conceding a goal in the first five minutes in front of 16,000 people is hardly a great start to proceedings but North Queensland rallied and soon took control of possession through a solid, physical defence led by Mark Hughes and Eric Akoto, along with some good attacking play by Simon Storey, Cernak and Payne.

However, that was the first game of the season and was it just a matter of the Fury boys really being fired up to make an impression in Round 1? Added to this, will Straka’s changes to the squad destabilise a team that did well last week as it earned a last-minute equaliser?

If the Fury are even slightly off their game, then Sydney have the quality to make them pay. Although the Sky Blues are missing premiership playmaker Kisel from last season, Carle is a more than handy replacement for him and will be better for his run last week. Bridge is a loss but in youngsters Gan and the explosive Kofi Danning they have some handy forward assistance for the creative Brosque. Last week, the Glory demonstrated that some clever counter-attacking could really expose the Fury defence and Brosque is the smartest forward in the competition at present.

Both sides had 3-3 draws last weekend and both Czech coaches will be looking to tighten their defences come Saturday night. However, this clash could be decided in the middle of the park, especially if Sydney can control possession, as their midfielders have the smarts to play forwards like Brosque and Danning into good positions. Another tight game, but one senses Sydney have an edge as long as the real Sydney turns up and not the somewhat inconsistent version from the regular season last year.

North Queensland Fury FC squad: 1. Justin PASFIELD (gk), 2.Jack HINGERT, 3.Brad McDonald, 4. Eric AKOTO, 5. Mark HUGHES, 7. Gareth EDDS (c), 8. Adam CASEY, 10. Dyron DAAL, 11. David WILLIAMS, 12. Panagiotis NIKAS, 14. Chris GROSSMAN, 15. Chris PAYNE, 16. Simon STOREY, 17. Osama MALIK, 18. Brett STUDMAN, 19. Isaka CERNAK, 20. Matthew HAM (gk), 21. Jason SPAGNUOLO

*five to be omitted*

In: 3.Brad McDonald (new signing), 9.Eugene SSEPPUYA (transfer clearance), 2.Jack HINGERT (promoted), 7.Ufuk TALAY (returns from calf injury)
Out: Nil
Unavailable: 13.Andre KILIAN (3 weeks – foot)

Sydney FC squad: 1. Liam REDDY (gk), 2. Sebastian RYALL 3. Stephan KELLER, 5. Hayden FOXE, 7. Brendan GAN, 8. Stuart MUSIALIK, 10. Nick CARLE, 11. Kofi DANNING, 12. Shannon COLE, 13. Antony GOLEC, 14. Alex BROSQUE, 15. Terry MCFLYNN (c), 20. Ivan NECEVSKI (gk), 21. Scott JAMIESON, 22. Sung-Hwan BYUN, 23. Rhyan GRANT
*one to be omitted*

In: 7.Brendan GAN
Out: 9.Mark BRIDGE (Hamstring – 1 week)
Unavailable: Nil