Hyundai A-League teams should be prepared for a hostile takeover of the FFA Cup, according to Lions FC defender Nathan Shepherd, who is backing at least one NPL team to make the final in 2018.
Shepherd sent a warning shot, not only to Lions’ Round of 16 opponents Adelaide United, but to all of the Hyundai A-League clubs remaining in this year’s competition.
Hyundai A-League champions Melbourne Victory and Wellington Phoenix have already fallen to NPL opposition, with APIA Leichhardt and Bentleigh Greens respectively claiming the prize scalps of their professional opponents.
Lions roared to the NPL Queensland title this season, winning 23 of 26 games to become premiers. As part of the meanest defence in the country, conceding only 11 goals all season, Shepherd couldn’t be more confident that NPL teams are not stopping here.
“I think this year with the number of NPL teams going through to the round of eight it could really be a special year for the FFA Cup,” Shepard said.
“Maybe, you never know, you could get two NPL teams in the final. Who knows?”
“You look at the results that are happening. You look at APIA beating Victory. Bentleigh beating Phoenix. Even Cairns, we beat Cairns 6-0 on the Saturday and then they go and played against Sydney FC, and were very unfortunate not to come away with something.
“I feel as though Bentleigh, Heidelberg, Avondale and APIA are all very good teams. I think the gap is closing and it really is possible. All the games are close, Hellenic from the Northern Territory scored three goals against Western Sydney. Every NPL team has a bit of belief.
“You’ve got to this stage, you’ve got a free hit. There’s no expectations. All the pressure is on the A-League team, we’re just finishing our season, they are just starting, maybe lacking a bit of fitness. Every NPL team fancies their chances.
“I think the boys are going to go out with a bit of freedom, there’s no pressure on us. We’re just happy to have made it this far. We just going to have a crack. We fancy ourselves to get a bit of an upset.”
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The Reds suffered a 2-1 extra-time reverse at the hands of Redlands in the Round of 32 in 2016. Although Shepherd admits the club are disappointed about not being allowed to host this year’s game at Lions FC, he believes the South Australia side might still have nightmares of that ‘magic night.’
“It’s a bit of an omen that field for Adelaide, having been beat by Redlands with a bit of a freak goal,” the 26-year-old Scotsman said.
“The players and the club are disappointed about not getting the game at Lions. We feel the venue is one of, if not, the best in the state. We’ve still got home advantage.
“The last time they played there, they lost to Redlands on that magic night. The last time Lions played there, we took Perth Glory to extra time.
“When Lions got to the Round of 16, that was the season before I came over and that was one of the factors which sold me on the move. Seeing that night, all the fans that were there, the spectacle it was.“
How a Paisley boy ended up in Brisbane
Lions were a third tier side in 2015 when they held Perth Glory through 116 minutes before Chris Harold’s broke their hearts in a 1-0 extra-time triumph. It put the club on Shepherd’s radar back in the days when he was bouncing around the lower divisions of Scottish football.
His story begins in the youth ranks at Greenock Morton in 2010, Shepherd went on to feature for the senior team before moving to Stranraer and East Stirlingshire. Following a trip to the Gold Coast, Shepherd’s life changed dramatically.
“I had a friend who lived on the Gold Coast, so I came over for a month holiday and I just fell in love with the country,” he recalls.
“I thought, I’m going to go back home, save up some money, I’m going to make up a highlights feel and send it out to clubs and see what happens.
“I followed the NPL in Queensland and Olympic were the benchmark at the time. I was looking at that sort of level. I sent my footage to clubs all across the country.”
Becoming part of the pride
It was a recommendation from Stuart McLaren, a Scottish coach at Brisbane Strikers in the NSL who remembered Shepherd from his days in Scotland, which created the opportunity with Lions FC. Coach Warren Moon signed him up having only seen video footage of him in action.
“They took a chance on me and I’ve loved it since I came here,” Shepherd said.
“I’ll be eternally grateful for the chance they’ve given me to start a new life over here.
“It’s more than just football, I can apply for residency next year and I’m looking at spending the rest of my life in this country and Lions have helped me do that so I owe a huge debt to the club.”