Time: 1pm, March 14th, 2010
Venue: Bai Ling Bridge Riverside Park
By Ed Cartee
With 3 games left in the season, City knew that 2 wins would clinch the BML title; but the way to that goal lay first through the San Chong boys, one of the more impressive possession-oriented sides in the rest of the league, so City had to be fully focused and honed in on the 90 minutes before them. Game-time conditions were very hot, and the Bai Ling fields are starting to show the accumulated wear-and-tear of the season, so both teams wondered if the passing game would be affected by the bobbly ground. City lined up with Dale Neal in goal, Tim Murphy sweeping and Hans Rempel patrolling in front of him, Mamadi Colley at left back, Matt Wharton at right back, Mike O’Gorman and Ebou Njie in the center of midfield, Ross Conlon at left mid, Ed Cartee at right mid, and Badou Njie and Dan Calvert up top. The strategy on offense was to increase the speed of play from the standard in the past couple matches, and the strategy on defense was to apply aggressive pressure on San Chong in their own half. In the first 15 minutes City was executing the game plan pretty well, but to San Chong’s credit, rather than folding under the higher pressure, they responded and matched the intensity and tempo which City were setting. Nevertheless, San Chong’s only chances of the half were two shots from distance which were both safely wide. Dawda Fatty came on for Conlon at left mid partway into the half. When they could, the San Chong defenders were holding a high line, but City almost made them pay for this on a few occasions, as Calvert got behind them several times off of early balls from the flanks which bent behind San Chong’s backs. When City established a rhythm of possession, San Chong compacted the center of the field and made it difficult for City to combine in small spaces and break through to shoot. O’Gorman once found Cartee open at the top of the box, but Cartee passed it off instead of testing the San Chong keeper from second distance. The game had evolved into a midfield duel, a hard-fought battle “between the boxes”, and going into half-time with the score locked at 0-0, it looked like the 2nd half would be a war of attrition pitting City’s resources against San Chong’s youth and fitness.
At half-time the management team of Conlon and Calvert switched City’s outside midfielders, moving Cartee to the left and Dawda to the right, and everyone did their best to hydrate so as to avoid cramping as the game wore on.
The 2nd half picked up where the 1st half left off in terms of intensity, but the game began to be more spread out; when San Chong had the ball they stretched the field with an expansive attacking shape, and City began using the counterattack more effectively to quickly pass San Chong’s midfielders out of the play and force their back line to deal with players running at them. As both teams tired, neither team was able to pressure the ball as effectively and disrupt the other team’s rhythm of possession, and more chances were created at both ends. Both teams’ instincts were heightened to sense the opportunities and dangers resulting from every slight momentum shift in the contest. But it was City who broke through, recognizing when the game tilted their way after a few dangerous attacking sequences in succession, and capitalizing on the narrow window of opportunity before it was lost. The City attackers created some confusion in the box for the San Chong defenders, and Dawda swept the ball across and Calvert finished – yet another clutch goal from him. 1-0 City.
San Chong came back at City relentlessly. The combination of their pace and the heat was pushing City’s defenders to the limit, but City’s back line showed their mental toughness, with determination being the key factor as they stayed sharp to intercept passes, use their physicality to body the San Chong kids off the ball, and come up with a few clutch tackles. San Chong had their best chance of the game when a midfielder struck a great shot from outside the box, low and hard and destined to tuck inside the far post, but Neal made a tremendous diving play to push the ball wide, saving a certain goal which would have radically changed the game.
Calvert came off and Dawda went up top when Michael Christie came on at right mid, though he and Cartee switched sides a couple times. Though he roved a bit, Christie’s hustle gave City a lift, and soon after his entry, he was a difference-maker. Getting on the end of a long ball, he initiated a neat wall-pass which played him into space for an unopposed service into the box. City had talked before the game about high crosses to capitalize on their height advantage over San Chong, and though Christie’s cross floated a bit beyond the far post, Dawda accelerated and got on the end of it; Dawda headed the ball back across the face of goal, past a helpless keeper to a waiting Badou, who tapped in to give City the 2-0 advantage.
Though San Chong kept their composure and maintained their offensive pressure, City knew what they were playing for, and they weren’t about to let the San Chong kids steal the game back. The final score was 2-0, making City’s record 14-1-1 and bringing them within one victory of a league championship. Though so close to the objective, City will have to remember that it’s still up to them to take care of business, with 2 more opponents eagerly awaiting their last chance to spoil City’s season.