Time: 6pm, March 19th, 2011
Venue: Bai Ling Bridge Riverside Park
By Michael Christie
With everything to play for, both Taipei City and Hong Ming Bualien lined up to contest the game of the season – the BML final in all but name. Taipei City started with a 4-4-2 formation: Dale Neal in goal, Yunusa Njie at right-back, Ross Conlon at left-back, Brian McGuinness and Tom Clarke in central defense, Carlos Mayorga at right-midfield, Alex Ramirez at left-midfield, Ebrima Njie and Badou Njie in central midfield, and Dawda Fatty and Dan Calvert up front, Dawda in the hole and Dan as the target man. City also had a strong bench, with Kareem Cham, Paul Hsueh, Lionel Gonzalez, Ricardo Abrego, Mamadi Colley, Michael Christie, Luis Mayorga and Oumar Senoussi all ready and waiting.
The opening fifteen minutes were cagey, as both sides sought to establish a viable pattern of play. Taipei City and Hong Ming Bualien both had plenty of possession, and both teams put pressure on the other when without. There were no clear cut chances, though, because neither team was able to dominate in any area of the field.
Hong Ming Bualien, a highly experienced group of players and disciplined team, adopted a flexible formation. Sometimes it was 4-4-2, sometimes 3-5-2 and sometimes 3-6-1. When sitting deep and absorbing pressure, it was either 3-5-2 or 3-6-1. They were able to close down space very quickly in the middle of the park and in their own half. In possession, HMB were crisp and unhurried in their passing, which with their intelligent support play, forced City to work hard doing a lot of running. Still, City was holding their own.
Some rustiness getting into the game from City was noticeable in the first fifteen to twenty minutes. Neither side was able to carve out a really good chance until twenty minutes into the game when a speculative through-ball from HMB was easily read and covered by the City defense. The HMB forward, however, barged McGuinness from the back, and then took advantage of some City honesty – our man didn’t go down – to wriggle past the off-balance defender. The finish was the only credit-worthy thing about the performance. HMB was 1-0 up.
With a lead established, HMB policed the rest of the half. There were some good plays from City but nothing to really test the HMB defense. City simply couldn’t find a way through the mass of bodies HMB had assembled.
Taipei City made one change for the second half. Yunusa came off, Carlos dropped back to right-back and Luis slotted in at right-midfield. Fiveteen minutes into the second half, Ross made way for Mamadi. Later on, Paul came on for Carlos, Christie came on for Badou and Omar came on for Dawda. Unluckily, Alex was sent off for a second bookable offence. Well, City worked hard but there was still no way through. HMB didn’t threaten very much, but just soaked up pressure and looked to break.
City maintained good pressure until the end, but had to be content with the “might have beens.” There was a lovely run and shot from Dawda, which the keeper just got a finger to. He’d beaten two men and his shot was sailing into the top corner. The keeper had to make a top-class save to keep it out. Then, there was a great penalty box tackle from Oumar. With a little bit more luck that would have been a goal. There was a great shot on the volley from Carlos. He beat the keeper but was inches the wrong side of the post. There were scrambles in the penalty box that HMB only just managed to clear…
Sometimes them’s the breaks.
This was the last game together for many of the players. Yunusa, Dawda, Ebu and Badou, brilliant players who always gave great performances for City, made their bow. You guys will leave a massive void. Ricardo, also, who never had a good chance to shine in a City shirt, and Carlos, who proved a fine addition to the team this year will also graduate in June, so won’t be around next season. Hopefully his brother Luis can stick around and some other players on the fringes this season can step in and help City to regain their title next season. With such a talented squad and a winning ethos, we will always manage to rebuild. Let’s all get together before graduation in June. Actually, there’s a tasty university game involving many of the City players that really shouldn’t be missed. It would be good to cheer on all participants in that one.