With the odds stacked against them, the Oakleigh Cannons have moved to the next stage of the Australia Cup.
A 15-player Cannons squad travelled to Sydney’s south-west on Thursday night to face the hosting Bonnyrigg White Eagles. The hosts have had a less than ideal campaign in the Football NSW League One Men’s competition, amassing just five wins in 19 league games this season.
The opening 10 to 15 minutes was one way traffic, as the home side looked to assert its home ground advantage. They would unfortunately be unable to find the back of the net despite some good chances, as the sounds of plastic air horns rang around the stadium.
Disaster almost struck the home side in the 19th minute as Michael Figueira came charging off his line and mistimed his run. This resulted in an empty net, but some quick backtracking from Bradie Smith, as well as the ball holding up in the heavy puddles, saw the ball cleared out behind for a corner, which would prove to be unsuccessful for the visitors.
Oakleigh would open the scoring in the 32nd minute, capitalising on one of the few opportunities it had been able to create to that point through Joe Guest, who put together some silky moves to get the ball past Figueira.
Bonnyrigg would almost strike back immediately off the restart, but it would be put just to the right of the goals, showing that the home side was not going to go down without a fight.
A scare came in the 40th minute, as Bonnyrigg forward Aaron Peterson would go down after a collision with Oakleigh goalkeeper Nicholas Feely, but Peterson would return for the remainder of the first half with a fair bit of tape strapped to his head.
The second half would start the same as the first through the opening 10 minutes, but Oakleigh would find a second on the counter attack through Chris Lucas in the 57th minute, who had received a yellow card just seconds earlier.
A brace to Daniel Clark in the 67th and 73rd minute saw Oakleigh take a 4-0 lead to put the result beyond doubt. This saw a second round of flares let off by some of the home fans, while others made way to the exit with 15 minutes to go.
Those fans had the right idea, and didn’t see the home side concede a fifth Oakleigh goal, scored by Wade Dekker in the 78th minute.
Oakleigh was not happy with five, and wanted to drive home as many as possible en route to soaring into the Round of 16, but would be unable to find another. This was thanks in part to Figueira, who came up with some key saves to stem the flow of goals late in the second half.
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Speaking to The Inner Sanctum post-game, Oakleigh coach Chris Taylor put his team’s slow start down to something completely out of the Cannons control.
“The conditions of the ground [are something] we haven’t experienced for a while. I didn’t think we got into the game until 10 minutes into the second half, and then our movement was very good,” he said.
“I thought tempo wise, we probably ran the legs off them, and looked very good for good passages of play.”
This was something that Oakleigh Cannons forward Joe Knowles, also speaking to The Inner Sanctum post-game, agreed with.
“I think it was a bit hard in the first half. They made it really hard for us to play the way that we want to play in the first half,” Knowles said.
“In the second half, we got more on the ball and we played how we usually play, and the result shows in the end.”
For Taylor’s side, despite the margin of victory, it’s not all a positive for the side that sits second on the NPL Victoria table.
“I think we’re hot and cold,” Taylor said.
“We played South Melbourne on Saturday and lost 1-0. We probably had five or six good chances. Tonight we put chances away. I think you’re going to get games where things go for you and things don’t.
“We always create chances and I think at the moment we’re becoming a bit of a victim of our own success. We’re playing in every competition, and it’s having its toll.”
The injury problem was on display tonight, given that Oakleigh could only bring a total of 15 players up for the trip. With three defenders and a forward out injured, and two of the injury replacements being cup-tied, meaning they are not eligible to play in the Australia Cup for Oakleigh, the squad is struggling for depth.
Knowles has been a standout this season for the Cannons this season. He has been racking up the airplane time, traveling back and forth from Victoria to Queensland with regularity, as he has been on trial with A-League Men side Brisbane Roar.
Despite not training with Oakleigh for a few weeks, it has not impacted how the side operates. Taylor puts this down to the preparation the side has undertaken throughout the season.
“We did a lot of our work early on in pre-season and through the season,” the coach said.
“He knows what we do. He’s a big part of what we do going forward. As you saw tonight, he links very very well with players, even though he’s not trained with us for two or three weeks.”
For Knowles, the regular travel back and forth from Melbourne to Brisbane is not impacting his game or body too much, something he puts down to the way both sides are managing the situation.
“I’ve had great help from both Oakleigh and Brisbane in being able to get my body right for each training session and each game,” he said.
“I’ve been very fortunate to be surrounded by good people, so the bodies holding up well and I’m enjoying every minute of it.”
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