Time: 7pm, March 17th, 2012
Venue: Bai Ling Bridge Riverside Park
By Michael Christie
As usual against Hong Ming Bulien, Taipei City did not enjoy the best preparation in the critical hour leading up to the kick-off. Several players struggled to arrive in time, but Taipei City still had a good eleven ready to start, and of course an exceptionally strong bench. The 4-4-2 formation comprised Dale Neal in goal; a back line of Ricardo Abrego, Brian McGuinness, Tom Clarke and Mamadi Colley; a midfield quartet of Danny Weir, Oumar Senoussi, Michael Christie and Omar Malcolm; and a front pairing of Brian Fitzpatrick and Neo King. On the bench were Luis Mayorga, Alex Ramirez and Dan Calvert.
Hong Min Bulien started stronger, testing City with some quick cross-field moves. How would City’s full-backs cope? Luckily, Ricardo and Mamadi revealed themselves to be in excellent form. McGuinness and Clarke also made several important tackles and interceptions during this period. In goal, Dale made some good saves and needed to be sharp. That he didn’t need to make any critical saves was a measure of the defence’s strength under pressure.
The City midfield took some time to get into gear, but after ten minutes managed to start supplying balls to the wide men and forwards, who often troubled the Bulien defence. Neo was pressing for every loose ball and they simply didn’t know how to handle Brian Fitzpatrick, who was finding space at will. Malcolm and Danny Weir were always excellent outlets, and Oumar was always looking to get forward.
Just when the game was taking on the character of a 0-0, Neo closed down a defender, got a touch and chased the loose ball down on goal. His pace enabled him to take it round the goalkeeper’s flailing right arm and then, instead of shooting from a narrow angle, he coolly took the ball inside again and slotted home.
Surprised but possibly not too rattled because City at this point didn’t deserve to be ahead Bulien continued with their passing game. But with some steam in their sails, City now pushed up and put pressure on Bulien. With his back to goal and Bulien defence pushing out en masse, Brian Fitzpatrick hooked a great ball over his shoulder for Neo to run free with on the left flank. Neo got to the bye-line and crossed at the near post for Danny Weir. A last ditch tackle from a Bulien defender blocked his shot and the ball squirmed loose, spinning quickly but moving at a snail’s pace, for Fitzpatrick deservedly to push home from six yards.
Now sensing the urgency of the situation, Bulien tried to play with more pace and aggression. However,TaipeiCitycontained their threat with composure. That is, Dale often needed to make good saves, but Bulien didn’t manage to get any clear chances on goal. The first half, in truth, was an equal contest, soTaipeiCitywas happy to be 2-0 up but well aware that the score at this stage was meaningless.
Dan chose not to make any changes at half-time, but warned the players to be sharp starting the second half. Fortunately, the sharpest players for City in the opening stages of the second half were Dale and the defenders. Bulien somehow found renewed energy and peppered the City goal with shots. Dale pulled off at least two magical saves to deny Hong Min a life line.
With ten minutes of the second half gone, Dan started making changes. First, Brian Fitzpatrick, a candidate for man of the match, made way for Alex Ramirez. Ramirez went to left midfield and Malcolm went to “inside-forward.” Then, a little later, Oumar, after another outstanding game, came off for Luis Mayorga. Mayorga went to left midfield and Ramirez went into central midfield.
With about fifteen minutes gone, Bulien finally got the breakthrough they needed. Having won several corners, their big central defender finally bundled the ball into the net.
If the pressure was intense before, now Bulien turned the screw. For the next five minutes they were all over City. Only some heroics from Dale – a shot from the left wing he pushed onto the bar was particularly memorable – saved City.
When Bulien eased off, City began to create chances again. By now Alex Ramirez was finding openings and weaving between players in his trademark style. He was designated an enemy by Bulien and came in for some fouls but as usual just got more fired up and was more of a threat. Dan Calvert came on for Malcolm, who had been excellent, with twenty-five or so minutes left. Calvert had a great header from a Danny Weir cross saved on the line by Bulien’s able keeper.
The last quarter of the game was quite cagey, with some good chances at both ends. Bulien made several substitutions throughout the game but while on the day they had canniness and speed of thought, they didn’t quite have the speed of foot they needed. Still, they were always dangerous. With just minutes on the clock, a Bulien chip cut open the City defence and one of their very best players was one on one against Dale. Dale came off his line, so the Hong Min Bulian player tried a lob. Luckily, Dale extended his arms and stopped the ball. This was a make or break moment.
Just a few minutes later, Alex Ramirez and Neo worked some triangular passes and when the Bulien keeper saved from Neo, the loose ball fell for Luis who tucked it away.
Possibly this was not a glittering City performance, but it was another triumph for excellent defensive and goal-keeping, with some help from some hard-working and occasionally inspired midfield and forward play.
TaipeiCity FC 3 – 1 Hong Min Bulien
Watch the City goals here…………