Time: 5.30pm, February 8th, 2010
Venue: Bai Ling Bridge Riverside Park
By Michael Christie
Agreeing to put the start of the match back to 5.30, the match referee wasn’t very sympathetic to the eight City players kitted up at 5.25 when asked to delay it further. Still, within seconds of a 4-3-0 formation taking the field, Dawda, Tim, Mamadi, Ebou and Yunusa arrived. Niklas also showed up, but he’d lost the keys to his rooms so he didn’t have a kit and had to watch from the sidelines.
The starting line-up was Matt Wharton in goal; John Phillips, Tim Murphy, Mamadi Colley, and Yunusa Njie at the back; Spencer Pangborn, Oliver Harley, Ebrima Njie, and Ed Cartee in midfield; and, Stevey Reymond and Dawda Fatty up front. The Lions started the game with hard running. City kept the ball a lot but the passing was slow and often predictable, so the game was even for the first twenty minutes. Worryingly, Onur Dogan was in good form and looked threatening every time he had the ball. He was an effective outlet for the Lions, carrying the ball into the penalty box. One time he outpaced everybody and only a memorable tackle from Murphy stopped him.
The City attack created some openings in the first twenty minutes but rarely tested the Lions keeper. The wide players were not used enough, and the Lions were content to soak up pressure through the centre. With about twenty-five minutes gone, Onur Durgan was through again and this time he got a hard shot off which Wharton palmed away. The ball bounced back to the Lions ten yards from the box, where City conceded a free-kick. Driving hard and low, the ball took a deflection off the wall and Volker Nagel was in the right place to poke it home past Wharton. This was a lucky goal for the Lions, but no more than they deserved.
City came back with conviction but made no new inroads after the goal. City kept the ball well, but were restricted to long shots and corners. Shortly before the half-time whistle, Dan Calvert came on for Spencer Pangborn.
Begining the second half, Michael Christie replaced Oliver Harley. There didn’t seem to be much happening when, without any great effort, the Lions threaded the ball through to Onur Durgan at the edge of the penalty box. His curling shot took a slight deflection off Murphy before it found the net. (Whether or not his shot would have beaten Dale Neal or Alex Moga is a moot point. Matt Wharton did everybody a favour by volunteering to keep goal in the absence of a regular keeper.) About five minutes later, Wharton’s goal-kick was uncharacteristically short and, unluckily, came straight to Onur Durgan who controlled and shot quickly. 0-3! With the game seemingly beyond City’s reach the Lions begin to defend and soak up the pressure and see the match out. A moment of madness from Jan Meidinger cost the Lions a defender. Swearing aggressively at the referee for a questionable decision over a corner kick, there was no question of a card. Was it going to be yellow or red? When the referee was finally given enough room by Lions players to take out a card, sure enough it was red. At this juncture City saw fit to switch to an attacking 3-5-2 formation with Alex Ramirez replacing Mamadi Colley.
City refusing to accept defeat began to apply the pressure. The Lions obviously thought differently, though, because they took off their best player and concentrated on defence. As a result, City soon had the Lions on the back foot.
Still, the Lions didn’t look like conceding. The Lions keeper, Rob Fowler, held on to most of the City shots on target, and the Lions defenders put enough pressure on the City forwards to make shooting difficult. There was plenty of pressure but nothing to show for it until Alex Ramirez tried to cross the ball on the volley, but hit it higher and closer towards the goal than intended. The ball took one bounce in the no man’s land between the defenders and the keeper and then bounced higher than Fowler, expected – over his head and into the net. Now it was 1-3.
A quick check with the linesman confirmed there was twenty minutes remaining. Clearly unnerved, the Lions decided to camp in their own half. Newly encouraged, City pressed forward. With attacks down the flanks, City looked to get the ball behind the Lions defence. (Some of the central City players were even complaining they were not getting enough of the ball at this point.) Finally, a move involving Yunusa, Ebrima and Reymond finished with Dawda in space just inside the box. Dawda swung his right foot in a smooth arc to bend the ball past the flailing arms of Fowler, the Lions keeper, into the bottom-left corner of the net. 2-3.
There were only about fifteen minutes of the game remaining now, so how would the teams play out the game? The Lions had dug in their heels and now they had no choice, really, but to try and weather the pressure. But how much did City have left? Too much, in the end. Yunusa and Reymond were now running the show on the right flank, and Phillips and Cartee were almost equally superior on the left. A driving run down the right beating three players and a perfect pass from Reymond made it easy for Christie to finish from six yards. 3-3!
“How long?” was the question. “Eight minutes,” was the answer. Now feeling utterly deflated, the Lions did not know how to respond. With just a few minutes left, a quick pass from Cartee gave Ramirez the chance to flight a lovely cross to Calvert, who calmly swiveled and flicked the ball home. It happened so quickly nobody had time to enjoy it. 4-3. And, after a couple of minutes of keep ball, that was that. City Get the Last Laugh.
Taipei City 4, The Red Lions 3