Devonport Strikers coach Chris Gallo says he could not fault the effort of any of his players after the NPL Tasmania champions suffered nail-biting 3-2 defeat to Heidelberg United in the National Premier Leagues quarter-final at Valley Road on Saturday.
The Strikers were put on the back foot early in the game, as the class of the NPL Victoria champions was evident to see in the first 15 minutes, but the hosts opened the scoring through an own goal in 29th minute.
Heidelberg bounced back late in the first half and were able to take a halftime lead with 44th and 45th minute goals to Sean Ellis and Alex Schiavo.
The flow of the game turned in the second half, as the Strikers were able to turn the ball over consistently with great pressure on Heidelberg and looked to have sent the game into extra time with Kieran Mulraney scoring from a free kick in the 87th minute.
But Heidelberg made the most of a 97th minute free kick of their own and Jack Petrie found space inside Nathan Pitchford’s back post and put a dagger through the Strikers NPL finals hopes.
Gallo said the team played incredibly during the game and were unlucky to finish with the loss.
“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,” Gallo said.
“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.
“Our boys are tremendously fit and the way they were able to press for the whole 95 minutes was a phenomenal effort and the boys impressed me again tonight.”
Gallo said it was a tactical change which led to his team taking control after halftime.
“We changed the way we pressed in the second half, we were very calculated with setting up traps in wider areas.
“Once the ball was travelling in there and we had to make sure we kept them in there.
“We adapted tremendously well and were very disciplined to maintain that today.”
Though he could not fault the effort from his entire team, Gallo said there was a core group of players that were at their best.
“I think Kieran Mulraney, G (Guillermo Lazcano), Dom Smith and Nathan Pitchford were very good and so was Brayden Mann up front.
“I think Brayden moved tremendously behind their lines, but because the size of our pitch, the ball fell between the keeper and the defence and they mopped it up.”
Gallo said though the team was disappointed with the result, he believed the Strikers would be stronger for proving their ability against a strong opponent.
“I don’t think the boys want the break, they are very down and I have never seen them like this because it was a game that got away.
"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.”