The Adelaide Hills Hawks kicked off their 2021 State League 1 season, with a night game at home against Western Strikers on Saturday 10th April. After a promising start in the Cup Qualifier prior to Easter, Coach Gareth Von Duve was already forced to make changes to the squad with first team regular, Jimmy Lenzi, sustaining an unfortunate injury at training on Thursday, the ankle injury likely to keep Lenzi from the pitch for the next two months, and new comer Callum Elm also missing from the squad due to an injury.
Von Duve didn’t have far to look for his changes, selecting three young, up and coming players to make their senior debut for Hawks for the first league match of the season. New recruit Sam Thomas, who has stepped up from the State League 2 competition. Mitch Keegan who played the majority of his 2020 season in the Hawks Reserves team, with substitute appearances for the seniors last year, and young Brodie Dowling who has come up through the Hawks junior ranks, culminating in solid performances in the Hawks Reserves last year. All three added to the starting line up.
The three debutantes were captained by club stalwart, Nathan Elliott. Elliott was joined in defence by Goal Keeper Connor Hudson, and defenders Jared Daly, and Nick Walker. Thomas and Dowling were positioned on the wing, with Keegan in the midfield along with the experienced duo of Jake Loechel and Danny Pauli. Ollie ‘Fridge’ Grant and Dan Hosking both playing up front.
Hills Hawks and Western Strikers have experienced some great battles over the years and the contest was always going to be a great show. Hawks appeared a little slow out of the blocks in the early minutes with the Strikers looking a lot sharper and making attacking plays forward. Strikers dominated early, holding much of the possession and pressing into the Hawks defensive half, forcing mistakes from the Hawks. The Strikers capitalised on one such error out wide, and with some clever football, penetrated through the Hawks backline allowing the ball to knock into the box followed by a quick tap in for an early goal. Strikers going 1- 0 up only 7 minutes into the game.
Elliot, Daly and Walker had their work cut out in the defensive line chasing down many attackers. Loechel, Keegan and Pauli worked tirelessly in the midfield but the pressure was on from the Strikers as they surged forward. After a period of attacking play, Strikers were awarded a corner kick. Hawks were positioned to defend the corner and initially blocked the attack into the box but were unfortunate to have the ball bounce off a Hawks midfielder, only to land at the feet of a Western Strikers player who struck it first time low and hard, sending the ball whizzing through the legs and feet of the congested box before resting in the back of the net. Keeper Hudson’s view obscured, he had no chance of stopping the ball, the score now 2-0 Strikers way 22 minutes into the first half.
Coach Von Duve changed the formation of his Hawks side, going back to a regulation 4-3-3 set up. The change appeared to settle the home side a little, but they struggled to make a real impact going forward. The score remained at 2-0 Strikers way going into the half time break.
The second half saw a completely different Hawks team step onto the field as they lifted the effort and intensity on the ball, putting pressure on the visitors. Loechel was starting to give some drive and direction in the midfield, breaking through the Strikers backline on one occasion to strike the ball across goal and coming breath takingly close to scoring, the ball hitting the post before bouncing back to Pauli. Pauli then struck the ball towards goal however his shot was blocked. The pressure was on Western Strikers as Hawks desperately surged forward for a goal.
Dowling made his way to the bench which introduced exciting young gun, Adam Tredrea up front. Tredrea immediately got into the action and looked threatening, taking on defenders to get into dangerous areas. Grant and Hosking started to build momentum along with Elliott and Daly as Hawks tried to claw their way back into the game and bring about that decisive first goal. A fantastic tackle from Daly saw the ball hit out wide to Walker who crossed the ball in to find Grant. Grant headed the ball, with the ball skimming just past the post. Hudson, who made many saves throughout the match, was once again called upon in a 1on1 situation as the ball made its way to the other end of the pitch in a counter attack. Hudson sprang into action as he tipped the ball around the post to keep the game within the Hawks grasp and snatch a late goal.
In another change, Thomas made way for Liam Mullan to come into the midfield to give energy and run in the engine room. Loechel became threatening out wide as he found room to overlap and place some dangerous balls into the box. At one point the ball came to Tredrea’s feet, and he took one touch before hitting a fantastic shot, only to have the Strikers keeper pull off a brilliant save and deny the Hawks. Despite Hawks efforts in the second half, the match ended just as the first half did - 2-0 to the away team.
Although there was disappointment with the season opener loss, there were many positives to take away from the Hawks first outing, especially the effort in the second half. Best players were Daly, Keegan, Hudson, Pauli