Young brigade lead the charge

Brisbane Roar interim coach Frans Thijssen has praised his side’s young defenders for rising to the challenge created by the loss of several experienced players in recent months.

As the Roar prepare to face the much-improved Phoenix in Wellington on Sunday in a #SummerFootball Round 14 Hyundai A-League match, Thijssen said Roar fullbacks Corey Brown and Daniel Bowles and central defender James Donachie had made the most of the opportunities given to them since he took over as interim coach in late November.

The young trio was expertly marshalled by experienced defender Jade North in the Roar’s battling scoreless draw with Sydney FC on an energy-sapping, humid Brisbane night at Suncorp Stadium on Tuesday.

The Roar were without Socceroo Matt McKay, injured marquee player Thomas Broich, injured goalkeeper Michael Theo and former captain Matt Smith, who has transferred to Thailand. The four collectively represent more than 570 Hyundai A-League games of experience.

Yet North and his trio of young defenders, along with improving keeper Jamie Young, kept a clean sheet after conceding three goals against Central Coast in their previous game.  

“We have three young defenders who did very well (against Sydney),’’ Thijssen said, giving special mention to Brown for handling the threat of Sydney’s speedy winger Bernie Ibini.

“It is not easy to play against a player who is very quick and there’s a lot of space behind you. Corey did a great job.”    

Thijssen, who has lost only once in six games since taking the Roar helm,  was not happy that Brisbane played too many long balls and lost too many one-on-one challenges in the first half against Sydney FC.

“This was not the team I know,’’ he said.

Thijssen said he understood the players are under a heavy load of matches, with Sunday’s game their third in nine days, but he was pleased with the improvement in the second half against Sydney and wants that to continue against Wellington.

“It’s hard for the boys but we have no choice. We have a smaller group with not so much choice at the moment. But we have to do it with these guys . . . we have to get something out of this game,” he said.

The Roar expect midfielder Luke Brattan to continue his recovery from a hamstring strain, which forced his substitution in the second half against Sydney. He trained strongly on Saturday afternoon and will take his place in the starting line-up against the Phoenix.

The Roar have beaten the Phoenix in the last five matches between the two clubs.

North, who played with the Phoenix in 2010-11, said the Roar’s defence would need to be solid again to hold out Wellington, even without their star striker Nathan Burns who is on Socceroos duty.

And he predicted the Phoenix, who are unbeaten in their last six, would be hard to crack at home.

“They (Wellington) impressed me last season with what they were trying to do and they weren’t far off being a top-four side,” North said.

“I think (coach) Ernie Merrick has got them well drilled and they’ve got some good experience.

“I used to play there with a few of the boys, especially (Andrew) Durante and (Ben) Sigmund at the back. They’ve very solid and defensively as a unit it’s going to be hard to break them down.”

Thijssen said he wanted his players to get back to playing possession-based football.

He says long balls and losing possession negate the impact of the Roar’s talented midfielders including Brattan, Adam Sarota and Steve Lustica.

“Adam is a player who is a good footballer player. He needs us to keep the ball on the ground.  The same as Steven and Luke . . . they need the football,’’ Thijssen said.

“We have good players who can play football but we need to play football, not give it away because then all we are doing is defending.”

Thijssen hinted the Roar would be active in the forthcoming transfer window.

“It’s a good thing when you have a lot of young players in the team but of course you need a little experience too,’’ he said.