Time: 10am, February 12th, 2012
Venue:BaiLing Bridge Riverside Park
By Michael Christie
Another hot weekend came around on the heels of a cold, grey week, and at 10am on Sunday morning the sun was shining bright for the long-awaited encounter between Taipei City and the Red Lions. Unlike in more temperate climes, if the sun is out in Taiwan it is already hot enough at 10am to stymie all but the fittest.
With twenty good players available, Coach Dan had to keep the squad size down to fifteen, so he decided on the usual guys, naming a starting line-up of Dale Neal in goal; a four-man defence comprising Matt Wharton at right-back, Tom Clarke and Brian McGuinness in the centre and Mamadi Colley at left-back; a four-man midfield of Danny Weir on the right, Alex Ramirez and Michael Christie in the middle and Luis Mayorga on the left; and a forward pairing of Oumar Senoussi providing for Dan Calvert’s poaching. The exceptionally strong bench had Brian Fitzpatrick, Omar Malcolm, Karim Cham, Neo King and ‘Dapper’ Danny Wilkinson sitting on it.
Now that the Red Lions are in possession of some formidable players, they are capable of getting results against anybody. Of course, everybody before the game was looking around and wondering whether this would be the day for an ‘upset’?
The first twenty minutes produced some good football, with some incisive passing from the Lions’, orchestrated by their classy midfield, and also some decent moves, mostly down the flanks, involving City. The Red Lions forced corners and fashioned a few decent chances, but managed only a few clear shots. Still, Dale had to be at his best to stop at least three shots in the first half destined for their target. The Red Lions edged the first twenty minutes, although City also had one or two chances early on which could have been better taken.
Having attacked with intent and pushed up on City, after their initial dominant period the Red Lions seemed to run out of steam. Perhaps this was a result of slightly better all-round fitness and preparation by the City players. Now City began to push up more and compress the play in the Lions’ own half. This was the pattern of play that persisted, with a few spells of Lions rampant, for the rest of the game.
To City’s credit, they did not give up putting pressure on the Lions. It was partly thanks to this kind of pressure that City got their first goal. Alex Ramirez and Oumar Senoussi both harried and the ball broke for Dan Calvert just inside the half-way line. Clear but still with a lot to do, Dan ran for twenty yards, with the pace and strength to keep a chasing Lion at bay, and took the ball round the keeper to finish with class.
At 1-0, City started playing with more composure. The Lions were still able to break sporadically but City looked more likely to score. The Lions often passed the ball out to a defender on goal-kicks , but this proved to be their undoing for the second goal, when Oumar isolated a defender and the ball bounced for the City forwards in the danger zone. In a matter of seconds, Danny Weir had lobbed the ball over the Lions’ keeper into the far corner of the net. It remained 2-0 at half-time.
In the interval, Luis made way for Omar Malcolm. Five minutes into the second half, Christie departed for Karim. The fresh legs of Malcolm and Karim immediately added renewed impetus to the slow-starting City line-up. The Lions still meant to make a game of it, and they mounted some forceful runs and clever moves in the opening stages of the second half, but again Dale saved excellently to deny the Lions sharp-shooting. At the other end, City continued to put pressure on the Lions defence. From a corner, Alex Ramirez sent a ball that squeezed through the cluster of players in the six-yard area, and after a melee the ball broke for Dan, who shot powerfully and got a deflection from Oumar Senoussi’s chest before hitting the net. Oumar deserved the goal!
A little later, Brian Fitzpatrick, Neo King and ‘Dapper’ Danny Wilkinson came on for Oumar Senoussi, Danny Weir and Matt Wharton. The new arrivals all helped make life harder for the Lions, and created more scoring chances. A lofted cross-field pass from Tom Clarke found Neo in space, who controlled precisely with his chest and turned – leaving his marker clutching at air – to slot the ball past the keeper into the net. 4-0! The Lions did not deserve to lose and City did not deserve to win this game 4-0 but while, as usual, the City defence and goal-keeping was excellent, the Lions were not as strong here as they have been in the past.
City gave a redoubtable performance without being brilliant, and was beholden to admirable defending. The City defenders had covered all the necessary space. The Lions were always dangerous in attack but just couldn’t find a way through. Dale saved three certain goals, which goes to show how different the game might have been without his class in goal.
The game was passionately contested but while the Red Lions had some good moves and their best players often won one-on-one challenges, Taipei City were able to spread the play and, without a noticeable weak link, overall had the better ball, especially as the game approached its end. On the day, Taipei City deserved the win.