Pride goal scorer’s valuable insights into derby showdown
FLEET-footed Western Pride goal scorer Byron McLeod has already experienced highs and lows as a footballer who is just 20 years old.
The former premiership-winning Peninsula Power striker/winger has played overseas and broke his collarbone after lining up against his current club as a junior.
He rated the latest local derby against the Ipswich Knights one of the toughest matches he has played in.
McLeod put his team 2-0 up in the 26th minute after capitalising on a goalmouth scramble.
After the Knights powered home threatening to at least salvage a second half draw, Pride newcomer McLeod said his team knew they were in a fierce battle.
"Probably that - and Toowoomba (against South West Queensland) up there,'' McLeod said, when asked if Friday night's game was his most challenging Football Queensland Premier League 1 encounter so far.
"Especially the derby, it makes it a bit tougher.''
The striker's third goal of the 2021 FQPL1 competition was the most crucial in his six matches this season.
Pride's fourth win kept them in touch with the top three, also securing early bragging rights having beaten the Knights for the first time.
The Knights had won all previous premiership and FFA Cup encounters between the Ipswich clubs.
Although new to Ipswich derbies, McLeod said the Pride players responded preparing for Friday night's clash.
"We got told it was a derby at the start of the week and in training all week, we've been putting in the effort, looking to go in hard every challenge,'' he said.
"It showed out there, the effort we put in this week.''
Previous "derbies'' he had played in were against Lions when he was with Peninsula Power.
"Other than that, not as tough as this one,'' he said.
"Coming in at halftime at 2-0 is always a bit iffy but we stuck together and got the job done. That's all that matters.
"The difference was we kept fighting to the end. Didn't give up, everyone worked for each other and that's what got us over the line.''
On a chilly Friday night, Isaac Davey converted a penalty in the seventh minute to give his team a massive boost at Eric Evans Oval.
Pride continued to strangle the Knights attack for extended periods before McLeod was on the spot to secure the two-goal halftime advantage.
However, the match intensity rose to a new level after the Knights hit back through a neat Nick Edwards 71st minute touch from a superb cross by Lucky Joe.
Despite some Knights strikes hitting the cross bar and being deflected, that was the only shot to get past Pride's new goalkeeper Gianni Zanaboni.
The Argentinian was signed as a striker. However, his height provided invaluable as he stepped up to guard the net with regular keepers Jake Reesby and Josh Boyle recovering from injury.
"He basically came into the club (as a striker) and then said he had played first division as a junior as a goalkeeper,'' head coach Brian Hastings said.
"But he had injured his hands quite badly so he gave it away and started playing on the pitch. He enjoyed playing upfront.
"Thursday was the first time he came to the club. He put the gloves on and we did some shooting practice with him.
"With Jake getting injured, it allowed us to see what he could do.''
Hastings was delighted how Zanaboni accepted the challenge in a local derby arena.
McLeod agreed. "He did a pretty good shift so we're proud of him,'' McLeod said.
McLeod had previously played with another Pride newcomer Mikhail Hastings, a versatile and classy addition to this year's side.
After being upfront as a target man in Pride's previous 3-2 loss to Souths United, Hastings anchored the defence at centre back along with Ben Piper, Mark Ingerson and Kelton Scriggins.
"I played with Mikhail Hastings over in Spain for a bit and I played against Bennie Piper as well growing up,'' McLeod said.
Before heading to Spain for a season, McLeod lined up in junior football for Redlands in National Premier League (NPL) competitions.
"So I was coming up against Western Pride regularly,'' he said.
"Coming out here (to Ipswich), I knew the field. I knew the club.
"It's been a journey and I'm looking to keep going.''
Western Pride gained a shot of confidence from their latest victory, preparing to tackle competition favourites Brisbane City at the Briggs Road Sporting Complex next Friday night.
McLeod's major football goal is returning to the NPL in senior football.
"I'm looking to strive for that number one spot in the league,'' he said of his team's ambition.
"A couple of slip-ups so far but I still think we can get there, especially with a win this weekend against City.
"That's a big one for us.''
As the team's leading goal scorer so far this season, McLeod understandably was keen to continue finding the net.
But after his past successes, he also wanted to fulfil an important team role.
"Last season I was up at Peninsula Power, won the premiership up there,'' he said. "So I'm looking to pass that knowledge on to the boys here.''
Having worked with head coach Hastings in the school system and when he was in Spain, McLeod was encouraged by what was being built at Pride.
"It's a good team,'' he said.
Consistent performer Ryan Stieler was Pride's man of the match on Friday night.
"His workrate in the midfield was unbelievable,'' Hastings said.
Newcomer Noah Humphreys, from Mitchelton, also made a pleasing debut, replacing defender Kelton Scriggins just before halftime.
"I was a bit tentative to put him out there at left back but I thought he really acquitted himself extremely well,'' Hastings said.
Year 12 student Greer Schreiber also made his debut, coming on as a substitute in the 70th minute.
"He has been showing us such good skills and good balance,'' Hastings said. "He's just a glider with the football.
"In the helter skelter of a derby, it was a little bit difficult for him but it's like getting dumped on a wave. It easy after that once you get back from a wipe-out.
"He's going to be that kind of player that comes on and impacts the game for us.''
As Pride prepare for a massive challenge against Brisbane City, the Ipswich Knights can regroup before their clash with Sunshine Coast at Kawana next Sunday.
The Knights also have an FFA Cup match against Peninsula Power coming up on May 26 at AJ Kelly Park.
FQPL1 local derby: Western Pride 2 (Isaac Davey, Byron McLeod) def Ipswich Knights 1 (Nick Edwards) at Bundamba.
Next derby: August 6 at the Briggs Road Sporting Complex.
Next matches: Friday (7.45pm)- Western Pride v Brisbane City at the Briggs Road Sporting Complex; Sunday (4.15pm) Ipswich Knights v Sunshine Coast at Kawana.